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TsukiRyoko
08-05-2006, 12:11 PM
My story is written in first person. It's given that "I" is used quite often.

The problem? Sometimes it seems to get all jumbled up. I did this, I did that, then I plan on blah blah blah. Is there anyway I can NOT use I so often and still get the same underlying result? Can I not use "I" that frequently and still be able to do something by "I"self? (hee hee hee, don't you love that scratching, bad grammar sound?)

Maybe, I'll have to do one of three things- Revise it so I can work around it (Something I'd prefer NOT to do)
Rewrite, but in third person (REALLY don't want to do)
or, Drop the entire thing (..........I just had my first heartattack..........)


So....any other, BETTER, suggestions?

Robert Toy
08-05-2006, 12:15 PM
My story is written in first person. It's given that "I" is used quite often.

The problem? Sometimes it seems to get all jumbled up. I did this, I did that, then I plan on blah blah blah. Is there anyway I can NOT use I so often and still get the same underlying result? Can I not use "I" that frequently and still be able to do something by "I"self? (hee hee hee, don't you love that scratching, bad grammar sound?)

Maybe, I'll have to do one of three things- Revise it so I can work around it (Something I'd prefer NOT to do)
Rewrite, but in third person (REALLY don't want to do)
or, Drop the entire thing (..........I just had my first heartattack..........)


So....any other, BETTER, suggestions?

If your writing in the first person you could try and change “I just had my first heart attack ” to read “My first heart attack…”

TsukiRyoko
08-05-2006, 12:18 PM
Cleverness is even funnier at 4 am. :)

Switching around the perspective wording (not the real term, it's an Andi term) would help a lot. Thanks!

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2006, 03:38 PM
Sometimes "I" has to be used, but in reality it's the same problem third person writers face with "He" or "she."

The overuse problem is usually caused by filtering everything through the "I" protagonist's senses.. "I saw the building explode," rather than "The building exploded." Or "I heard a woman scream" rather than "A woman screamed."

There's rarely a need to write I saw, I felt, I heard, etc. If you eliminate these, overuse of I becomes much less a problem.

In first person, "I" is really used only as often as the writer wishes to use it. Just get rid of the filter. Don't write "I had known Sarah Henderson for years." Write "Sarah Henderson was an old friend."

Same in third person. A bunch of new writers get in trouble by writing he saw, he felt, he heard, etc. Filtering is just as bad in third person as in first person, but most writers are less conscious of it.

pianoman5
08-05-2006, 04:51 PM
I think many new writers often get the wrong idea about first person. They feel that it dictates, by definition, a 'me, me, me' story, and thus pepper their text with the highly visible 'I' girder.

In the case of a highly personal individual story or a thinly veiled autobiography, this may be unavoidable, and all you can do is mitigate the number of I's by using variations, as JR suggests.

But more often than not, novels have ensemble casts, and the best reason for telling a tale in first person is not to pander to the narcissism of the author/narrator, but because a single intimate POV character is the most appropriate party to observe and relate that particular story. After all, the story's the thing, and the characters are merely players, each doing their bit to serve its ends -- even the protagonist/narrator.

I enjoy first person most when it's not obvious. I'm reading a book at the moment that fits the bill - 'How to be good' by Nick Hornby. It's a story of a marriage in trouble, and while that situation potentially lends itself to a great deal of introspection, Hornby maintains the balance by interspersing it with plenty of sharp dialogue and well-played-out scenes, which distract the reader's ear from the 'I' voice. While the story is told from a single POV, it does not feel egocentric, because the plot explores equally the inner worlds of the other characters through their actions and speech.

laurel29
08-05-2006, 05:25 PM
This place is awesome. I had the same problem with "I" writing a story in first person. I resorted to chopping it out and making very strange sentences instead of the repetition. (It was written from a dog's POV in present tense - I've heard a lot of bad things about that POV and tense combo, but I felt that a dog would think like that) I put it away because I found myself wanting to burn it - now I will go back to it trying to incorporate what I learned here. (The present tense makes it harder for me to rewrite the sentences without it sounding really strange...but maybe that is just me, I had a hard time staying in that tense to begin with) I really mangled it before, hopefully I can make it a little better this time around. Thank you all, this is really helpful.

maestrowork
08-05-2006, 06:07 PM
Don't worry about it in first draft. When you revise, examine each sentence. Sometimes the I's can't be avoided, especially in action. Switching the reference is a good idea (e.g. "I had a heart attack" vs. "the heart attack...") -- however, that may also make the prose more indirect, and you lose that "first person" intimacy.

Filtering (I saw, I felt, I heard) could most likely use a chop-chop. If you find youself writing a lot of "I opened the door... I walked... I did this... I did that," you might want to ask if those are necessary. Do you really need to detail all that action or is it just fillers.

But sometimes the I's are needed and add power and intimacy to the prose. The idea is make sure they CAN/SHOULD be replaced without significantly changing your voice.

First person is a dialogue between the narrator and the readers. If you try too hard to get rid of the I's, your prose might sound stilted and artificial, and your readers might instinctively question, "This narrator sounds fake. Not natural."

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2006, 06:40 PM
First person is a dialogue between the narrator and the readers. If you try too hard to get rid of the I's, your prose might sound stilted and artificial, and your readers might instinctively question, "This narrator sounds fake. Not natural."

