I have just completed reading a story written in first-person. It was a charming tale about a young girl, being raised by a single parent who was struggling financially. The girl lived in oblivion of her mother’s financial burdens. She wasn’t aware they were poor, she had no toys and her days were spent spinning stories in her head and reciting tales about leprechauns and fairies to her mother.
Inevitably the rude awakening of the family problems shatters her innocence. She sets aside her childhood fantasies, gives up on storytelling and becomes a pragmatic adult. Until she meets an eighty-four year old woman who has never lost the wonder and re-awakens the passions of the main character’s childhood.
In my review I suggested that she ‘correct’ the genre in which she submitted from fiction to biographical. Her response blew me away. She told me this was a fictional story.
This writer was highly successful in convincing me that she was writing about herself. That’s the key to using the first-person point of view. You must become the character you are creating; think like her and act like her. It has to be a very personal story. The detachment of third-person writing needs to be abandoned and you must be willing to step inside your character.
In the theatrical world we’ve heard the term method acting, read stories about famous celebrities who need time to go into character before the cameras begin to roll. In order to do that effectively in print, the writer must go through the same process.
It is always a wise tactic to be able to use personal experience as a base. A person who has struggled financially will have difficulty writing about the very rich in first person, but entirely capable of becoming the bank robber, so desperate for money he becomes a thief. The writer understands that emotion, the desperation, and the forces that would lead a person to step over the line and become a criminal. She might find it difficult to understand a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive where no one ever looks at a price tag. This tale is best left in third person where the narrator can look at the character’s behaviour with detachment.
Choose your point of view carefully and you’ll envelop your reader in the world you are creating.
When Jade is not exercising her talents as associate story editor for Page & Spine she is a published short story writer and essayist.
ESSAYS BY JADE