Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Repeat: 1st Person Narratives: Conversational, yes. Chatty, like ohmigod no.

First, before we get to our holiday repeat from years past, another plug for our Making Spirits Bright With Heifer International comment pledge drive. Some of the blogs still have comments open - all you have to do to add another 50 cents or $1.00 to needy families is stop by and leave a comment!!

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Thanks again to everyone for participating and for your incredible generosity!

And now for the repeat post from years past:

Originally posted November 12, 2007

Confession time: when I was a kid I really didn't like books written in the first person. Little Nathan Bransford was quite the literal fellow, and he just didn't get the whole first person thing (also he was very short and the girls in his second grade class patted him on the head and called him "El Chiquito" which was HUMILIATING).

I really couldn't wrap my head around who was doing the narrating. Was I supposed to believe it was the author? Was the narrator supposed to have written it all down? Was the narrator supposed to be talking to me? What in the heck was going on? What if a 1st Person narrator died in the end? THEN who was supposed to be doing the talking?

Luckily I outgrew both my aversion to 1st Person and the people who called me El Chiquito (who's El Chiquito now, LA CHIQUITA??), but only after I came to accept the essential weirdness of 1st Person. What is 1st Person anyway?

Well, it's a spectrum, obviously. It can be an imitation of someone definitely telling a story to someone else (THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST), it can be someone definitely writing something down (THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO), it can just be a story told from someone's particular point of view (TWILIGHT), or it can be sort of a hybrid (THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN).

But whatever it is, a first person narrative is unique in language. Whatever form the narrative takes (and it should be consistent), it's not like a real person talking or writing. There's no real-life equivalent. It's something else entirely.

Have you seen a transcript of an actual conversation? I have. IT'S BORING. It's confusing. People don't really make sense. They include a whole bunch of "I means" and "Ums" and "likes" and it's quite annoying to see on the page.

Good first person writers crafting a unique voice create the impression that someone is speaking and the illusion that it sounds like the way someone would talk without it actually being real life dialogue or how it would sound if someone were actually telling a story.

So one common mistake writers make with 1st person narratives is an excess of chattiness of the "I mean" and "No, really" and "like" variety, especially when it comes to young adult literature. Yes, that's how people (and kids) talk. It's even how they blog (GUILTY!). But excess chattiness over the course of an entire novel becomes exhausting - would you want to sit and listen to someone tell a story for six hours? Let alone someone who said "like" after every other sentence?

To be sure, the occasional "I mean" and chatty turn of phrase can be used to great effect in the right hands, as both Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz demonstrate in particular -- a taste of real life can go a long way toward showing what the character is like and infusing a voice with a unique flavor. But only in very, very small doses. It's ok for a 1st person narrator to sound conversational, but not overly chatty.

So as you're writing, keep an eye on those, um, "So"s and "I mean"s and "like"s. Don't write what real life sounds like; write better than real life.






60 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

Ooohh... 1st comment! Yay me. (unless someone hits submit before I do, then BOOO!)

I've grown to love 1st person. Almost everything I write comes out that way, now (at least in 1st draft). The defining point for it for me is if the whole story can be told by the narrator. If the narrator has no reason to be privy to every scene, it's a disservice to the story to manufacture a reason for them to be in it.

I used to hate 1st person present until I made myself write something that way, and now I love it, too.

If I write in 1st person, I tend to do it as though the narrator was giving an interview to the reader so they're actually speaking to them (who needs that darn 4th wall anyway?)

Of course, I still like 3rd person, too. Who am I kidding? I like anything if it's written well.
:-P

ryan field said...

I'm more comfortable with the 3rd person narrative. And I think I can be more objective, if that makes sense.

But the few (very few) things I've written and had published in the first person have surprised me.

The thing I don't like about the first person, as a writer, is that I don't want readers thinking it's me. Or that the story is about me.

Jourdan Alexandra said...

Thanks for the post Nathan. It was really nice for me, because my manuscript is in 1st person... but thankfully I've already avoided making the mistakes you pointed out! However, now I will be extra vigilant where it concerns chatty phrases.

