The horror that is writing

Whoops, 2017, the year of no content…

Content warning: I made no content in 2017!

Why? Well that is complicated. But opening up my still unfinished manuscript on my laptop today brought it home with a thunk! I hadn’t opened the document since 2016.
What has happened? Don’t I love the story anymore? Or did I get caught up in the complacency of life and allow myself to conveniently be too “busy” to write?

Well, again, opening the document today and having a read showed me that I am, in fact, still in love with the story, I love my protagonist like a best-friend-sister. So it was definitely the latter.

There are excuses. I have loads of excuses. But the upshot is I am only disappointing myself. Yes I got made redundant and had to start letting out the spare room on an on-line platform and had about 30 people stay, including friends, in the last year, some 2-3 days, some 2-3 weeks.

  • Constantly flipping the room and scrambling to get home for check-ins and check-outs was a great distraction
  • Job hunting was a great distraction
  • Avoiding going broke was a great distraction
  • Temping was a great distraction
  • Starting a new job was a great distraction
  • Making new friends, seeing more of my adopted town, house sitting, dog sitting, dog and house sitting, getting made redundant AGAIN – all, as I say, great distractions.

But why do I need to be distracted from something I love? Is this a metaphor for life?

The novel I am talking about is a story that has it’s own life. For the most part I feel like a conduit for it, except those two gaping holes in the story, they need huge amounts of work, time and energy to fill. What is interesting is that this story is coming to the page in the first person.

Shock horror right?

People don’t like the first person. This is something that people tell me all the time. And I get why to some degree, but this is how the story came to me. In the first person, not in the third person. Not, divinely, in the second person. In the first person. So I’m not doing it to annoy you. It is simply how the story is revealing itself, and I am rolling with it.

Don’t get me wrong, my ex-editor abandoned me and the project over it. I had a very intense workshop with a published author where her first advice to me was to go home and re-write the whole thing in the third person. I showed her where I had tried to do that, and how I couldn’t get the story out that way.

I often think about why people hate first person often. I have read heaps of articles about it, some criticising, some advocating more be written in the first person. But the crux of it crystallised for me when I was explaining the difference to my niece.

The third person is cheating

When I was explaining it I was saying if you know the story is about three people then in the third person you get to experience their interactions with each other, with others, their thoughts and how they each feel, and what they think when they are alone. In reading the third person narrative you get to see behind the veil that is our actual human experience, and form a more holistic opinion/understanding of the story and where it is heading. And maybe that is why people like it, because you are presented with a whole set of circumstances and informed along the way.

The first person narrative is more like our actual human experience because you only get to hear, see, and read the experience of one person, like you do in actual life. The experiences and feelings that the first person character gives you are those filtered through their interpretation, which is informed by their experiences, circumstances and personality. You don’t get to see through the lens of how other characters see, or interpret the protagonist. You only get a one-sided, single lens view of the world the character inhabits. Much like being a human. You read their thoughts, their perspectives and their interpretation of experiences.

It came to me that the first person is actually the fairest way of receiving a story, and being able to apply interpretation and perceive the story to come. It doesn’t have the luxury of “spoilers” that the third person structure gives you. It doesn’t let you know in advance that A is in love with B as much as B is with A, to alleviate your tension or suspense.

The first person point of view does for some, as a first person shooter game would seem to me, to be placing themselves in the story, and therefore making them part of the story. This seems to be the main gripe in my subtle vox-popping of friends about the topic. The act of being part of the story, the say, robs them of reading about something. Where the third person gives them multiple perspectives and propels them towards its outcome whilst remaining outside the story.

Still, the most recent person I spoke to about it probably summed up the first person narrative hatred in that they found it overly self indulgent (happened to be talking about a true story) – but isn’t that the point of all true stories written in the first person? The writer thinks they have something interesting to share, and being a human, they can share it from their own perspective most easily.

To me the third person is like playing cards knowing what all of the players hands are, and careening towards an obvious conclusion – it is like cheating. Where the first-person narrative is the actual experience of playing cards where you know what you hold, and think, and feel, and you have to interpret what else is going on around you as best you can. Kind of like real life.


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