Finding Your Voice: Writing in First Person
by: Dermot Davis
The first thing I ask myself before writing a story is what voice is it best to tell it in? Should I use first person or third person to tell the story? Should I switch voices? I have only written one book in first person but perhaps I can share what my experience was and what the challenges were.
The first thing I noticed about writing in first person was the immediacy of the writing. The writing felt very personal and had a certain urgency about it, as if I was so personally invested in the story that I was telling it as if my good name depended upon it. I couldn’t hide behind some unknown narrator’s voice and blend into the scenery, so to speak; I was ever present and this was MY story being told in MY voice. It was actually very strange. Why?
Because I was talking not in my own voice but in a character’s voice: a character that I had made up. I felt like what an actor must feel when they inhabit a particular character for a play or a movie, except not only was I playing the part, I was also supplying the dialogue. Writing in first person is almost writing one gigantic monologue or sitting behind the wheel of a double-decker bus, deciding on the roads taken as well as who should be riding in the bus, where they should be sitting and even where and when they should get off. It can be intoxicating… and also very scary. What if you take the wrong turn and crash the bus? Or what if you tell some people to get off when they should be staying on? As the first person voice, your character is in full control.
Which brings me to another shocker that I soon came to realize: the character I created to tell the story in no time became so real as to develop a will of his own.
The character that I invented needed to be controlled. As absolutely everything was from his point of view, what got told and what remained left out was entirely up to him. However, I quickly reasoned that having just one person tell a story that involved other people, just in real life – when one person is recounting a past incident in their life – the story they tell can be very biased and not necessarily what happened at all.
Writing with such a built-in bias could work very well for your story, depending on the tale that you are telling, as in the Rashom on effect, for instance. As for my story, I almost had to force my character to be fair to other characters he didn’t like and be especially honest with his own thoughts and feelings, even if that put him in an unfavorable light.
Another lesson learned? First person characters want to be liked. If you have difficulty believing this, let me ask you, how many first person narratives have you read where you didn’t like the character narrating it? Not too many, I should think.
All Daniel Waterstone ever wanted to do was write the great American novel and change the landscape of modern literature forever. He has two literary books in print but no one’s buying. His agent won’t even accept his latest masterpiece which he poured his soul into: apparently, it’s not commercial enough.
In a final act of desperation, under the pseudonym of Charles Spectrum, he writes a feverish satire on a Transformational, Self-help best-seller that’s currently topping the charts. Intended as a parody, “How to do Amazing Things Using Only Your Brain,” similar to the best-seller, contains crazy and hilarious exercises on how to increase one’s brain power.
Instead of being published as satire, however, it hits the shelves with all the other serious pop psychology, self-improvement books. It becomes a huge hit. People all around the world are doing unbelievably zany exercises to improve themselves. Even crazier still: they’re getting results. Readers are levitating, bending spoons and seeing into the future. Daniel becomes one of the most desired talk show guests and is soon lionized by agents and publicists. Seminars are organized and what was intended as a joke takes on a huge life of its own.
To complicate things further, Daniel falls in love with a beautiful woman who adores him as Charles Spectrum, the guru. If she was informed of his earlier incarnation as a penniless, failed author, would she still love him? Daniel knows that at some point he must choose between the celebrity author gravy train or, being true to his self and to his art, return to the pits of poverty, obscurity and perhaps, worst of all, most likely lose the woman of his dreams.
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Genre - Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG13
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