Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rewriting into 1st person

I have just, at the suggestion of my editor (who gave me permission to call her crazy and not do it), rewritten a whole novel into first person. Admittedly it was a short novel but still, I feel like someone ought to throw a parade in my honour, even if it's just a little one. But I now feel entirely vindicated as an editor to suggest making similarly horribly daunting radical changes.

In this case it was a spot on suggestion. It resolves some of the younger qualities of the language and the story (that cosy, sitting on the narrator's knee feel that often works so well for adventurous or magical children's books), elevating it fully into the tweenie, 'Chomp' market. It made the character-driven story more immediate and the main character, Josie, instantly felt less passive and sulky (she's pretty moody) and generally more accessible and likeable. A magic trick. Plus it made me really focus on the line by line stuff, so I think overall it will be a tidier novel, and everybody likes tidy. I also think that I couldn't have written this novel as well if I'd intended to write it in first person first (confused?). So I am glad that I wrote it the way I did, even if it did mean sitting up late squinting at the screen through an ouchy, puffy, conjuntivitis eye.

Still, I'm glad no one ever asked me do it for Undine. And to be honest, I am still a third person girl at heart. Unless it's really beautifully written like Gilead. What I love about third person is you get to show layers - you still have the wobbling 'I', in dialogue and internal thoughts, but you can zoom right in or right out and observe your characters, your landscapes and the story itself, from different angles, you're not limited to one perspective. To me cinema is 'third person'. The narrator is kind of the camera, the shot, the camera angles, what's left in, what's left out. I tend towards a similarly visual way of writing novels.


  1. I write best in first person, present tense, but I hate reading it. I prefer to read in third, past.

    Scatterheart is in third, and it's been hard figuring out where it sits on the omniscient scale - how much of Hannah's brain we can get into.

    But my Pink Book is in first person, present tense, and I am loving writing it. I think the girly, fun nature of pink books makes the immediacy and gossip-ness of present first work really well.

  2. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Having just done a first draft of a Pink Book too, I agree. There was something very liberating about first person, the chattiness, the immediacy of the emotions, the spontaneous asides; it felt more like talking than writing. But I think it works best for a story that's quite small.

    As someone who usually writes in third, I found some unexpected contrasts: hardly any descriptions, for example, whereas in my 3rd person narrations, scene-setting is really important. Maybe that ties into Penni's cinema analogy.

    In third person, I see the story; in first person, I hear it.

  3. I'm writing my pink book in first person too. Two persons actually, which means one of them isn't allowed to be me. Or they have to be different aspects of me. But that's generally my biggest problem with writing first person - the me-ness of the voice, plus I waffle. Which is why it was easier in a way to write the Chomp (which has to be short) as third person then transpose it into first, because the story got priority.