And on a side note, I'm eternally grateful you got over your aversion to 1st person. :)

coffeelvnmom said...

I too write in 1st person. It's how hear I the story - the character's voice talking in my head . I see everything better that way, because a person telling me what happened to them, and their reaction to it is, in my opinion, the most interesting to write. (Though I do read both 1st and 3rd person myself.)

Thanks for the helpful re-post!

Rachele Alpine said...

I have a weird habit of using first person narration when I wrote my YA novel (which I hope isn't too chatty!) and third person when I write short stories for the MFA program I'm in. I've tried to switch narration, but I've never liked the result!

Maybe I need to try something in second person for a happy medium!

Rachele
www.freckle-head.blogspot.com

T. Anne said...

Um... this is actually a great post and I'll tell you why. In the spirit of not talking down to the reader, the writing should be elevated. I think "White Oleander" is a prime example of this. Written in first person, the narrator, a thirteen year old girl delivers a breathtaking inner dialogue filled with beautiful prose. However.... there is a place for first person narration however chatty it may be filled with um's and like's. These two examples are completely different kinds of books. I think the demographic for the later exists, even though it may sour your taste buds Nathan. So um, like, brace yourself for my new YA query. Something chatty your way comes. ;)
I heart you, please don't be mad.

Megan Hill said...

Thanks for reposting that blog entry! It's very timely (for me) and, like, informative.

Breeze said...

I started my novel in first person and found it very difficult to not be me instead of her(and we are very different) so I switched. It did help me get inside her head though and flesh out her motivation etc. So I sort of do little journals from the pov of each character for that purpose if I'm stuck but I can't imagine doing an entire book in first person.
I've never had a problem reading it, no aversions but I couldn't make it work this time.

Great post..missed it the first time so this is great! Thanks.

Tina said...

Hi Nathan. You've been told a million times, I'm sure, but its really good to get your take on writing and publishing.

My short stories are sometimes in the first person but my first novel and the planned rest of the series are third person, multiple viewpoint. For my genre, I find it allows me to explore different experiences and build the suspence for the main characters.

I write horror and my first novel is being considered by an agent at the moment. I hope that I'll be swimming in the published pool soon! (fingers crossed).

Anyway, a little early, but happy New Year!

GK said...

I was talking with a publishing buddy of mine about a manuscript she was reading when she said, "I just hate first person." I then nattered off a quick list of books in first that both of us love. She looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, "I just started making a mental list of my favorite books, and apparently I love first person."

I think first person is like prologues: it's easy to get wrong, so many readers think they hate the form when actually they hate the execution.

I personally don't care third, first, second, just give me a good narrator. Doesn't matter how omniscient a book tries to be, there's still a narrator, and they make or break it for me. (For instance, I can't stand His Dark Materials for the pure fact that the narrator sounded like a smug bastard, and not the good kind.)

Of course, there are those who make POV a true art. Megan Whalen Turner wields point-of-view with the grace and deliberation of a dancer. Seriously, her fans gleefully theorize over how she'll handle POV next, it's so riveting. I want to throw Conspiracy of Kings at every query and say, "See?! This is how you do a prologue/character-written narrative/pov switching! Use it because it's perfect for the scene, not because it's convenient!"

Thanks for the repost. I do need to delve into your archives more often. ...Is it me, or does "delve" make things sound a bit dirty?

Marla Taviano said...

Amen!

Julie said...

Ally Carter does this first person with a midly chatty voice very well with the MC in her series of three books.

Mira said...

Cool post. And congrats on all the wonderful funds you raised for an extremely worthy cause. Good on you, Nathan! :)

So, I do want to say: So THAT'S what you mean by chatty. You've said that a couple of times before, and I wasn't sure what you meant. I thought you meant a 'chatty' voice, but I see now that you meant chatty as a style of speech - using all the little extras.

Yes. I write first person, almost exclusively. Sometimes I'll write a piece in a 'chatty' format, but I think very carefully about every 'um' and 'like' and 'sort of' for placement. Your point that it's tiring for the reader is well-spoken. It's extra work for the reader; there's translation involved.

