Put 1st Person Down and Step Away from It


I’ve encountered a dilemma in my writing life. The bulk of my writing comes out in first person. It’s not a choice I make. It’s just the way my characters choose to tell me their stories. So, what’s the problem? The problem is there is a sudden backlash against 1st person. I’m seeing it in my market research and it’s frustrating beyond belief. I’d been talking to my writing group about the trend I was seeing and my frustration with it, when I submitted a story to an anthology one morning and received my rejection just hours later. This rarely happens. That quick response didn’t bode well. I opened it and was stunned to discover that it was rejected because it was in 1st person. Now, this time it wasn’t because they didn’t want any 1st person – they just limited it and they’d reached that limit. Of course, for all I know the limit was one.

What could anyone have against first person? First person is by far the more intimate of the point of views, but if handled poorly can make clumsy prose. It also hinders the writer in that the only thing the reader can see is what the point of view character sees. Again in a beginners hands this may be less successful than an effort using 3rd person. However, that intimacy makes the reader a close part of the story, giving them insights into the protagonist’s life and therefore, their story. Is it worth the risk of failure to attempt first person? In my case, it’s just not a choice. Some of my characters refuse anything else.

Thad in Branded in Gray could not have given the reader insight into his guilt and grief and angst without first person. For us to empathize at all with a character whose poor choice caused the deaths of so many we have to get inside him. We have to know that there is remorse buried beneath the fear and anger and grief. Third person would have kept us too distanced from Thad and would have kept us from appreciating as Thad did the sacrifice of the professor.

In my young adult novel, On the Run, Ginny tells her part of the story in first person. I tried to tell it in third. It was horrid. Why? Ginny is a tense thriller in which she is running from powers who seek to destroy her or sell her. Third distanced us from what she was experiencing and kept us from feeling threatened for her. First person kept us clinging to the roof of the Humvee as it speeds down the road. Third person would have watched from a far.

Why the sudden disavowal of first person? No idea. Are too many people making that choice when it isn’t always the right choice? Has it become too frequent and burned editors and agents out? I’d like to have answers but I don’t. I just know when I need to tell a story in third that’s the route I take. And when I need to tell a story in first person, that’s going to be the path I take too. Even if I find myself rejected within hours of submitting.

What about you? Do you prefer first or third? Does one bother you more than another? What POV do you turn to most?

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