A good point, but it's why trying to get rid of I's in the second draft is usually not a good idea, though it may well help some new writers understand where they're going wrong.

The idea shouldn't be to get rid of I, but to write in a way that doesn't need the I.

The problem with writing the first draft however you wish is that you'll spend the second draft trying to get rid of "I's, rather than using a natural writing style that doesn't use I very often.

First person is a dialogue between the protagonist and the reader, but if you listen to a good oral storyteller, you won't hear I used very often, even with off the cuff stories.

Avoiding overuse of I means realizing that even though the protagonist is telling the reader a story, he is not talking about himself. He's talking about a story that takes place in the world outside him, not the world inside him. It's method and a technique of storytelling, not a ridding of I's.

maestrowork
08-05-2006, 07:31 PM
First person is a dialogue between the protagonist and the reader, but if you listen to a good oral storyteller, you won't hear I used very often, even with off the cuff stories.

I agree, but only to a point. It depends on the story the narrator is telling. If it's mostly external stuff and the narrator is observing (e.g. Great Gatsby) then the "I" can be mostly transparent. However, if it's a coming of age story, for example, then the "I" can be quite central, and if the narrator/protagonist is active in this adventure, it might even be necessary.

You mentioned about "story that takes place in the world outside him" -- and that's true. But if the story is more introspective/internal (coming of age, for example), again, it may not be practical to write everything as external, especially if the protagonist is taking action, without sounding artificially transparent.


But I agree that if you can get away with using I's without losing the voice of the narrator, do it.

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2006, 08:52 PM
I agree, but only to a point. It depends on the story the narrator is telling. If it's mostly external stuff and the narrator is observing (e.g. Great Gatsby) then the "I" can be mostly transparent. However, if it's a coming of age story, for example, then the "I" can be quite central, and if the narrator/protagonist is active in this adventure, it might even be necessary.

You mentioned about "story that takes place in the world outside him" -- and that's true. But if the story is more introspective/internal (coming of age, for example), again, it may not be practical to write everything as external, especially if the protagonist is taking action, without sounding artificially transparent.


But I agree that if you can get away with using I's without losing the voice of the narrator, do it.

Even the most introspectibe plot in the world still takes place in the outside world. Even a story with the plot of a character losing their mind and slowly going insane still takes place in the outside world. It will be the conditions or events of the outside world on the protagonist that makes the story. Using "I" is always necessary, but intropective really has little to do with it. Unless the protagonist is living in a sensory deprivation tank, of is somehow trapped inside his head with no contact with the outside world, even the most intropective story should be written as external. These two examples probably should, as well. External doesn't mean you don't look inside the protagonist, it means all stories, all of them, take place outside the protagonist, not inside him, and teh filter never has to be used.

It doesn't have anything to do with whether the protagonist is or isn't taking action. It has to do with understanding that all protagonists live in the same world everyone else lives in, and things that affect him come from outside. His inner reaction to these things does not mean you have to increase the number of times you use "I."

I'm not sure what you mean by sounding "artificially transparent." If this happens it's because of bad writing, not because the writer externalized most of the story.

"I" can be important in first person, and shouldn't be eliminated completey, but overuse of I is a hundred times worse than any problem you'll face with removing the filter an dplacing the story in the outside world where all stories actually happen. Nothing gets old faster than reading the word "I" too often, no matter what kind of story it is.

Scrawler
08-12-2006, 09:24 AM
Don't write "I had known Sarah Henderson for years." Write "Sarah Henderson was an old friend."
I love that example.

maestrowork
08-12-2006, 06:47 PM
We are saying the same thing, James. Some of your examples are just filtering: "I had known Sarah for years." It's egocentric writing. There's no reason to write "I smelled the sweet flowers." "The flowers smelled sweet" is much better. Overuse is always a problem.

But there are times when the I's are fine. "I opened the door" is not the same as "the door opened." Yes, if the context is clear, the second sentence could be used. But what about "I opened the door and sneaked in, surprising Jane." It's a perfectly fine sentence using "I." Of course, there are many other ways to write that, for example: "The door opened and Jane was surprised by my appearance" or something like that, but it would feel different.

Trying too hard to eliminate the I's could be a problem, too, resulting in what I call an "artificial voice." When writing in first person, the narrative voice is very important. If the narrator wants to use an "I," the writer must examine it to make sure that it belongs there, and changing the sentence wouldn't change meanings, cadence, or voice.

And depending on context, the following sentences mean two different things:

"I watched him die."

"He died."

TrainofThought
08-13-2006, 06:59 PM
My story is in First Person with the same issue. Since I am into the 4th edit, some sentences have changed removing the “I” to “show” rather than “tell”. This helps remove some “I”, “me” and “my”, but their presence is inevitable. I just don’t want them smacking the reader in the face in every sentence.

blacbird
08-13-2006, 10:52 PM
Read some really good writers who use first-person narration a lot, see and absorb how it's being done. My favorite is probably John D. MacDonald in his Travis McGee novels. Simply one of the best pure narrative storytellers ever. There are lots of others, as well.

caw.

TsukiRyoko
08-18-2006, 12:32 PM
It's 4:30am and I just saw that this thread was mentioned in the newsletter. Need I say "Woot!!!"?