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WistfulWriter7
07-06-2008, 05:18 AM
Hi everyone,
I wrote a novel in first person POV and the more I edit it, the more I realize how many billions of times I say "I reached, I saw, I was, I had" etc. I was really wondering about this because sometimes it's really easy to fix and sometimes I feel like it's impossible or it takes away from the story when I do. Does anyone have any advice for alternative ways of fixing the "I" problem? How many "I" whatevers are okay. One a paragraph? One per page? I was just wondering what your opinions were. Thanks much!

Here are some particularly puzzling paragraphs to give you an idea. I guess I have the most trouble when I describe her feelings.

I slowly crawled over to the figures…to my friends. Never before had I felt so close to them. Even in my mind, I never even called them my friends.

A lump grew in my throat and tears welled in my eyes. My mother held out her arms to me and I flew to her, but just as I reached her, she evaporated under my fingertips. Reminded, as so many times before, that I didn’t know my mother, that I couldn’t actually talk to her, she could never actually hold me, I recoiled.

The smaller girl finally nudged her friend, but I heard enough. Turning away, I kept my composure. I never cried in front of others. Never. It was a rule. My emotions shut off completely and I let my legs take me to my secret place away from the room the three of us once shared.

Grettle didn’t argue. She knew if she rushed me, I would just stop altogether. Why couldn’t I do it? I wanted to. This was my way. I knew it. This was how I was going to find my true path and my mother. Work!

The next day was just as difficult, but for an entirely different reason. It was time for me to visit Fira without Grettle. Leaving her back at school, I could realize my power without worrying about setting her on fire. The ground felt warm even inside the protected plane. The magma outside bubbled against the edges. Come on fire. I’m angry. Feel it. I let my mind relax and wander to events in my life that made me angry. The day I was officially told I was adopted, the day Aurelia first came to my school, the day a dim-witted teacher turned off the fireplace I was entranced in. No, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t mad enough. My mind wandered deeper into my soul finding my cruel inner voice. “Your mother never wanted you. You don’t belong here. No one is like you. You’re a freak. You…killed…Alex…” Ahhh! It was worse than I ever felt it before. Deeper, more invasive than anything I ever knew. It was inside me, no, it was me. I was laughing and crying at once as flames poured from my eyes streaming release. The pressure collecting in my head pulled weakness out of me. I stumbled, then it was as if someone switched the off button on me. The world suddenly became patched with bits of darkness. The darkness flickered and spread until my world spun in waves, then it washed completely out.

There was something magical about her, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I reached out to touch her cheek. I was sure I would be able to feel her, but just then Mrs. Mason roar filtered down from above. Grettle and I bolted out before we where caught. Outside the transporter, Grettle hugged me tightly. It took everything I had not to cry when Mrs. Mason broke us apart.

blacbird
07-06-2008, 05:27 AM
For starters, search out all the sentences you can find that are structured, "I saw her open the door," or "I heard the rocket take off." Of course you did; you're the narrator. The reader will assume you saw or heard xyz. Most such can be altered to "She opened the door," or "The rocket took off."

Now, in the specifics you cite, my first reaction is that there is a lot of internalization going on. That's a somewhat deeper problem that only you can answer. It's harder to get rid of the "I" when so much is taking place inside the narrator's head instead of outside it.

caw

a_sharp
07-06-2008, 05:28 AM
What you've shown so far doesn't take away from the story for me. I know what you mean about editing and finding all those "I" action verbs, but you're not overusing it as far as I can tell.

If you want a real critique, put this in SYW.

maestrowork
07-06-2008, 05:40 AM
With action, there's really not much you can do about it. You can probably find ways to say "I jumped" but sometimes that's the most direct way to say, well, "I jumped."

For the rest, yeah, find all the filtering (I saw, I heard, I felt, etc.) and cut them out.

In your passage, there are a lot of "I knew" or "I felt" or "I reached for her." Perhaps try to find different ways of saying that -- you're repeating a lot, or cut them out completely. It's also a bit heavy on the introspection, which is where the "I"s come in abundant.


