Thursday, June 16, 2005

It's All About Me, Myself and I

When I was a kid and first started reading serious chapter books, they were nearly always written in the first person point of view. Or at least the ones I really loved were, and I'm thinking specifically of all the works of Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, S.E. Hinton and most of the Silhouette First Love series titles. Reading a book writtin in first person POV was like meeting a new, really cool friend who sat on the floor of my bedroom to gossip with me and tell me about her way-more-exciting-than-mine life.

Then I grew up and the POV shifted to mostly third person. By the time this happened, I didn't much care either way. In fact, as I got into romance novels I preferred the third person because I wanted the chance to see inside more than one character's head. I wanted to know what both the hero and the heroine were thinking, as well as a few key secondary characters. I have yet to read a book that accomplishes this while in first person. Not that they don't exist, just that I haven't read them yet.

Lately I've been reading quite a few YA titles (research) and have been enjoying that return to the first person POV. Seems things haven't changed at all in the twenty years or more since YA titles made up the bulk of my reading. They are still mostly written in first person and still feel just like I'm being let inside a really cool, fun world where the heroine is my new best friend.

I've noticed a lot more of what I would label gimmicky writing - journaling or e-mail exchanges as a way of telling story. It usually takes me a while to be convinced that I'll get just as much information via these approaches as I would get from straight story telling, but once I get into the rhythm and if the writer has done it well, they work for me.

In fact, it seems like this is the way to be able to tell the story from multiple viewpoints while mantaining the intimacy of first person POV. Character A sends Character B an e-mail and Character B responds - change of viewpoint but still a single narrator. Kind of cool.

The other wonderful thing about telling a story in first person POV and finding a way to successfully incorporate multiple character viewpoints without decending into mass confusion is the ability to define characters by voice. That use of "I" immediately throws the reader into a conversational mode in which verbal ticks and tendencies can come across.

I suppose that's the biggest challenge, once you figure out the format to go with. How to give each character a distinctive enough voice that it becomes clear who is telling the story despite the common "I". I imagine if that is done perfectly, any need for gimmick becomes mute because the reader knows immediately whose head they are currently in. I wonder what the limit might be? How many characters can have a turn speaking? Could get crazy, I tell you. Crazy!

*Sigh* I suppose this means more of that practice stuff and the honing of the craft and all.

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