Is It Chicken Or Fish?

No, I haven’t decided to open a restaurant.  Or write a cookbook, for that matter.

As you might recall, I was trying to make a choice over the past week or two about something very major in Where The Ether Flows.  The whole Point of View thing.  And I did give it a go, really.  I started out very carefully trying to write this as first-person, as I had talked about and many of you encouraged me to at least try.  I spent almost two hours wrestling with it, managing to accomplish an anemic less than 400 words in those two hours as my brain started shrieking that it didn’t want to write all of the sudden.  For those of you who read my last post and saw how eager I was to start, this might seem odd, but I know what it means from past experience.

These days, the only time I feel like I don’t want to write is when I have something fundamentally wrong going on in whatever I’m working on.  Writing a draft only feels like wrestling a thousand-pound gator when I’m stumbling over something major that just will not work.  I’ve had the problem before, and even blogged about it here when it’s happened. I always pay attention to it these days because the result of not acting on that feeling is the same every time.  Pages and pages of work that I have to throw out because it’s entirely unusable.  So now I stop and try to figure out what the problem is before I engage in those hours of wasted effort.

The main reason I spent two hours banging my head into that wall is that I wanted to be sure.  First person is something I’ve virtually never done, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just chickening out because it was new and therefor difficult. But I wasn’t.  It was more like I was trying to swim upstream against a very strong current.  Yes, I probably could have gotten through the whole novel writing it like that, but I would have been exhausted and probably unhappy at the end, and what’s the point of that?

First person isn’t easy to do right, though it can be amazing when done well.  One of my favourite authors, Carol Berg, writes her stories in first person and she’s brilliant.  I cannot tell you how much I look forward to every book of hers.  I’m all caught up on her back catalogue, have reread all of her books more times than I care to admit, and it makes me sad only in the sense that this voracious reader wants more.  She’s that good at it.

I, on the other hand, am clearly more comfortable in limited third person.  And that’s okay.  Each writer has to make their own journey, to write in the way that comes naturally to them, right?  So yeah, I guess this is my way of saying that I’ve decided to stick with what I know works for me.  The first person thing seems to be a good tool for me in pre-writing, character exploration exercises, things like that, because it gets me right in their skin, and it’s short usually.  I can and will keep using it that way, but I won’t try to force myself to use it for novels when it feels like this did.

How do I know that I’ve made the right decision?  That’s easy.  After I switched (and made the required changes in the part I’d already done), my productivity increased dramatically.  I banged out 2,033 words before reaching a good point slightly before midnight and calling it a night.  Just over 2k, most of it in about 2 hours.  That’s a clear sign that it’s the right way for me to write this.  And it’s a good start too, grading on the appropriate first-draft-quality curve of course.

I’m trying to let myself go at my own pace this time, as long as I meet my goals, rather than demanding big numbers out of myself.  There’s good reason for this.  It’s a new world to me, and new characters.  I feel like I need to give myself time to get to know them, to think about who they are and what they want.  I could crank out the big numbers during the first drafts of both Possession and The Nine because I knew Tavis and Fay at that point, as well as their supporting cast. I knew them well enough that I didn’t need to think every second if it was how they would do something, how they would say it or if it was what they really wanted.  I just knew.  Devan, on the other hand, is fairly new to me and, despite his months of whispering to me, is still fully revealing these things to me.  That’s okay though, as it’s all part of the process.

This picture seems appropriate for the state of Ether Flows somehow.  Both are just beginning to open up and bloom.

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About Julie

I'm a writer and photographer. I always have something with me to take notes for ideas or writing projects I'm thinking about or have on the go. I also like to go around with my camera and take pictures of anything that strikes me as beautiful or evocative. I'm perpetually working on one story or another, while waiting for enough distance to judge the last one (or more). I'm always working on several projects at once, developing the next book, even as I'm editing the last. Beyond that, there's always plenty of scraps and twists of ideas rolling around in my head, eventually turning themselves into full blown stories.
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17 Responses to Is It Chicken Or Fish?

  1. Pete Denton says:

    I’d never written in first person until I studied creative writing. You have to write so many stories and assignments that it seemed wrong not to experiment. I think a 3-4,000 word story it’s easy to maintain a first person view. I would expect it’s harder for a full novel.

    There is something comfortable about limited third as a narrative view. Lots of people I speak to find it easier to read in third person as well, but there is something about a first person view that draws you in.

    I think whatever you feel comfortable writing. Your switch to third brought immediate results so that seems the best view for this story. Happy writing 🙂

    • Julie says:

      In my experience, first person only draws you in when it’s done well, though I suppose you could say that of writing in general.

      I agree that it’s easier to do first person in short fiction and I might try playing around with it there, instead of doing something insane like starting out with it in a novel, especially one being done during an official NaNo. Even I bow to sense occasionally. 🙂

      It probably doesn’t help that I just finished editing 95k of limited 3rd just the day before I started writing this novel either. Maybe I should try first again at a point when I’m not stepping from one major project to another with zero time in between. We’ll see. A question for another day, three books from now, because I’m not stupid enough to try switching narrative view in the middle of a trilogy. I’m crazy, but not that crazy. 😀

      • Pete Denton says:

        The project I’m doing for August NaNo is going to be in first person. And I acknowledge that I AM crazy 🙂

        • Julie says:

          I shall cheer you on, then. I’m hoping that it works out for you. It just doesn’t seem to work for me.