I once read that to give a character an accent, don't place the accent in every line. It will exhaust the reader. A few lines here or there is enough to give the reader a sense of things. I think the same thing is true for informal styles of speech.

One example of a writer who does this really well is Meg Cabot, who captures teenage speak without overwhelming the reader.

Josin - I want to add that I also like to break down the wall between narrator and reader. I like to play around with narrators, sort of like Lemony Snicket. In fact, I'm sort of mad he got there first. :p

My problem with my voice is that it can be so confidential and intimate that some readers, may find it intrusive. I have to work with that.....or let it go, and just know I won't reach everyone. I'm not sure which....still working on that.

atsiko said...

Great post. Nothing new, but still a good overview. I still prefer third limited, but I've gotten more accepting of first over time. Still harder for me to actually write, as a previous commenter mentioned.

Mira said...

Oh, since my post wasn't long enough, I'd like to add something.

I'm very sorry about the El Chaquito thing. Children are very mean sometimes.

But maybe that would make a good story for MG. Just a thought.

Linda Godfrey said...

First, yay on the big Heifer.org success! Starting late, I didn't get as many comments as I'd hoped but I'll pay extra. I also posted it to a 345-person Yahoo group and at least one member went back through all your posts and commented at EVERYone's! I will still count any I get today, too.

I have a first person WIP that started as a short story but kept going because I enjoyed the so-not-me voice so much. Glad to report not one like or um in the whole thing but now I will be extra vigilant.

I've always liked first person but not books written in the form of letters or diaries -- there's no accounting for taste!

Masonian said...

point taken!

Not only is it a danger when we are trying to make our conversation too real (so much so that we start writing dialect--shudder), but it is a danger when we try to write in the inflection and rythm of speech.

Here's what I mean: we use "um & uh & er & like" to buy us time while we think of the next thing to say. Whether we are trying to be witty, lie, or just don't want to leave a long pause for the other guy to jump in with his two cents, we fill up our vocal cesurae with all kinds of half-baked sounds.

So in written dialogue I use sentence breaks to avoid these blah words.

Super-cheesy example #1:
Chatty: "I don't want to go to the movies with you because, um... er.. well, like, I'm tired."

Super-duper: "I don't want to go to the movies with you because," she started.
He waited, watching her eyes roam anywhere but his face.
"Because, I'm tired," she finished.

No I don't want a literary prize (unless it comes with a cash prize) but I just wanted to make a super obvious point.

In both versions you get the impression she's lying. One sounds like a valley girl with a stutter. The other might not be high literature, but it at least throws a little more paint around the scene.

Which brings me to an accidental point: with action breaks you can have them say more by having them say a little less. No one ever REALLY says what they mean, or what they think they are saying.

This lecture series is now closed.

AchingHope said...

Huh, I should go back through one of my WIP and make sure I wasn't ridiculous in my verbal pauses.

I've never really thought about 1st or 2nd person, because I've worked with both for so long they both feel natural to me. I just love playing around with voices and viewpoints, and different ways to tell a story. It's loads of fun.

And congrats on the fundraiser!

Mira said...

Masonian - I sort of disagree.

I like your example, but I think there can be a place for the first. It all depends on the tone and style of the book.

For example, maybe you want to stay with pure dialogue. Or you want to make it lighter. It all depends on the tone you want. (Not the best example, I'd have to work on it longer to make it pristine, but hopefully it shows what I mean):

"I don't want to go to the movies with you because, um.........well......uh........I'm tired."

"Oh. Tired?"

"Yes....tired. Very tired. Very, very, very tired. Oh boy, I'm so tired. Tired, tired, tired. Worn out. Exhausted. Can't remember when I've been this tired. I've been doing alot of...........um...............stuff....lately. So, okay, gotta go. See ya."

Grimmster24 said...

Hey, Sherman Alexie! THERE'S a familiar name! I read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven WAYYY back in my first year at Ohio State. :-)

Susan Quinn said...

Thanks for the plug for those of us still collecting comments! The responses have been wonderful, and they keep coming!

Patrice said...