For example:


The next day was just as difficult, but for an entirely different reason. It was time for me to visit Fira without Grettle. LeavingWith her back at school, I could realize my power was intact without worrying about setting her on fire. The ground felt warm even inside the protected plane. The magma outside bubbled against the edges. Come on fire. I’m angry. Feel it the anger. I let my mind relaxed and wandered to events in my life that made me angry angered me. The day I was officially told I was adoptedmy adoption was revealed, the day Aurelia first came to mythe school, the day a dim-witted teacher turned off the fireplace I was entranced inthat entranced me. No, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t mad enough. My mind wandered deeper into my soul finding my cruel inner voice. “Your mother never wanted you. You don’t belong here. No one is like you. You’re a freak. You…killed…Alex…” Ahhh! It was worse than I ever felt it before. Deeper, more invasive than anything I ever knewbefore.....

I managed to cut out all the "I"s and keep only one or two "me"s.


You get the idea... all the "I felt" or "I was angry" etc. are redundant and it's better to just show and not tell anyway. That way, you can cut out a lot of the "I"s. Or turn things around and use more active voice.

Makai_Lightning
07-06-2008, 05:42 AM
For starters, search out all the sentences you can find that are structured, "I saw her open the door," or "I heard the rocket take off." Of course you did; you're the narrator. The reader will assume you saw or heard xyz. Most such can be altered to "She opened the door," or "The rocket took off."
^^ That's basically what I've been doing while editing my 1st person stuff. Sometimes you might want things like "I heard" or "I saw." For instance, you might want to imply that only your narrator heard/saw but no one else did, which is the first example that comes to mind. So you might not have to change all of them.

I didn't personally have a real problem with anything up there though, even if you could change it some. It's okay for some parts to be more focused on the narrator, and for those parts it would be fine to be more "I" heavy. As long as you actually create the world around the narrator and not only the world of the character's head, you should be fine. For me, the problem I see with too much "I" action is that the other things arn't being described, but I thought you were fine. You were focused on your character's emotions for at least some of that.

mscelina
07-06-2008, 05:43 AM
I vote for more active voice. I like first person POV, actually,and I've found that making what I write pertinent to the ACTION before the CHARACTER helps to avoid a lot of sand traps.

Good luck. :)

Lady Cat
07-06-2008, 05:43 AM
I have to agree with both Blacbird and A_sharp. It's very hard to get rid of the "I" from a first person POV. Because you were asking advice on it, I was aware of how many times it was being used, but it didn't seem to take away from the story itself.

Gillhoughly
07-06-2008, 05:56 AM
I've written more than 20 novels in first person and know what you're going through.

I figured it out by reading how other writers did it--writers who knew what they were doing.

Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man is an excellent teacher, ditto for Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anything by Dick Francis, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, anything by Raymond Chandler or John D. MacDonald. These may seem like old books to some, but I read them on the premise that their writers had the benefit of a much better education than I ever got or could have hoped to get given my circumstances.

They may not be in your genre, but first person narrative is a universal device that you can translate into your own style.

See how they did it, then give it a try.

Good luck!

Danger Jane
07-06-2008, 06:22 AM
Not all of those sentences need to have "I" as the subject--they could be worded at least as concisely with a different subject.

You might just not be deep enough in the MC's head yet. Do some exercises, maybe, and try to feel more of what she's feeling. Usually when I find too many "I"s in a story, it's because I'm not deeply into the character yet, so I can't really transcribe much beyond the surface of what she does or feels. The next step is figuring out the deeper emotion and translating that through external details, like by manipulating the senses. This can often be an indicator of too much directness, too little subtlety--and too much telling.

Thrillride
07-06-2008, 06:33 AM
With action, there's really not much you can do about it. You can probably find ways to say "I jumped" but sometimes that's the most direct way to say, well, "I jumped."

For the rest, yeah, find all the filtering (I saw, I heard, I felt, etc.) and cut them out.

In your passage, there are a lot of "I knew" or "I felt" or "I reached for her." Perhaps try to find different ways of saying that -- you're repeating a lot, or cut them out completely. It's also a bit heavy on the introspection, which is where the "I"s come in abundant.


