I'd like to ask you a question that was brought to my attention many months ago. To be honest, I didn't see it at the time, wondered what the fuss was about. Reading now how other people tackle first person POV, I think I now see it.
Finding frist person POV dificult to write, I now believe I may have cracked it, but would like to know what others think of this kind of POV. I read somewhere recently that first person is easy to write, but not easy to write well.
So I'd like to give an example if that's ok, using a brief scene off the top of my head.
I was stood in the hallway when I heard the doorbell ring. I opened the door and saw a man there. He had long hair and dirty clothes and I thought how dirty he looked.
Ok, not a good example but I wanted to be brief here. Here's my alternative version, still with first person POV but written I think so that it doesn't read like someone is stood next to me telling me the story.
The doorbell rang twice. That's odd, wasn't expecting anyone. The creaked a little as it opened, it needed oiling. Stood at the doorstep was an old man with long hair. His clothes were very dirty. You need a bath...
I've gotten rid of all those I's, and now it sounds like a story. So I guess I'm asking, have I cracked it, or do I just think I have?
A little stiff, maybe. You need to get your verbs the right tenses---in both examples. If you're broadcasting your character's internal thoughts, you need to differentiate them with underlining or italics (the former in manuscript, the latter in print). And you left out a word: "...The [door] creaked a little..."
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1. Write a story in first person. Maybe write two. Maybe even three. Let's just say 15,000 words of fiction in 1st person. In other words, struggle with it, and understand that struggle intimately.
2. Get all the anthologies you have and read ONLY those stories written in first person. You'll be amazed at how much you'll learn.
3. Pick two or three of those stories, the two or three that really impressed you, all from different writers, and hopefully with different styles, and type them out at a rate of 5 to 10 pages (typed pages, not published pages) a day.
4. Reread your own stories. Decide if you want to rewrite any of them, or all of them, or move on to a new project.
[This message has been edited by Balthasar (edited April 20, 2007).]
quote:The doorbell rang twice. That's odd, wasn't expecting anyone. The creaked a little as it opened, it needed oiling. Stood at the doorstep was an old man with long hair. His clothes were very dirty. You need a bath...
How would you write this differently if it were in 3rd person?
I was asking Darklight to see if he (she? non-gender-specific handles are tough with gender-specific pronouns, sorry) would put pronouns in or not. Consider this. Here's the second "first person" version, identical except for the addition of pronouns and attributions (and the word "door").
quote:The doorbell rang twice. That's odd, he thought, he wasn't expecting anyone. The [door] creaked a little as it opened, it needed oiling. Stood at the doorstep was an old man with long hair. His clothes were very dirty. You need a bath, John thought...
Here's the same thing with first-person attributions:
quote:The doorbell rang twice. That's odd, I thought, I wasn't expecting anyone. The [door] creaked a little as it opened, it needed oiling. Stood at the doorstep was an old man with long hair. His clothes were very dirty. You need a bath, I thought...
See what I mean, Darklight? You seemed to do two things: deepen the POV, and eliminate pronouns. But POV can go deep even in third person, so eliminating the pronouns didn't turn his passage into a first-person passage -- it just made the person ambiguous.
(This is a little beside the point, but writing this way has also made it easy for you to slip into a temporal problem: "That's odd" is present, while "wasn't expecting anyone" is past. That leads me to think that "That's odd" should be attributed, while "wasn't expecting anyone" shouldn't. "The doorbell rang twice. That's odd, I thought. I wasn't expecting anyone.")
It might be an interesting task to rewrite this little passage in four ways, to isolate and gain control over each aspect we're discussing. Go very deep in first and third person, and somewhat distant in first and third person. If you want, remove the pronouns and attributions from all four to see what that gets you. It's only a few sentences, so it won't take long, and the exercise will almost certainly be worth it.
[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited April 20, 2007).]
The only way to learn to write in first person is to write in first person. It's harder than third person, but not impossible. There is nothing wrong with the word "I" in first person. It's very common. You just need to practice. You'll never learn how if you don't work on it.
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I see what you're saying. It seems to me that without the pronouns, it's more of a stream-of-consciousness. We're more in the head of the MC. I think that's what people mean when they're talking about going "deep" in first person (or any) POV.