It's very wonderful of you to champion Heifer International, a great group.

So were you short, and now you're tall? I didn't really think you were Latino, but maybe...

My natural voice always seems to come out first person present tense, and it has since I was a teen. But I don't think it was ever excessively chatty, like, ya know?

I first wrote my comedy memoir "LOOKING FOR MR. RIGHT.COM; How You Can Find Love Online" in present tense, and only gradually became convinced, by my wise writing partners, that past would be better.

I too am in the nail biting phase of waiting for a response from agents. It's so nice to have a place to commune with the writers. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

i transcribed for a deaf colleague for a couple of years, and i am here to tell you conversation is nasty! boring! repetitive! and repetitive! he was very motivated to have me type everything, and i got his motivation, but after not very long we started abbreviating huge chunks of some people's talk: 13, 63 2x (one rant about budget cuts, two repetitions of of complaints about professors, etc.)

in my job now, i have to read transcripts, and things have not changed. again, may i say things are the same ;-)

Elaina M. Avalos said...

Thanks for the post. The novel I'm writing now is in the first person as are my most recent short stories but I don't normally write in first person so, like, ohmygod I appreciate the advice.

reader said...

I don't mind first person, I think it can lend to a great voice, whereas sometimes third sounds so dry and clinical. But can't stand first person present tense. Ick. It makes me jittery and makes the characters and situations sound so dire no matter what is being happening or being discussed. Nothing makes me run from a book faster.

Rachel Quatrone said...

Thanks. I love your comment of "Don't write what real life sounds like; write better than real life."

Richard Lewis said...

Me too! It used to be, whenever I read first person and especially in present tense, why, I was just beside myself!

AndrewDugas said...

For me the challenge with first person narratives is the POV limitation. Everything comes to the reader through that one character--which yes can be great--but oh so limiting.

If you look closely, you can see how first person necessitates some narrative contortion. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey has to do some serious bending to get his first person narrator, Chief Broom, into a meeting where the Big Nurse's plans for MacMurphy are discussed. "Oh I clean here every week and nobody notices the big deaf Indian anyway." Really? Would the staff really have the guy clean DURING the weekly meeting as opposed to just after or maybe right before? It's not like the Chief has a tight schedule there in the hospital.

Kesey gets away with it, but just barely. I remember a similar situation in Caleb Carr's The Angel of Darkness, in which case he needs to plant his narrator, the driver, on the edge of a roof so he can overhear some key information. Unlike Kesey, he doesn't quite manage it.

Guinevere said...

Good post (or re-post, rather). I tend to struggle with dialogue in that I think it sounds TOO much better than real life, which is the other side of the coin, of course.

Not to mention, I wish that I was as verbally put-together as my MC and never ended a sentence with, "...so..."

fatcaster said...

Uh, 1st person:

"Catcher In The Rye" and Gatsby. Just sayin . . . :)

Rissa Watkins said...

Hey Nathan,

"It's ok for a 1st person narrator to sound conversational, but not overly chatty."


What about a 3rd person narrator? One person in my critique group didn't like slang used in any form by the narrator. I disagree as long as, like you mentioned, it isn't overly chatty.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Michael Clutton said...

Had my book half written in third person... then, while discussing a few points with some of my proofers... it dawned on me that what my book "needed" was a change of perspective.
I went back and remodeled the entire thing into a first-person and whammo! it totally elevated the story into a believable piece.
I caught the "So..." and the "I mean..." once or twice... slapped myself and kept going.

My worst fear was this: I'm a male and most of my readers would be female (I presumed). Would "my" first person be well received?

So far, so good. Every reaction I've gotten (without exception) has exceeded my expectations. And none of the ladies I've spoken to have had a problem with the male writer perspective. If anything, they found my "take" rather humorous.

I guess it proves we can be our wn worst critic.

Good post!

AndrewDugas said...

@Rissa -- Everyone in your critique group should read "How Fiction Works" by James Wood of the NYer. This issue of narrative tone in the third person is discussed in illuminating detail.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

"What we look for in fiction is not reality, but the epiphany of truth"

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

I refer to this quote at least once a year in my classroom.

ali said...