For example:


The next day was just as difficult, but for an entirely different reason. It was time for me to visit Fira without Grettle. LeavingWith her back at school, I could realize my power was intact without worrying about setting her on fire. The ground felt warm even inside the protected plane. The magma outside bubbled against the edges. Come on fire. I’m angry. Feel it the anger. I let my mind relaxed and wandered to events in my life that made me angry angered me. The day I was officially told I was adoptedmy adoption was revealed, the day Aurelia first came to mythe school, the day a dim-witted teacher turned off the fireplace I was entranced inthat entranced me. No, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t mad enough. My mind wandered deeper into my soul finding my cruel inner voice. “Your mother never wanted you. You don’t belong here. No one is like you. You’re a freak. You…killed…Alex…” Ahhh! It was worse than I ever felt it before. Deeper, more invasive than anything I ever knewbefore.....

I managed to cut out all the "I"s and keep only one or two "me"s.


You get the idea... all the "I felt" or "I was angry" etc. are redundant and it's better to just show and not tell anyway. That way, you can cut out a lot of the "I"s. Or turn things around and use more active voice.

Wow, Maestro, you're good. I had a couple of the changes you mentioned, but you caught many more!

I still find it hard not to use filters. But, I am better at catching them now.

Karen Duvall
07-06-2008, 06:53 AM
I think whenever you're internalizing, the pronouns used will always be pronounced whether it's I, he, or she. Look at the the 3rd person novels that have the same problem with an overuse of he or she, or the character's name for variety, which gets really old when used over and over again.

I thought your examples were excellent. Lovely writing. I write books in both 1st and 3rd person and have never worried about my pronoun use. It's invisible to readers. Writers are neurotics who are the only ones who seem to care. :tongue

Your 1st person character is thinking, experiencing, and observing. You can't get away from I, me, or my. You'll find fewer uses when the character is in observation mode, but there will still be some.

Here's a paragraph from my 1st person novel:

I struggled to breathe as his hand tightened around my windpipe. I aimed a kick at his groin and missed. The knife was only inches from my heart, but I'd rather he stab me than slowly strangle me to death. Gavin got off on torture, the slower the better. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of prolonging my death for his own entertainment.

You can't get away from first person pronouns. You can minimize them as others have shown, but it's not the fault of the POV. If you were to write the exact same thing using 3rd person, you'd have the same problem.

Clair Dickson
07-06-2008, 07:00 AM
The only thing I'll add is to watch the internalization. I don't think most people spend so much time reflecting-- and it's not just you. I just finished reading an otherwise decent novel where nearly everyone of the protagonist's actions had her ruminating on why she did what.

I'd just be careful with it.

Like this line:
I slowly crawled over to the figures…to my friends. Never before had I felt so close to them. Even in my mind, I never even called them my friends.

I'd cut the last line-- if she doesn't call them friends in her mind how does she call them friends in her narrative? But that's just me.

Like I said, I get hung up on how much characters in books analyze their own thoughts and actions. If more people did that in real life, I don't think we'd need shrinks. =)

WistfulWriter7
07-06-2008, 09:27 AM
Wow you guys. Thanks a bunch for the advice. In my editing I can tell a lot of the "I saw" this and "I heard" that was easily cut out and made the story tighter. I was impressed by what a difference it made! Other parts were more difficult and I left some in out of necessity. My character tends to internalize a lot of her dialog because she doesn't allow herself to say certain things. She keeps her sarcasm and contempt on the inside. Oh and this self-analyzing stuff, it's only in the beginning and it fits because she is avidly trying to figure herself out. Anyways, thank you guys again. I'm seriously in love with this website. I'm always gushing about it to my friends and family...they just look at me funny...

blacbird
07-06-2008, 11:15 AM
The only thing I'll add is to watch the internalization. I don't think most people spend so much time reflecting-- and it's not just you. I just finished reading an otherwise decent novel where nearly everyone of the protagonist's actions had her ruminating on why she did what.

