WRITING IN FIRST PERSON
Writing in the first person is difficult, even when you like it. It is intimate and intense and, as such, can become boring. The viewpoint character can only know what he/she hears or sees. Many readers don’t like reading first person. But if you love it, you really love it—writer or reader.
Most of my early novels were written in third person and, as a beginner, I tried to emulate the kinds of third-person voices I admired. But I also enjoyed reading novels by a number of authors who write in first person—Janet Evanovich, Katie MacAlister, Dick Francis, to name just a few. With a certain number of novels completed, I decided to try a first person novel as an experiment. Just to see if I could do it.
As it turned out, I loved the voice. I felt as though I'd finally found me; as though I was sitting across the table from a best girlfriend in Starbucks, telling her what had happened to me in the last several months. Very comfortable, natural, and personal.
Take the case of my recently released time travel novella A Timeless Melody. I had written this as a short story in the view point of the hero. My editor at the time asked me to rewrite it in third person and give both viewpoints. I agreed (reluctantly) without knowing what I was getting myself into.
Including the view point of the heroine, the time traveler, brought to light a whole new dimension to the story which meant I had to create some of the world she lived in. It involved a lot more than just showing the reader her emotions and thoughts. The manuscript went from a 10K short story into a 30K novella. A great improvement. It was the right choice for the structure.
Structure Your Novel
Not all stories are created equal. One of the decisions an author should make early in the writing process is the structure of the story...how it will be told. Often the choice isn't made consciously, but it should be.
The author's goal should be telling the story in the best way for that particular story. That doesn't mean you have to outline the novel in detail—you can be a total pantser and start with just an idea—but you should have given thought to how the story begins and ends, the main characters, and the general nature of the work. The structure should fit the kind of story you're writing.
You may have to write a few chapters before you finalize the structure, but it should be early on in the writing process.
For me, the structure of a novel includes, but is not limited to:
1. Who is telling the story.
Is the protagonist telling the story or is it the hero or heroine telling it? Are several main characters telling it? Is it told by an observer, an omniscient narrator, etc.?
2. The Tense and Person used;
3. How the Story Unfolds
Is the story told as it unfolds or as though the characters are looking back on past events, or a combination of those. In the former, the characters (and narrator, if that is part of the structure) know only what has happened at any given point in time and can only speculate about the future. In the latter, the “teller” knows the outcome of the story at the point of telling it. Some novels combine both approaches seamlessly.
Is it written as a series of letters from one person to another? In the form of a diary? Does it have a frame (such as a character in the contemporary present discovering someone else's story in the past, or perhaps looking back on their own story in the past)? Are five characters going to tell the story, each in third person VP or first person VP? And so on.
Telling Your Story In The First Person
There are advantages to telling a story in first person. The tight focus of this view point is immediate, intimate, and can increase reader identification (if your character doesn't become boring). You can make the voice of view point character really distinct and different. She might be proper and polite to others, but wow! What's going on in her mind is outrageous.
Of course, you can do all these in deep-immersion third person.
In first person, everything in the story (all events, characters, dialogue, setting, emotions) is filtered through the eyes, thoughts, and feelings of the VP character. That allows greater layering of the character, but it's also a big constraint.
Alicia Rasley, in her book The Power of Point of View, writes that "... many editors and readers feel it is limiting; they don’t like being confined to one person’s head for a whole book.”
Why I Like First Person
I like writing in first person because this is the way we live our lives. As human being, we are confined to one head...your own. You don't know what your spouse, child, best friend, or dog is really thinking or feeling. You may believe you do, from knowing the person well, reading body language, and other indicators—even by what the person says—but you really don't know.
You assume. You guess. You speculate. You intuit. And often you're right, but you don't know. I believe this reflection of real life is what appeals to or repels readers the most about the view point.
My experience with A Timeless Melody is, however, proof that an author needs to consider that the view point he or she prefers as a writer isn't necessarily the best to tell the story. □
A TIMELESS MELODY
By R. Ann Siracusa
Melody is out of her element, and Brandon believes she knows more than she lets on. Her secret may be more than he bargained for.
She appeared out of nowhere, blown into of Red Gulch—a decaying mining town in the Mojave Desert—on the crest of a desert breeze like the ever-present tumbleweeds that filled the empty streets in the blink of an eye. Except everyone knew where tumbleweeds came from.
Brandon O'Donnell never figured out where Melody came from, but she captured his heart with her flaming red hair, hypnotic light-grey eyes, and intense but distant way of speaking, almost as if she knew a lot more than she let on.
What will happen to their love when Brandon finds out the secret Melody has been hiding from him all these years?
Their gazes met. In that moment, a myriad of emotions flashed across his features. Surprise. Suspicion. Desire.
Swept by prickles of fear and doubt, she reined in the panicky feeling as a bead of sweat slowly rolled down her spine. She'd been so confident that she had done the right thing…that everything had already happened…that her destiny brought her here. Her resolve had faltered when Brandon approached her in the Gold Nugget Café. The power of his mere presence rendered her speechless. She'd forgotten her well-rehearsed speech. Her heart tripped and stuttered.
After dreaming of the moment so long, when their gazes locked, his light blue eyes, gentle but filled with hunger, were the eyes of a stranger.
Now, before she lost her nerve, she stripped off her damp shirt and unzipped her jeans. She dared not let him see her misgivings, even though she intended to show him everything else. She couldn't afford to fail. By coming here, she'd risked more than her own future and happiness.
Much more than she had any right to gamble.
Brandon stood appraising her. Hard, lean, and bronzed by exposure to the desert sun, with sandy-colored hair like silk, his snug T-shirt outlining sculpted muscles all the way down the length of his long torso. Just as she remembered. But much younger, and so delicious she wanted to eat him.
Her body tightened at the core. Of its own volition, her tongue slid across her lower lip before she realized she returned his ogle with equal intensity.
He's letting me call the shots. Smiling self-consciously, she hooked her thumbs into the elastic of her panties and pulled them off.
In two seconds flat, he shed his boots and clothes.
Without hesitation, Melody dove naked into the shimmering water, cool relief caressing her skin and driving away the oppressive heat. How could anyone live in such heat?
Seconds later, from behind, strong arms closed around her middle, just below her breasts. Brandon must have dived almost at the same time. He pulled her into his embrace, his body throbbing against her. A riot of sensations exploded in her. They surfaced together, in full body contact, both drawing in gasps of air that had nothing to do with needing oxygen and everything to do with young healthy hormones.