Ever since I learned that it’s popular these days to write in the first person (write stories, that is, not things like letters and ordinary correspondence — this post is after all in first person), I’ve tried to avoid it in my own writing, except in the nonfiction stories — it feels really weird to write about yourself in third person, for some reason.
Then something happened last year and I started writing fiction in first person. It started with Wind Age, where I thought it was going to be third person (having no reason to think anything else) but was stuck, and so tried to get it started by letting Alfhild talk for a bit. I could always rewrite it later in third person, once I had something to work with. Well, that didn’t happen. I ended up writing all 64,000 words of it in first person, to the point where if I got interrupted while I was writing it took a while for me to resurface. It’s odd at first when you’re not used to seeing your own world through the eyes of a girl who lived more than a thousand years ago. I did spend a hundred thousand (for the most part poorly-written) words, in third person, with Lily, over the course of three years, and saw things the way she does too. But it’s different when you’re writing in first person. The very act of writing I did this or I was here or I saw it puts you deeper in the story.
But it’s very easy to slip into first-person writing that focuses entirely on the speaker, which is not only annoying because it leaves out other important things that are going on that the speaker wouldn’t notice (one drawback of first-person), but vain. Also, these days it’s overdone, just like all the other trends, going up and being imitated just to get sales. It will crash (like all the other trends, and the stock market, along with a few other instances of vanitas vanitatem), and something new will come along. I decided that I don’t want to be part of that crowd, I want to write something different.
I’m a Creative Writing major, and with each class I get more annoyed that the books and examples we’re using — and supposed to view as outstanding examples — have all been written in, at most, the last five years. This isn’t teaching us to write great literature, it’s teaching us to write what’s popular. These stories haven’t stood the test of time yet (and I very much doubt most of them will), so why are we using them? So I try to go farther back, and read the big thick books written in outdated styles that according to all the experts’ analyses should be long forgotten but are still somehow there. I’m not writing to be popular.
All that said, last year in addition to Wind Age, I started a story set during and immediately after the Conquest, with two point-of-view characters, and both in first person. Then toward the end of the semester I wrote a short story that I tried and tried to get to be third person, but wouldn’t work as anything other than first. I was quite relieved when I started thinking about retelling Lily’s story and she assured me that she’d much prefer I write hers in third. If I must write in first person, I’d at least like to keep more than half my works in third. We’ll see how well that works.
The title is one of Oskar’s quotes, but he at least knew the authour.