Wednesday, May 3, 2017

1st person narration.

1st person narration is the easiest to write, but it's the hardest to do well.

In every book I write, I go through one last time and relax the writing a little, putting in little small things that are slightly quirky, all in service to the author's voice. So far, this has almost always been 3rd person narration, so putting a little bit of an "author's voice" into the story helps it.

In 1st person, a voice is even more important. But it can't be the author, it must be the narrator.  In 1st person you want the reader to feel like a real person is talking to them, not an author speaking through a character.

I haven't written enough 1st person really to get the hang of it. I'm still learning.

When I'm writing in 3rd person, I regard that character as someone other than me, with their own personality.  So far, at least, that has been harder for me in a 1st person narrator. No matter how I try to distinguish myself from the character, the very act of saying "I" and "me" makes it feel like it's me that talking. It's hard to focus. The narrator becomes just me and all my messiness. Not distinct, not sharp. Sure the characterizations in 3rd person may be superficial to some extent, they may be "types" but they are distinct. 

Early in the process, Dave Cline, who has been kind enough to read this book as I wrote it, pointed out that my main character wasn't strong, that he was too good to be true, that his motivations didn't quite ring true, that he needed some  character flaws that he was overcoming.

The first time I tried to address this, I more or less did it with a blunt instrument--adding backstory to the narrator. But it slowed the story down and didn't seem convincing.

It's the sentence to sentence "voice" of the narrator that matters. That's want I really have to try to inhabit. But it can't be me, it has to be Hart Davis. So that means I really need to get a sense of him as someone else, with his own voice.

I went through a second time and tried to refine his character, but by adding flaws I sort of made him weak at the same time. The trick is for Hart to be flawed, but not weak. That he needs to have a darkside, but he can't be unsympathetic.

I think each time I've approached the character I've made him more his own man with his own voice, but I don't think I'm quite there yet. So over the next month, while the book is out being edited, I'm going to really attempt to figure out who Hart Davis is, all the way down to his soul, and he has to be different from me.

Then, in the final draft, I want that unfiltered Hart Davis to come through in every line of narration, so that the reader feels as if Hart Davis is actually talking to them. I need to feel that "click" like this is someone else telling the story.

I think all my efforts up to now have gotten me closer. I think I'm almost there.


Duncan McGeary said...

I wrote out a biography (auotbiography?)of Hart Davis.

Turns out he's a lot like me, but not me.

Which makes sense. But even that exercise helped me get a handle on the voice, which I'll bring to the last rewrite in a month.

Dave Cline said...

Not having tried 1st person yet I can't commiserate.

But your passage:

"In 1st person, a voice is even more important. But it can't be the author, it must be the narrator. In 1st person you want the reader to feel like a real person is talking to them, not an author speaking through a character."

seems to be something to pin with the collection of stickies I've got going...

Dialog is one thing -- becoming someone else in order to have them speak through your written words. But that's a brief hat-switch which is not an overcoat you don and then live in for the life of the story. I would think that most authors who attempt 1st person narrative end up imbuing much, if not most, of themselves into their character.

Otherwise... sounds like the beginning of a personality disorder.

Dave Cline said...

A quick blurb I found on tense:

few minutes read, but useful.