That's good advice Nathan, thanks!

And thanks for the glimpse into Little Nathan's life and trouble. Very entertaining. Sorry ;)

GhostFolk.com said...

"Catcher In The Rye" and Gatsby. Just sayin . . . :)


Do we each name two? :-)

MOBY DICK. NERO WOLFE (all of them, I think).

Steve said...

My first attempt at fiction writing is a first person YA novel WIP. I understand and agree with what is often said that dialogue should not imitate real life conversation, with all the pauses, stumbles, and uh, awkward moments.

That being said, I question the advice about dropping the "chatty" elements. This is teen slang, and, as you point out, they even blog this way. I would think that if they can read it day after day on their friends' blogs, they should be all right with it in a book - but maybe not. They are different media.

My more serious question is authenticity of voice. If my character does not sound like a real teenager, then who would believe in her, or want to be her friend? Sure, she doesn't have to say like, LOL/OMG in every sentence - nor do most real teens. But where is the line to be drawn?

-Steve

Ink said...

Steve,

I think that's the writer's job, to try and find that line. We have to find that point in the writing where the authenticity of voice meets the fluidity and clarity of fine prose. That's where we write something better than the real - we write something true. We pare away the excess. I think of it as if I were sharpening something. You pare away the excess, grinding it sharper and sharper. You want the words, in the end, to be so precise they cut. A fine line, indeed.

The Daring Novelist said...

While I absolutely agree that first person narrative is NOT like a person talking, I've got to disagree that it isn't like a person recounting it later or writing it down.

People don't write like they talk. A good narrator should be a good story teller. I would use, as an example, Archie Goodwin of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books. Archie is a professional at relating a story - that's what he does through out most of each story, as a matter of fact. He gathers information and reports it back, and he must be a very good judge of what details to include and what not to, and he is very very very precise.

Of course, that's where the weirdness of first person really lies: can you trust the narrator? The author is supposed to be telling the truth, but is the narrator? The answer is that it doesn't matter. You're being told a story, you're being seduced by that narrator, so what matters is the narrator's version.

Meghan Ward said...

I participated in the Heifer International comments pledge drive! I didn't get a ton of comments, but I bought half a goat anyway (and I put in a special request for the front half). Thanks for letting me know about it. I hadn't heard of Heifer International before your pledge drive.

Margaret said...

This is a good post, but what caught my eye was at the very top. Thank you for describing your reaction to 1st person. Here I thought I was the only one who felt that way. Everyone says 2nd person sounds like the author has coopted you, but that's what first person is to me, which is not to say I don't enjoy books in 1st that are well-written, but rather that I find the prejudice against 2nd person confusing.

Liz said...

Interesting. I was the opposite. I couldn't stand anything written in 3rd person, and I avoided those books. In 1st person, I felt like I was more in the story. 3rd person felt very distancing to me.

But as I got older and read more, I found my way in to 3rd person stories. I can appreciate both, but I still prefer books written in 1st person.

Claude Forthomme said...

I've just finished a manuscript in 1st person and I find your post right on the dot!

Reading the comments, I do get the feeling that there is a tendency to OVERLOOK what 1st vs. 3rd person narratives do and where the advantages are from the standpoint of the plot...OK, we all agree that 1st person is a SINGLE point of view (your own) and 3rd persons means MULTIPLE points of views. Now that can be either an advantage or a disadvantage from an overall structural point of view.

Let me clarify.

Suppose you write a thriller. With a 1st person narrative you can usefully hide keys to understanding the situation as a whole and avoiding giving away the grand finale - so the reader is hit by a surprise effect (just as the protagonist is). Suppose now that you're into one of those complex psychological novels describing a family situation and multiple relationships and how they evolve over time. It seems to me that in this case, multiple viewpoints are a must in order to display (and analyze) the ins and outs of difficult relationships.

Then of course you can do like Simone de Beauvoir: you can include multiple points of view writing each chapter (or section of your book) from the standpoint of the different players but using 1st person each time. The result can be very effective if you don't confuse your reader and make it quite clear who is the "I" doing the speaking...But then, not everybody is Simone de Beauvoir!

