I write a lot of short stories. I even tried writing, what I’m now almost embarrassed to call, a novel. (I was young and determined and I took up the NaNoWriMo challenge.)
But in almost all of the stories I’ve written so far, I’ve gone for the third person narrative. Something about “I” and “me” and “myself” makes me uncomfortable. “She” and “he” and “they” seem easier and natural. Which is fine, I know, except I’m now reading a first-person book, and it’s changed the way I look at the first person narrative.
As I read through the first few chapters of the book, I decided I didn’t like the writing or the flow of the narrative. When I was about to dismiss the author as not my type, I realised that the first person narrative had influenced how I saw the author himself.
That struck me.
I knew nothing about the author and his style of writing. But here I was judging his way of work from just one of his books. I was wrong. A person and a piece of work are two different things.
In the first person for instance, the writer isn’t the author at all. The writer is the narrator, the character. And in the book I am reading, the narrator and the character is a twelve year-old, delusional kid. No wonder I didn’t like the writing—why would a kid, troubled and a smoker, running away from school mind proper grammar and decent vocabulary? What I had considered—for a split second—as a failed writing style soon made me realise that it was indeed brilliant characterisation.
With that revelation, I read on, learning more about the kid and nothing of the author. It’s not the story of a kid as told by an adult, but a story of a kid as told by the kid himself. And that’s where the author struck a chord. He masked himself as a child going into the his mind, abstaining, all the while, from his own adult instincts. That’s hard work. It’s hard, when you’re writing in the first person, to ignore the inner self that nags at you to tell your character to just shut up and grow up.
It’s easier to write in the third person; he called her, she answered him, they fell in love, and then out of love.
But the first person is more effective. I now see how the child’s character develops, what he expects from his life, what the author has in store for him, and how both ‘he’s—the author and the kid—respond to their entwined life.
Some say the third person point of view is the all-knowing, god-like personality. But reading through this particular book, I now think the first person author has more control than the third person author ever will. While the third person author knows what every character is thinking and feeling at the same time, the first person author not only possesses a single character transforming their life from the inside out, but also alters every other character in the story. A first person author is not just the writer, they are the protagonist, the soul of a story, the one person who can change their own life and the storyline as well.
It’s a challenge to write in the first person. A challenge I’d like to take up sometime.