          And all writers are crazy. I think it’s the second or third line in our job description. 🙂

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    Ultimately we have to go with what feels right for us. First person is the hardest to do well. But kudos to you for trying it. We never know until we try, right?

    The style I still struggle with for reading is present tense. I’m just too used to past tense in novels. I think writing in present would be even harder than first person for me. 🙂

    • Julie says:

      I ended up using a little bit of present tense in the Mirrors trilogy, but only a bit, and it was to clearly delineate a particular state of mind, shall we say. I don’t want to give anything away 🙂 That said, I’m still waiting to see what my test readers think of it.

      And you’re right, I did try. Maybe one day I’ll find the right story to go with it. I like to push myself as a writer, so I want to try to write a whole book in it some day. This just wasn’t the book, clearly. Oh well.

  3. You go girl!

    I was so inspired by your comment “After I switched (and made the required changes in the part I’d already done), my productivity increased dramatically.” same can be applied all aspects of life really, not just writing .. you’re awesome! x

    • Julie says:

      Aww, thanks! But I agree, that life in general is like that. Try new things, but learn to recognize when something isn’t working and you need to stop doing it. If you find an easy way to get through that process, please let me know. In every aspect of my life except writing, said process usually involves a lot of initial pain and misery that I’d really like to hit the easy button on. 🙂

      • I hear ya there doll. I am of the school that life is NOT meant to be a struggle, it’s actually OK to have a good one and to work toward having an easy / simple one but damn, it’s so often easy to think “this is all too hard’. I guess if we gave in and didn’t keep at it then books like yours would not be written and that would indeed be a sin!

        • Julie says:

          You’re trying to see how many shades of red you can make me blush, aren’t you? the count is 78 so far, for your information.

          You’re right, everything shouldn’t be easy, because we learn from the hard things at least as well as the easy ones. But there are days when I want to scream out “I’m done with hard shit!” Exhibit A, all of my work days last week. Ah well, that’s over and this weekend is fabulous. Sunshine and thousands of words. We have one VERY happy writer here. 😀

          • Sunshine? Hmphf and you’re blaming ME for the pink cheeks – it’s bloody sunburn!! 😉

            It’s cold here .. Winter has officially hit *sigh* We’re having a sunny but icy cold Queen’s Birthday weekend..

            If I was you I’d be being good and writing but I’m being me and drinking heheh

          • Julie says:

            Thousands of words in a day are, sadly, incompatible with going outside long enough to get a sunburn. You still get to take the blame 😀

            And I’m drinking. Hot chocolate. Must fuel the writer…

          • ohhhhhh @ your hot chocolate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *drools*

  4. 4amWriter says:

    I generallythink first person is annoying to read because there is less of a chance for the reader to come to his/her own conclusions. You get all the info from that main protag and don’t get the broader scope of seeing the world.

    For this reason, I think first person POV works better with protags who are kids/teens (because they are self-indulgent by nature). Then, in books where the protag is a mature adult, I think the first-person POV would be most interesting if it’s a plot-driven story, not a character-driven story. THere is a certain element of whining, or ‘why do things always happen to me’, in first-person. That’s why if the protag is fairly straightforward who doesn’t have a lot of inner conflict going on, then the first-person POV wouldn’t feel like we’re reading someone’s journal.

    At least, this is my take on it based on my reading/writing experience. Some authors are very successful with the first-person POV. So, it could simply come down to writing style and what is most comfy for us.

    • Julie says:

      Definitely, the number of authors I’ve seen do first person well is highly limited. Of course, I also think that all characters *should* have a fair amount of inner conflict going on, but that’s because I love complex characters, especially when they get pushed into situations where the stakes are high. To me, that’s just good writing to have these things.

      Again, I think it does come down to doing it well. Too often, it isn’t done well. I’ve read a number of books over the years where I felt they did first person because they thought it would make characterization easier. I find that it actually makes it harder, because it requires such fine balancing to avoid the whiny, repetitive thoughts, and you’re forced to deal with the issue of unreliable narrator even more, and more obviously, than in third, limited or omniscient.

      I guess for me, it’s like all other major choices you face in writing, be aware of why you’re doing it and what challenges and costs you’re facing for doing it. Then decide if it’s worth it. If it isn’t, choose something else, but always make sure you know what you’re choosing and why.

  5. I agree. First person is a tricky thing, and if done not-right, it can go all kameha on your work, and your reader. Personally, though, i admit to having dabbled… not perfect.

    • Julie says:

      To me, writing is never perfect, but you general aim to polish it as close as you can. You also need to find what works best for the piece you’re creating. In this case, I’m getting ample proof that my more usual 3rd limited is what works best. 🙂

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