Sunday, 18 December 2016

First Person Subjective Viewpoint – Finding Your Voice

Some fiction writers can slip into various personas
Copyright Janet Cameron


In "Writing in the First Person" in The Creative Writing Coursebook, Elleke Boehmer considers the problem of choosing a viewpoint. Of the first person viewpoint, she says: "This is one of the central decisions a writer must make. It affects not only the angling, but the force, atmosphere and shape of a piece of writing, especially, perhaps, of fiction."
Writing your Autobiography or Memoir
One of the most pressing problems with autobiography is what to leave out. If it’s your story, then everything in it may be of overwhelming interest to you. You need to take on board a deep awareness of this natural human partiality. Being objective is never easy, but your memoir will work better if you choose key incidents in your life rather than trying to cover everything.
Most people have probably experienced a problematic first day at school or in a job. So, ditch all those “so what!” passages. This means anything boring or tedious or irrelevant to the main story. Instead, concentrate on dramatising the most interesting parts. If you are afraid to "waste" your writing, you’ll never produce anything of quality.
Bear in mind, also, that it takes great skill to handle the repetition of the “I” pronoun elegantly.
Autobiography into Fiction
It could be you are using an autobiographical setting for a fictional story. The advantage about using your autobiography and turning it into fiction is, of course, that you can take a few liberties with the truth, alter facts and situations, omit things and enhance other passages to make the work more structured and, ultimately, more satisfying to the reader. You are also more likely to be taken up by a publisher, especially if you manage to produce an exciting, well-rounded story that manages to sound like a novel.
Whether you are writing autobiography turned into fiction, or regular fiction, always think about what you’re taking on before you start. You need to establish a real connection with your reader, so that s/he will feel you are talking to her/him directly. You can only do that by first connecting with your character in your first person viewpoint fiction. So choose your viewpoint carefully – will it suit this particular story?
Of course, some fiction writers are able to slip into various personas easily; they are able to assume characteristics in the same way as an actor who impersonates politicians and other actors. For others, it may take a little more practice.
Only One Angle on the Story
The most important point to remember is that the first person narrator has only one angle, that of a character who is narrating their “take” on the story. In other words, the story is told entirely from the "I" position. You are only able to show the motivation of other characters from the judgement of the first person narrator who draws conclusions from their actions.
On the other hand, this may suit your project of gradual revelation, or, if you are a more experienced writer, you can allow your first person narrator to “give away” little snippets of information for the reader’s benefit. Your character knows what is normal for them and those around them, while the reader can "read between the lines."
Sources:
Your Writing Coach, Jurgen Wolff, Nicholas Brealey, London, Boston, 2007

The Creative Writing Coursebook, ed. Julia Bell & Paul Magrs, MacMillan, 2

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