Who speaks for me? The narrator posing as me, or me posing as the narrator?
When it comes to the point of view for the character, for the readers, what voice do you give to your story? Do you do 1st person or 3rd person?
It can’t be 2nd person unless you’re reading an instruction manual or a ‘pick-a-story path’ type book. They generally read something like, ‘you wander to the other side of the room and pick up Chekhov’s gun. The strange man steps out and attacks you.’
Reading an entire book like that could be strange to most people not expecting to be told you are the main character in the story. I’m not saying you can’t write a book like this.
When I began the quest to write Burn the Sky, I always had the thought of 1st person present tense for Jayne, my main character and 3rd person past tense for all other characters. I wanted to do that back then because I wanted to show the reader who the main protagonist was. I didn’t know it at the time, but you don’t need to write this way to show the reader this. We continued the 1st and 3rd styles of writing, and once we had finished the book, edited, published and received feedback, we realised we’d pulled off the different styles in a way most people hadn’t read before.
I’m going to share a little piece of history, just a few lines of terrible first-person writing.
This was the day I lost everyone I cared about. My parents were out when the sky died. They never came home.The opening passage, To Burn the Sky by Lee Breeze
Being as young as five, I couldn’t do anything other than hide under my bed as my house shook itself apart and the air became ash. My only protector; my teddy bear, was missing. I was too scared to move.
I felt safe under my metal cage, all that padding above my head. I thought I would never have the courage to leave.
Tired, but I couldn’t sleep. Surely, I would never sleep again.
At a count, I think that was 16 pronouns -I lost, I cared, my parents, I couldn’t – That was horrible to read and felt like I’d licked a fermenting mouldy lemon to post it here.
It took months of reading, research and rewriting to learn how to get better. Mmmm… preparing for more mouldy lemons.
The fresh afternoon air creeps up the hill, cast by the mountain’s shade not far away, the day seeping into history.opening passage, Burn the Sky by Lee and Amanda
My house is that one at the end of the street, flowers behind the short fence, green roof and blue front door. When the mountain shade touches the flowers in the garden bed, I have to go inside.
Mum and Dad are at the hospital bringing home my baby brother. I can’t wait to meet him.
Amity lives next door, and she’s sleeping on our couch tonight.
As you can see, my writing had gotten better, but it still needed work.
Also at this point, I’d brought my wife in to help add depth to characters and the world. We submitted this to a critique group and mostly received the comments of – If you’re going to write first-person, learn how to write deep point of view.
Back to the reading, research and rewriting.
I’m not going to drag out works by other authors because I don’t think that’s fair on them, but most people who write first-person don’t go much beyond the construct of – “Personal pronoun sense/action/event happens to them” or the other way around. Another way of starting such a sentence is with ‘ing words – “Lifting the thing” or “Standing…” or with the subject first like “The object…”
In my first version of ‘To Burn the Sky’, this was the three ways I fell back to when starting a sentence, and it became tedious and difficult to read.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to subject you to more earlier revisions.
Finally, after all those months of revision, we settled on this. We voiced our earlier chapters in the perspective of a seven-year-old girl, so the language is simpler to reflect her age than what we write later.
My name is Jayne. I’m seven cycles old, and I don’t think I’ll make it to eight. Right now, I hide where all my nightmares and monsters bury themselves when they aren’t tormenting me.The opening passage, Burn the Sky by Lee and Amanda Breeze (published revision)
Nothing changes when I open my eyes, although they now burn like I’ve been rubbing them with grit paper. I would cry if I could, but I have no more tears left to give.
Everything around me is black, and the metal springs of my bed above still press down, squashing my hip in place. My head hurts from all the crying, my throat burns, and I can’t smell anything anymore.
Jayne’s language becomes more adult by the end of Part1, and at this point she’s about 12 cycles old (cycles is years for some sci-fi franchises).
Curiosity urges me to explore this relic of a town that seems oddly frozen in time.Chapter 12, Burn the Sky -Part1: Hope by Lee and Amanda Breeze
Some houses are barely standing, with their contents destroyed. Nothing of interest remains. The rest, still with their windows to protect them from the extremities, are mostly intact. I peek in to find tables set as though ready for dinner, but only dust-covered bones remain of the meals.
Through all the dust and debris, it gives me a glimpse of how people might have lived before the war. Had Sera been with me, she would have loved this place. That thought kills my excitement and I go back to my search.
The trick to first person, to make it as in-depth as you can make it, is to hide the pronouns between words, and don’t over do them. Make the pronouns part of the action in the scene.
One way of doing that is by making the environment have an affect on the character rather than the character doing something that’s because of the environment.
So next time you type out “I could smell the smoke”, think about how the smoke is affecting the character – is it choking? Does it smell like a campfire from far away? Does it remind them of the camping trips with their Dad?
Maybe something like these roughly constructed paragraphs would work better – “Lazy wind in the treetops spread the smoke around as though playing with it and occasionally blew the intoxicating smell in my direction. Memories of all the times I’d spent camping with dad consume me like the smoke. The mesmerising fire crackled, spitting out a small burning log onto the ground.
Kicking the log back, I realised it had been three years since I last saw him, and a lifetime ago since I watched my dad do the same thing.”
Sure, there’s ten pronouns (eight if you don’t count the it’s), but it gives the reader more of an idea about the character with all that extra detail.
I’m not saying you can’t start sentences with ‘ing’ words, pronouns or ‘the subject’, but mix the sentences up with different openings.
When you have what you think it takes to write first-person, write a short story (a chapter is just a short story in a larger book) with your POV character and one other person, then have them cross the landscape on foot. Submit your work to a critique group and improve from their feedback.
Amanda and I wrote a chapter like this for Part2, but that other person was Jayne’s antagonist, her bully. This chapter almost broke us, throwing our hands up in an ‘I give up’ moment, but I’m glad it didn’t.
If you love what you do (writing), don’t give up, find a way of making it work. Remember to read, research and rewrite. Your research could be any way you like, other published books, YouTube, or blogs.
Being an author is long, hard work in the chair. Be good to yourself and exercise.
Authors are small business owners, and without the sales, there is no way they can write full time, then they need another job, so they write slower and publish less books. What I’m saying here is, don’t pirate books.
4 thoughts on “Point of view and voice”
“Being an author is long, hard work in the chair. Be good to yourself and exercise.”
Words of wisdom right here. I exercise not just to work out the knots in my muscles, but also to gain that mental boost from just grinding at the word processor. Anyway, thanks for this post!
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