I'd just be careful with it.

A shorter version of this is, Tell the story. Make the reader feel it.

caw

Ruv Draba
07-06-2008, 01:42 PM
Hi Wistful,

What I noticed most about this character was that it felt enormously self-absorbed, even melodramatic. It documented everything it felt, and reflected very little of the world around it. It also explored, elaborated and restated many of its emotions like probing the socket of an extracted tooth.

If you rebalance the character's focus, you can lose a lot of 'I'. You can still document the emotions, but just focus on the important ones: at most one or two per scene. Where your character has a strong response, you can state it as pseudo-dialogue rather than simply narrating it. You can also use the physical (environment, actions and sensations) to represent the metaphysical (emotions, relationships and ideas). You'll may also lose a lot of word-count. Here's a stab at doing this (tryiing to keep your ideas; bearing in mind that I'm not sure of your intent):
I crawled toward my friends. Seeing them took the chill out of the ground, reminded me how little I'd thought of them as friends before.

Through welling hot tears, my mother stood before me. As I rose, her arms stretched out to receive my flying embrace, but she faded as I reached her and my arms closed on nothing. The emptiness of that clasp recalled waves of longing for the woman I'd never known.

(Really feels like it needs a line of pseudo-dialogue here to link to the next event)

The smaller girl nudged her friend, but a turned back kept them from seeing the spill of my unfamiliar tears.

Enough.

I let cold detachment wash over me, and my legs found the familiar path to my secret place. I left any regrets lying behind me in the light of the room we three had once shared.

Hope that helps.

Phaeal
07-06-2008, 06:47 PM
As noted above, cut out as many "I [perceived]" constructions as possible. We know who the narrator and will assume anything seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, or thought is filtered to us through her.

If you watch this, I don't see any difference between the necessary abundance of "I, me, my, mine" in first person and the necessary abundance of "she, her, her, hers" in third person.

Seif
07-06-2008, 08:23 PM
Hi everyone,


I slowly crawled over to the figures…to my friends. Never before had I felt so close to them. Even in my mind, I never even called them my friends. I wold advise deleting this not only because you contradict yourself but you repeat the adverb even twice.

A lump grew in my throat and tears welled in my eyes. My mother held out her arms to me and I flew to her, but just as I reached her, she evaporated under my fingertips. Can your MC actually fly? If not then take out the I flew and condense the sentence perhaps to: Mympther reached out her arms to me and just before I could reach her she evaporated beneath my fingertips. Reminded, as so many times before, that I didn’t know my mother, that I couldn’t actually talk to her, she could never actually hold me, I recoiled. There are three I's here which you can reduce to either two or one. The sentence structure sounds too clumsy and I would suggest revising it.

The smaller girl finally nudged her friend, but I had heard enough. Turning away, I kept my composure. I never cried in front of others. Never. It was a rule. My emotions shut off completely and I let my legs take me to my secret place away from the room the three of us we once shared.

Grettle didn’t argue. She knew if she rushed me, I would just stop altogether. Why couldn’t I do it? I wanted to. This was my way. I knew it. This was how I was going to find my true path and my mother. Work!

The next day was just as difficult, but for an entirely different reason. It was time for me to visit Fira without Grettle. Leaving her back at school, I could realize my power without worrying about setting her on fire. The ground felt warm even inside the protected plane. The magma outside bubbled against the edges. Come on fire. I’m angry. Show that you're angry don't tell us. Feel it. I let my mind relax and wander to events in my life that made me angry. The day I was officially told I was adopted, the day Aurelia first came to my delete school, the day a dim-witted teacher turned off the fireplace I was entranced in what?. No, it wasn’t working. I wasn’t mad enough. My mind wandered deeper into my soul finding my cruel inner voice. “Your mother never wanted you. You don’t belong here. No one is like you. You’re a freak. You…killed…Alex…” Ahhh! It was worse than I ever felt it before. Deeper, more invasive than anything I ever knew. It was inside me, no, it was me. I was laughing and crying at once as flames poured from my eyes streaming release. The pressure collecting in my head pulled weakness out of me. I stumbled, then it was as if someone switched the off button on me delete. The world suddenly became patched with bits of either with or in darkness. The darkness It flickered and spread until my world spun in waves, then it washed completely out.

