Sorry, Third Person. I’m Just Not That Into You.

Aug. 19th 2011

I try not to listen when people talk about no-no’s in writing, mainly because there aren’t any no-no’s, at least when something is written well.

Tell me a “no-no,” and I’ll find an example of a book that broke the rule well, at least according to this reader and critic.

But I’m human. So I can get swept up in the “you shouldn’t write in first person” hogwash I hear on forums where writers hang out. According to these forums, I’m the biggest sinner since I’ve written both novels in first person (multiple first persons) AND present tense.

Oh, the horror!

With Forgotten April, I’d started out in third person pseudo-omniscient — I say “pseudo” because I didn’t know what I was doing and was trying to please my wonderful mentor who warned me about writing in first person.

Oh, but the story sucked in third person. BIG TIME. I tried. I tried for 80,000 words. But it was awful and I was depressed and, on a whim, I opened a new page and was like, “I just want to see what it feels like if I write it in first person. It’ll be my little secret. No one has to know.” So I gave it a go and immediately knew it was better — a whole lot better. I brought two scenes — one in third and one in first person — to my writers’ group and they confirmed it. The first person had LIFE.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve written in third person. In fact, I think my short story “Crush,” which is written in third person, is one of my best literary efforts to date from a craft perspective. So I know there’s a place for it, I like reading it (if it works), and I can write in it.

Anyhow, back to the reason behind my title. I’m working on my third novel, and due to recent comments in a writers’ forum about the problems with first person and present tense, I thought I’d approach this novel in third person and past tense. The past tense is working — it feels completely right.

As for third person? Not so much. I tried. I’d write and stop myself when I’d slip into first person and rewrite the section in third. At first, since I was still in those dreamy early stages of drafting, I wasn’t too bothered by it. But then, I figured the story out — you know, one of those breakthroughs where you stop riffing with that one melody you’ve discovered, and, instead, you start composing the full song and weave the melody in. Yeah, that sort of thing. So I was jazzed and excited and was writing a scene that worked really well when, holy crap! I realized I’d written the whole thing in first person.

Guess what? I need to honor that. The story is telling me it needs to be written in first person, and so are the characters. It’s still unclear whether I’ll be using multiple viewpoints, but, for now, this baby is staying in first person, past tense.

Sorry, third person. I’m just not that into you — this time, anyway. I’m sure I’ll be back. You behave while I’m gone.

Do you have a favorite tense you like to read?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Writing | 7 Comments »