Monday, July 15, 2013

First Person and Writing

So, I've been having a problem with voice lately. (no, not "voices"- I may be going a little crazy with all this summer vacation time on my hands, but I'm not to that point.. yet...) I had to put down the last three books I've attempted to read, even though they were all critically acclaimed, award winners, etc. I usually read non-fiction when I'm working on a novel- but I thought I'd spice it up a bit.

After I set down the third book, deterred and dismayed (I almost never give up on a book), I tried to figure out what was turning me off to all of these, seemingly radically different, stories. Then I figured it out: they were all written in first person point of view.

When I think of first person point of view working well, I think of Catcher in the Rye or The Book Thief. I think of books with main characters that I fell in love with or wanted to die a brutal, agonizing death. Characters that I wanted to be, or have a glass of wine with, or hunt down to the ends of the earth. Characters whose breath I could feel on the edge of my cheek, their imagined presence creating a shadow over my shoulder as I read. Those types of characters. And if a book is written in first person and I'm not desperate to interact with the narrator, then, well... you have a week among books as I have: turning the pages, shaking your head, finding something better to do.

So my question to you, intrepid writers and readers: what are your experiences with first person point of view and narration? What novels written in first person have blown your socks off and made you beg for more? What has worked, what hasn't, and does voice even matter? I'd love to hear your thoughts....


(If my dog Vegas wrote a book with first person narration it would go something along the lines of this: "I... am.... a dog. I am.... confused. I am trying to look... regal? I.... think. Snausages....")

6 comments:

  1. I think you got it with the realization that the character must be interesting. But, even more than that, I think the character's voice needs to be interesting. They need to have a distinct viewpoint about their world and come int conflict with it, or it all feels dull.

    I just finished Jim Butcher's "Blood Rites", and he does a great job of building Harry Dresden's character through every sentence. You get a sense of a jaded but nerdy detective, even when he's fighting monkey-demons.

    Early example: "Over the course of many encounters over many years, I have successfully developed a standard operation procedure for dealing with big, nasty monsters. Run away. Me and Monty Python."

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    1. I absolutely agree with you that the character has to have a distinct viewpoint about the world around them. And thanks for the book recommendation! I'll check it out!

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  2. Carlos Ruiz Zafon writes really well in the first person. He's a socks-blower-offer kind of author. One of his chararcters narrates really well, then leaves you to join the other characters for deep interactions. Check him out. You won't be disaapointed, I promise.

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    1. Very cool- I will definitely take a look at Zafon's work!

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  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was good first person. In general, however, I have had the same experience as you have.

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  4. I've fought with this subject quite a lot. Like you I don't often read works that are written in first person, though lately it seems more of them are coming my way. When I wrote Fried Windows it started out being a dialogue between Brent and Strawb. Third person narration didn't seem to work as well as if I made the narrator Brent. Generally I hate writing in first person because in the effort to avoid starting every other sentence with 'I' you end up with weird sentence patterns that make the author sound like Yoda. Third person has its limitations too. But when the objective to to create immediate intimate contact between the narrator/main character and the readers, first person accomplished that almost instantly.

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Thanks for your comments!