There was something magical about her, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I reached out to touch her cheek. I was sure I would be able to feel her, but just then Mrs. Mason's roar filtered down from above. Grettle and I bolted out before we where caught. Outside the transporter, Grettle hugged me tightly. It took everything I had not to cry when Mrs. Mason broke us apart.

Apart from a few places the 'I's' were invisible. The most important thing is that you have perfect sentence structure, no typos, contradictions or inconsistencies. That is when the reader will stop to reconsider the work and thus the actions and motives of your characters. For a work like this first person works very well and you have shown that you can handle it competently. Don't worry about how many I's are there just as long as they're relevant. As long as the rest of the piece is technically and creatively intact we, the readers, will not notice the predominance of I's, in fact we expect it.

I found the same difficulties as you and the solution is to read out loud. As awkward as that may sound it works because all your words become much more pronounced. Read it out and pay attention to how it all flows.

All the best and I hope I helped with what little knowledge and experience I have.

Shweta
07-07-2008, 04:18 AM
This is a rather lot of story text, WistfulWriter. Would it be better off behind a password in Share Your Work? Or are you fine with it being out in the open for any search bot to find?

WistfulWriter7
07-07-2008, 12:11 PM
Eh, it's just a few snippets. The work is 88,000 words so I'm not too worried. It should be fine. The question was answered best here I think. I wasn't asking for critiques on it. They were just examples of my frustration. Everyone really helped a lot. So thank you for that. And thanks Shweta for the concern. I appreciate it. =)

Shweta
07-07-2008, 01:23 PM
No worries :)
So long as it's useful and not hurting anything!

writerterri
07-08-2008, 05:51 AM
Read I point of view novels to get a feel.

t0neg0d
07-08-2008, 06:14 AM
Though, I am not partial to 1st person, and have little to offer in this. I did notice something you may want to watch out for/keep in mind while editing.

"Even in my mind, I never even called them my friends." --repeated words in close proximity. Silly suggestion, but reading out loud will help you spot these and other awkward sentences (not saying you have have awkward sentences).

Overall, I enjoyed the read.

jannawrites
07-08-2008, 06:42 AM
I initially wrote my novel in first-person, as well. Though I started out feeling it best suited the protagonist's voice, I ended up changing it. When rereading excerpts, it just came across so... self-absorbed. It felt like my manuscript was stunted by all the Is. In actuality, now that it's third-person, there are just as many shes... but it seems to flow and work with the story better.

She_wulf
07-08-2008, 06:46 AM
...

I slowly crawled over to the figures…to my friends. Never before had I felt so close to them. Even in my mind, I never even called them my friends.
...to my friends...That was funny calling them my friends. I hadn't before. Not even to myself.

Just a few changes and it flows just a tad better. Let's try some more, huh?


A lump grew in my throat and tears welled in my eyes. My mother held out her arms to me and I flew to her, but just as I reached her, she evaporated under my fingertips. Reminded, as so many times before, that I didn’t know my mother, that I couldn’t actually talk to her, she could never actually hold me, I recoiled.
You're describing a dream sequence? OK.
Not bad altogether. You have to use some "I's" once in a while. But...the why is more important. What symbolism do you need to portray in the scene that it is necessary to include the dream sequence? Does it hold weight with the rest of the plot events? Would it be better to relate the dream as a narration, a scene blocked out in third, or as a summary? Those are questions you need to answer because you are having problems justifying it.

My only suggestion would be this:
...but just as I reached her she evaporated. Gone, like mist. The same way she never was there. She never actually held me. I recoiled.

Next:

The smaller girl finally nudged her friend, but I heard enough. Turning away, I kept my composure. I never cried in front of others. Never. It was a rule. My emotions shut off completely and I let my legs take me to my secret place away from the room the three of us once shared.
but I heard enough. It was a rule to never cry in front of others. My rule, so I didn't. I walked away from that room the three of us once shared.

