I’ve been experimenting lately, trying a different approach with one of my latest WIPs. The hope is that I’m honing a certain area I know I need to work on. I worry that I’ve gotten too comfortable with the way I write and it’s become too easy to stay exactly the same, which doesn’t allow for growth or refinement.
Recently, I opened a new document and started rewriting a new WIP outside of my narrative comfort zone. I know, that doesn’t sound real dazzling. But, as someone who prefers to read and write in the Third Person, I have to tell you that trying to write fictional characters in the First Person POV is doing things…I’m not sure if they’re good or bad things yet, as I’m just starting. And don’t get me started on how difficult it is to switch from years of writing in the past tense to suddenly writing everything in present tense.
The reason I’m doing this, is because I want to hone that vital difference between “Showing” and “Telling”. Something that seems easier to accomplish in First Person…or is it? Yes and no. When I’m writing about myself, it’s absolutely easier. But I’ve never set out to be someone else before, at least not outside of childhood imagination. I can detail all of the nitty-gritty facets that make up my characters from a detached vantage point, like a psychiatrist, and relay that through my writing while remaining in the Third Person–and it doesn’t matter their gender or their personality. I’ve written from the male POV just as often as I have from the female POV. I can flesh out sub-characters or climb into an antagonist’s head and portray their nastiness all over the page without it bleeding over onto my other characters. They each retain their own, distinct voice.
Yet, this is proving difficult while writing in First Person. My characters read almost exactly the same; their unique voices are lost. I already know it’s because I’m used to writing from the director’s chair, where I can see the whole picture, and I don’t have to climb into these skinsuits of my characters to get through the scene. I empathize, relate and paint the picture. I don’t live, eat, breathe, be. I’m finding that it’s harder with my male protagonist, because I’m NOT an alpha male by any stretch of the imagination, but even my female protag’s voice has changed from the way she was coming across in Third Person. So, that poses a problem, but it’s given me whole new admiration and respect for those First Person POV authors who manage to pull this off with deceptive ease.
I liken it to method acting, which some say is a myth, but it’s the closest example I can think of. I have to learn how to live this story as it’s unfolding on the stage, rather than relaying the way I saw it unravel from the front row. Release the confines of all those habits I fall back on, so I can expand my writing limits and open myself up to *gasp* change.
And the positives can’t be discounted; writing in the First Person is far more succinct than Third. Details, ideas and reactions are conveyed with smaller word counts, because everything is happening in the moment. This allows me to get a first hand perspective into my character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions as they’re happening, rather than after the fact. I’ve also noted how many more character insights have revealed themselves which the Third Person POV version didn’t have. The shifting of my own focus in order to capture – or recapture – my characters’ individual voices will be my greatest challenge and currently, it’s exciting trying to put it into practice.
Just don’t hold your breath for any First Person POV novels written by yours truly, LOL! So far, my goal for this experiment hasn’t changed: I want to develop the ability to slip deeper into my character’s skins with relative ease, so that “showing” becomes the natural style of my writing without having to worry about so many “telling” pitfalls.
Have you ever tried the method of switching narratives before, even just for fun? I’d love to hear about your “outside of the box” trials and what your results were in the comments below or tag me in your own blog post, if you feel inspired – that would be great, too! 🙂