I'm reading the first person chapter of Characters and Viewpoints by OSC (funny, this kind of thing keeps happening with the writing books I'm reading, just as I'm reading on a specific topic - someone posts about it.) It might be worthwhile to check out this book from the library to read this chapter in more detail (and the rest of the book for that matter.) I am not planning to write anything first person POV right now so I'm not getting the details of this chapter all that well, but I know that one thing OSC talks about is that one benefit of first person is that it lets the reader in on the immediacy of it all. Even when writing past tense, first person by nature makes the reader feel more in the moment than third. There's more to the chapter that I'm not explaining very well, but it's an interesting thing.
Also, I'm reading Haldeman's The Forever War right now (it's one of the Hugo/Nebula dual winners) and it's written, at least the chapters I've read so far, in first person. Very interesting story, I would have to say that I agree that by being first person, I feel very much in the moment. I recently read Mote in God's Eye, which was 3rd (moving around which POV it was featuring, with a few MCs) and I can almost feel the distance between how Mote gave me a sense of the events of the story versus Forever War. Interesting stuff.
At any rate, I'll be interested to see if your hypothesis proves itself out as you write more in first person. I'm debating doing a short story in first person just to experiment myself now too.
Why is 3rd person considered easier than 1st? I don't agree with that, rather, I think that's as subjective as saying skiing is harder than basketball.
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First person has to be written with a sense of immediacy because the reader is seeing only what the protag is seeing and pondering and it all happens pretty much in real time. The resulting story usually winds up looking quite different than a 3rd person version of the same story where the teller can describe the environment in great detail and alert the reader to things the protag wouldn’t even notice. I recently tried a first person story and because of this need for immediacy I couldn’t put in all the detail I wanted the reader to see. I tried to but in an urgent and stressful scenario the protag has to skip all the peripheral details and move urgently towards his objective. When your protag’s hair is on fire it seems out of place to mention that it looked gloomy, as if it might soon begin to rain. Not a good example but you know what I mean. Its harder when you restrict yourself to writing only what your protag would see and give any thought to. Personally I did find it frustrating and harder. I wrote a 3rd person version, which was much easier to read and follow.
No, third person isn't easier to write, it is easier to write WELL. It's counter-intuitive, but first person has a natural distancing effect that third person overcomes. Somebody mentioned Characters and Viewpoints. That is a very good book to spend quality time with, because it explains the concept far better than I can.
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OSC, in Characters and Viewpoint, talks about the differences between first and third. I think you have to pay close attention to the chapters, though. I missed a lot the first time through.
He mentions that in first person the narrator knows how the story ends, so the narrator is in a sense holding information back from the reader. Unless, of course, the narrator starts out by saying, "I didn't know the hitchhiker was my long lost daughter when I picker her up.... or when I dumped her body in the cement foundation of my new office building."
As has been said here, he emphasizes that it takes a skilled writer to do a first person perspective well. There is a reason third person limited is so popular.
Well it takes a skilled writer to do any tense or person well. And I believe that different people, as different kinds of writers with various talents, might find a particular tense-person combination easiest of all.
quote:Its harder when you restrict yourself to writing only what your protag would see and give any thought to.
The interesting thing here is that the situation you are describing strikes me, personally, as easier. More in tune with how traditionally write anyway.
I suppose a scale of "difficulty" might look like this:
easiest: beginner's 1st person moderate: beginners 3rd person hard: mastered 3rd person most challenging: mastered 1st person
But I reject the idea that amateur 3rd person is proveably easier than amateur 1st, since, it seems that 1st person is the native way people tell stories. Because your own perspective is your native point of view. Hence diaries and journals, etc.
[This message has been edited by Zero (edited April 21, 2007).]
quote:But I reject the idea that amateur 3rd person is proveably easier than amateur 1st, since, it seems that 1st person is the native way people tell stories. Because your own perspective is your native point of view. Hence diaries and journals, etc.
So it would go to reason that any attempt at the beginner level is easiest, regardless of the POV you're using. It's not in the attempt that first or third is difficult, it's in the mastering of these.
I've attempted first person, and tried to keep it in present tense for immediacy. I've read a bit of first person as well. It's my experience that, for the sake of the story being told, an author is better off sticking to third person unless he or she is certain of doing it well. Poorly written first person has the annoying tendancy to become cumbersome, particularily when we're talking about novel-length works.
[This message has been edited by Wolfe_boy (edited April 21, 2007).]
hmm, interesting, I admit I have read very little 1st person writing, which is probably a mistake since my WIP is 1st person. I'd like to know what you mean by cumbersome in terms of a few examples, so I can better assess my own writing.