IMO, you over-wrote the paragraph. Of course, I'm fond of Hemingway so a stick is a stick and pain hurts. You don't dwell on it and you certainly don't poke at it and stir it around. It's there, it passes or you die. Simple huh? It's a matter of writing style. If that is how you write, then it is not overwritten. OK?


Grettle didn’t argue. She knew if she rushed me, I would just stop altogether. Why couldn’t I do it? I wanted to. This was my way. I knew it. This was how I was going to find my true path and my mother. Work!

Again, not all I's are bad. This paragraph actually works. You didn't filter anything through the MC's head. There was actual meaning going on behind the internal dialog.

The next day was just as difficult, but for an entirely different reason. It was time for me to visit Fira without Grettle. Leaving her back at school, I could realizeI realized that I could use(action instead of inaction) my power without worrying about setting her on fire. The ground felt warm even inside the protected plane. The magma outside bubbled against the edges. Come on fire. I’m angry. Feel it. I let my mind relaxI relaxed and let my mind wander to events in my life that made me angry. Events flashed by: The day I was officially told I was adopted, the day Aurelia first came to my school, the day a dim-witted teacher turned off the fireplace I was entranced in.

(paragraph break here)No, It wasn’t working. I wasn’t mad enough. My mind wandered deeper into my soul finding my cruel inner voice. “Your mother never wanted you. You don’t belong here. No one is like you. You’re a freak. You…killed…Alex…” Ahhh! It was worse than I ever felt it before. Deeper, more invasive than anything I ever knew. It was inside me, no, it was me.

I was laughing and crying at once asThe flames poured from my eyes streaming alongside tears and laughter. The pressure collecting in my head pulled weakness out of me. I stumbled, then it was as if someone switched the off button on me. The world suddenly became patched with bits of darkness. The darkness flickered and spread until my world spun in waves, then it washed completely out.

Bing Bing Bing !!! I felt is a sure sign of filtering...
I put my ideas for fixes there.
Hope they helped. Gotta go help my daughter finish supper.

Amy

ima_brat93
07-08-2008, 07:24 AM
I'll bet I have the same problem, but I agree with most of what has been said. -tries to walk away all cool-like, but trips-

t0neg0d
07-08-2008, 09:38 AM
Bing Bing Bing !!! I felt is a sure sign of filtering...
I put my ideas for fixes there.
Hope they helped. Gotta go help my daughter finish supper.

Amy

I just wanted to point out one thing (though, I tend to like a minimalist approach as well):

I let my mind relax
-and-
I relaxed
--say two entirely different things.

The first say: This was a struggle, but I managed to do it.
The next says: As always, I did it.

This may be a repeated theme that gives insight into the MC's natural response.

Just a thought. The only reason I bother to mention this is, during editing, you can sometimes remove an intentional mechanism as a 'good lord, I over-worded that'. Um... not you specifically, Amy. ;)

WistfulWriter7
07-08-2008, 11:17 AM
Thanks for all the great advice and suggestions. =)

FennelGiraffe
07-09-2008, 04:48 AM
I'm coming into this a bit late, so just one comment.

Reminded, as so many times before, that I didn’t know my mother, that I couldn’t actually talk to her, she could never actually hold me, I recoiled.

This sentence is one of the rare cases where passive voice is desirable--for the sake of parallel structure--change "she ... hold me" to "I ... be held by her".

You also have some word repetition. With parallel structure that sometimes can be a good thing, but here the repetition doesn't follow the parallelism. My suggestion:Reminded, as so many times before, that I couldn't know my mother, talk to her, be held by her, I recoiled.
or, if that's going too far for you:Reminded, as so many times before, that I didn’t know my mother, couldn’t talk to her, would never be held by her, I recoiled.
Explanation of changes: One of the "I"s should be eliminated. One "actually" needs to be cut, and the other one probably should be. Using "could" twice doesn't work, but pulling it up earlier in the sentence gives it an implied position in all three parallel clauses. Alternatively, change the second one to "would".