Monday, July 19, 2021

Novel Structures - 1st Person Issues

There are a lot of times when authors will submit stories to me that sound amazing, but when I start reading the partial or the full, things completely fall apart. Sometimes, it is simply due to the fact they hyped up the proposal so much, they were literally describing a completely different project. In other cases, it comes down to the approach in narration, and that is writing in first person.

Let me say, from the start, that I am not against writing in first person. I do believe, however, that too many authors think this is easier to write and attempt it, missing the fact that this approach is a lot harder to be successful with than in third person. 

For authors who think the story is easier to write this way, it is due to the fact that the author is really writing their book as if they are seeing it on a movie screen or hearing it in an audio book. When they take this approach, it is all about dialogue and hearing people talk. Of course this approach is going to be easier. You are just focusing in on what the people are saying. 

But now, let us look at the difficulties.

When we are talking, we describe things when we feel the information is necessary to what we are doing at that moment. We don't describe things around us or react to things we see on a regular basis. Think about it this way. When you come in to your home at the end of the day, do you look around and admire the artwork, or the way the furniture is set up? Probably not. Along the same lines, when you come in and see your significant other in the kitchen cooking, do you immediately launch into a narrative about all of the great memories, or how someone looks? Again probably not (although we probably should). When writing in first person, the character is only going to describe things and say things out loud that matter at that given moment. 

The issue then, with writing in first person, is two-fold. First, if the author does have the characters talking about these random things, it will feel really weird and forced. If your character does not include this information, then the reader will be lost and have to attempt to fill in the gaps on their own. 

When writing in third person, that is where the narration comes in. It is the chance for the author to tell the reader, through the narration, what those characters are thinking and feeling.

Another issue with writing in first person is head hopping, and/or, inserting emotions and feelings into the head of the person not talking. The head-hopping should make sense. Only one person can talk in first person at a time, so if a second  character starts talking, the author has to remember to see it only through the first speaker's eyes. Often they miss this. It is the second part that becomes the problem (and yes this also happens in third person). If I am writing in first person, I cannot tell the reader what the other character is thinking. I can "assume" I know, or react to what I see in their behavior and take a guess, but I cannot add that emotion into the story as if it is true. Writing in first person tends to have authors doing this frequently.

When we do see a story told in first person well, it is because the author has really thought it through and fixed those issues, because they knew how to. 

If you are getting rejections where people are telling you the writing is forced, or the writing is lacking depth, and you are writing in first person, these might be the reasons for those rejections.

Just something to think about for a Monday.

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