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Examples? On hand, I don't have any. I was going from memory on something I wrote a long time ago (it was cumbersome to write & read). That particular piece was reworked and its original form exists now only in my poor addled memories.
The biggest issue I had in writing and in reading was that first person takes place on two separate planes simultaneously - on one plane, the narrator is expressing his story to you, and on the second plane, the narrator is actively participating in the story. The rapid shifts between those planes, with all of the attendant immediacy, depth, and tense changes, requires a deft hand to weave these separate parts together, and (unless it is done with greater skill than I have) a close reader to follow these shifts.
There is also the issue of the relaibility of the narrator. As writers, we naturally want to lay everything out in front of our readers, but as a first person narrator, we do not get the whole picture, and even the parts we do receive should be naturally skewed through our own personal biases.
Then again, that's just my opinion. I don't want to misconstrue my comments - well done first person is oftentimes a pleasure to read. I just find it more difficult to muddle through poorly written first person than poorly written third person.
It's just that to me, everything that has been listed as a difficulty for 1st person pov, such as the unreliability of the narrator, while they could be believable weaknesses or difficulties for many writers, they seem like just as easily they could be strengths or easy for others. Again I'm not convinced that it isn't subjective. Writers who don't like to lay everything out and show all of the cards might have an affinity for first person.
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Thanks for all the thoughts and advice from everyone.
Oliverhouse - darklight = SHE. I will try those exercises you suggested, but it seems I'm still confused about how to write good first person POV.
I eliminated the pronouns to give it a more immediacy - of course you can't delete them all else it wouldn't make sense. I admit it wasn't a very good example - should have spent more time on it.
I'm slightly confused about the 'I thought' situation. I read not to add the tag as it insults the reader - they should know he/she is thinking those words. I read to put it in italics, but then not to do so often because it becomes annoying and distracting, and I read to write your characters thougths on a seperate paragraph, not in italcs and without the tag?
KayTi - I'm not sure my little library will have it but I'll go check.
Balthasar - I would love to read many books written in first person, but I only have one in my book collection and I don't think that is writeen terribly well. Perhaps I need to go down to the libaray. I've just remembered - I'm reading another one now in first person - maybe its just me, but I don't think thats terribly good either. I guess I don't like first person POV that much - but would like to finish the novel I began which had both fisrt and third person POV's.
I guess it's a case of practise, practise, practise...
Jacqueline Carey's latest book in the Kushiel series, Kushiel's Scion is an excellent first person novel.
It was a risk for her because her last 3 books had been 3rd person. With this one, she moved into a new POV and new MC.
I didn't think I'd be able to get through it since I generally dislike first person POV but I got through all 800 or so pages. The first person voivce dropped away and I didn't even notice it. Talk about excellent writing.
There are no "I thought" because its first POV we know its the MC thinking,
quote:I will try those exercises you suggested, but it seems I'm still confused about how to write good first person POV.
That's the point of trying the exercises, though -- to put the different voices that you conjure up next to each other. When I read your original passage, it seemed that it could be in third as easily as in first. That was an indication to me that eliminating pronouns really wasn't aiming at the right target.
I don't know what to tell you about writing good first person except to read Characters and Viewpoint, like everyone else has.
For reading it, though, most of the popular magazines have at least some good first-person writing in them. I have unfortunately been unable to get back to the bookstore with sufficient time to collect the metrics I've started to, but this thread shows some of the metrics for some anthologies and magazines that are likely to have 1st person in them. Based on that teeny-tiny sample, you're better off with F&SF or Asimov's rather than Analog.
The "Year's Best SF" anthology series, edited by Kramer (but drawn from a lot of mainframe SF sources), has a lot of first person in it, both past and present tense. This thread has a discussion of a few anthologies that might be worth looking at. The bonus is that some of the anthologies might be available at your library.
I'd also recommend Eric Garcia's _Anonymous Rex_ as a first-person novel. It's funny, and the main character is a dinosaur disguised as a human.
quote:I'm slightly confused about the 'I thought' situation. I read not to add the tag as it insults the reader - they should know he/she is thinking those words.
Don't be. I wasn't addressing the use of thought tags, so I used them despite the fact that you should avoid them. The point is that either "he" or "I" could be thinking them, and I needed thought tags to make that explicit. It was part of the exercise, not "good writing".
I think there are places where "I thought" seems natural, and I use it there, but I'll almost always go back and edit them out. Even in the third person I use them very rarely.