Erastes said...

I admit that I wouldn't want anything interspersed with "likes" and "ums" but then I wouldn't want to have a conversation with anyone who used those expressions (ditto for "I turned round and said" or "know what I mean?") but I disagree about the chatty - I DO want to have someone (when I'm reading first person narratives) telling me a story for hours and I want to hear their voice--mannerisms and all--while their telling it rather than some homogenised one size fits all. It's the reason I love such first person books as Jane Eyre, Apropos of Nothing and The Dresden Files.

GhostFolk.com said...

Claude,

A good start on the pros and cons of 3rd-person V 1st-person. People write entire books on this very topic.

Of course, 3rd-person is good for thrillers, too, because you can limit 3rd-person. You can know what one person is thinking, but not the other(s). And you can also show the gun in the glovebox the MC doesn't know about.

In 3rd-person, you don't have to tell everything the character knows, but you can move in and out of what they do know, feel, experience at will. You can show the villain in her own life.
You can show the effects of actions in the story on people the protag might never meet, etc.

Or Romance. You've Got Mail follows both the female and male leads.

Used to be, the blockbuster -- a book designed and written as a big commercial novel -- was always 3rd-person. Works in comedy, too. You bring separate story arcs together and resolve them in one climactic scene this way. You can show the hunter AND the hunted. Etc.

And... you can kill the MC. Lots of advantages to 3rd-person.

Meanwhile, you can write a novel in 3rd-person and tell every thought a protagonist has and no one else's. Much like 1st-person, except the author is given the freedom to telescope or microscope descriptions at will.

In 3rd-person, I can follow only one character for the entire book and still get to show the reader things happening that the character can't see.

A character may not notice three black birds on a wire outside the house. The author might.

We all know the limits of 1st-person, you have to move your character to every scene you need them to know about... or you have to have someone tell them everything they need to know about... And, if you have action scenes, they have to be in every one of them.

In 3rd-person you can move in and out of backstory (especially for secondary characters) at will.

And then there are all those thoughts and in-story memories of a 1st-person protag. Gets old fast. Clever authors go to some lengths to have dialogue moments for a 1st-person character. Robert Parker has his MC visit his wife's grave and talk it out with her. 1st-person characters frequently end up talking to their pets, etc., when, for no other reason, the author wants to have dialogue blocks among the pages.

1st-person is a very limited pov. If its advanatge is supposed to be VOICE, I'd argue that most talented authors get plenty of VOICE in 3rd-person.

I'd say the real advantage of 1st-person is a sense of IMMEDIACY (and INTIMACY) of the story. It brings you in close and keeps you there and is dandy for solo story-arc, solo-character stories. It's great for MG and YA readers, isn't it?

Not so much for stories like PULP FICTION or THE FIRM.

I find agents and editors who constantly talk about VOICE being what makes a story work don't always know what they're talking about. Or at least WE don't know what they're talking about: voice of the character (omg,I have to write in first-person or my book won't have voice?) or voice of the author?

It is the latter. Just ask The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

A technique I find fascinating (someone was wise to mention The Great Gatsby) is the use of a first-person narrative that is NOT the protagonist of the book/story. Sherlock Holmes comes to us this way.

Nathan, have you considered that folks like Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams wrote in 1st-person quite frequently? :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

Ryan Field:

The thing I don't like about the first person, as a writer, is that I don't want readers thinking it's me. Or that the story is about me.

They're going to anyway. :-)

Unless the readers are friends and family, then they will think the story is about them.

K.L. Brady said...

I like first person becaue, for me, it helps to writers develop very relatable characters. My first novel is in first person but after getting hammered in a few initial critiques, I found a more conversation narrative and that's why readers love the character.

Right now, I'm working on another project which is in third-person. I started it in first-person but after getting into the story, I found that I couldn't write this character in first-person. She's so quirky that the story has to be told as if someone is witnessing her antics. To do it in first person, I don't think she'll be that beleivable.

I think there's a place for both, and the choice becomes clear as your story develops.

I've heard so many people say first time writers use first-person because it's easy. I don't think that's true at all--at least not for well-done first person. I'd be curious to know what others think.

Nancy said...

So, like ohmigod you mean I have to change my whole story? I mean it's all written, you knowlike I have 525 pages out to that Curtis Brown guy and he um says he says he hasn't read it yet, so I'm waiting, you know? My friends really like it so, yeah... what am I suposetodo now, for serious.

j/k Nathan... thanks for your post! :) n

Mira said...

You know, this discussion is interesting to me, in terms of which POV is better or easier.

It's highly possible that we write in different ways, but I don't find that I have much choice about POV. The story comes to me with a POV attached to it. Occasionally, the story can change it's mind, and decide that it wants to be told from a different POV, but that's the story and it's voice, not me.

I wonder if other people are different, and they can choose their POV.

Henri said...

Nice read on writing in the first person. Like - I totally agree - Man - That written dialogue needs to be different from the actual spoken word. But listen to this - Dude! There needs to be some vernacular to give it a taste of the real. Oh Wow! But the question is where do you find that happy medium.

Right on Brother! And have hope you have a really jammin' Holiday.

Rissa Watkins said...

Thank you Andrew for the recommendation. I will pick up that book today and will offer it to my crit group after I am finished.

Ian Wood said...

At a conference, an executive editor from Tor Books told me in no uncertain terms that first-time novelists shouldn't attempt first person narratives, saying that "You've really got to have your chops" to pull such a thing off.

My thinking was that I had to have my chops to pull anything off at all, so after that panel I sought out Tad Williams and put the question to him: "First novel, first person narrative: do it or don't?"

His response was enlightening. "If you're writing a story that you absolutely love, that you're passionate about, and that's the best way you can get that across, then for Christ's sake write it in the first person."

I kept my POV as it was.

houndrat said...

Oh, thank GOD (or rather, NB, lol). At first I thought you were going to say NEVER use "I mean's" and "likes"--and then I would have cried. But since peppering them in once in awhile sounds like it's not a cardinal sin, I think I'm safe from burning my novel. Yet.

Cheers, and thanks for the great post! :)

Vacuum Queen said...

I have always always loved 1st person narrative. BUT, as a kid, I also feared what would happen if the narrator died. By page 1 or 2, I was worried about whether or not the author would take care of it properly. Made me anxious. Funny.

Masonian said...

Mira, I agree with your disagreeing, good catch. :)

Certainly every rule CAN be bent, broken or cut into snowflakes.
Sometimes spoken ephemera are exactly what you want in your written dialogue.

I humbly submit that the generalized, no-chattiness rule will be best applied by authors with overzealous "uh,er,hm,like,y'know"'s on account of the imperative command to "make it realistic".

Some people really struggle with dialogue. It's a good thing to understand the difference between what we speak IRL and realistic written speach.

(yes, i just said IRL. I'm such a geek.)

masonian said...

and I can't spell.

Linguista said...

On a related note, what was the name of that program you used to find out what the most common words in the last contest were. Word something, I think.

I now have a strange desire to paste my novels in and see which words I overuse.

Susan Quinn said...

Nathan,
Just wanted to let you know I donated my full pledge amount - because I just couldn't say "no" to the llama! Also, I donated through Rothfuss' Team Heifer site, so he matched my donation 50% (and he's amost at his goal, which is awesome). Hopefully that means a couple extra flocks of geese and not half a llama!

Thanks again for a being such a stand up guy, and using your blog to spread the word about a wonderful organization like Heifer!

lexcade said...

you have a great point. i tend to write more frequently in first than third person (even though first is supposedly more difficult, so i've heard?) and for some reason, my characters usually speak with correct grammar. i blame my 10th grade english teacher who would NOT allow us to use any filler phrases ("um", "uh", and ESPECIALLY the evil "like).

it's tough striking a balance between characterization and irritating... any suggestions?

stirlingbennett said...

Have you seen a transcript of an actual conversation? I have. IT'S BORING.

This is why I don't read Interview magazine anymore. HIRE ACTUAL WRITERS, GUYS.

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