Saturday, April 11, 2009

You are Yorgosh, emperor of Vrog! Be him! Make us believe!

Writing in the first person has its special difficulties: knowing, but not revealing, the end from the beginning; limiting a story to only what the narrator knows; finding a believable narrative voice, etc... But first-person narrations, if done well, can be among the most enjoyable to read. That is, imho.

In the introduction to his Nebula-award winning novelette "Two Hearts," Peter S. Beagle states that he was unsure of his ability to effectively enter the world of the story - that is, until the main character entered his head. In his own words:

I locked onto her voice, the voice of this nine-and-a-half-year-old girl
who was telling the story from the first sentence, and I just followed her. It
was one of the very rare occasions where I felt from beginning to end that I
knew what I was doing. (Quote from Nebula Awards Showcase 2008)

The reminds me of Patrick's post from earlier this week where he talked about method writing and "being the character." I think this is the same thing that Beagle was describing. In fact, it sounds as though the writer is chanelling the character.

I believe that this kind of close identification between a p.o.v. character and a writer is necessary for a good story. First-person narrations, of course, but not only these.

So, writers, do you feel it is necessary to establish identification with your characters - first person narrators or otherwise? And how do you do it?


  1. "So, writers, do you feel it is necessary to establish identification with your characters - first person narrators or otherwise? And how do you do it?"

    I was hoping you could tell me!

    I struggle, personally, with articulating how characterization comes from my brain unto the page.

    I just don't know. Sometimes it seems I am not so much writing a fictional charter, but putting a voice to a real person. Yet this person is not real. I made her up.

    Great post, I hope people reply because I am really interested in the answers!

  2. I love the part of the quote where he says that he locked onto the girl's voice and followed her.

    When I am writing I like to start the day with a quick read that puts me in the mindset to write. That quote fits the bill. Thanks.

  3. As I have said earlier, characters are one of the hardest things for me. So what am I doing about it? Before I begin a new story I write down as much detail as possible about a new character. Where they were born, where did they go to school, hobbies, interests, likes, dislikes, basically every detail that I can possibly think of. As I am writing I refer back, add more, and change things. I try to keep those characterizations as a living document throughout the story.

    I know that might sound a little strange, but I've heard of writers who create entire scrapbooks about each of their characters. I don't go that far, but I do try to keep as much information around as I can.

    Once you have those characterizations it's easier to enter the head of the character, because that's what you have to do. You are playing the role of the character and writing down what they think and feel about what's happening. Sounds hard, and it is, but if you can master it, you're good to go.

    Great post.

  4. I like how you put it, Diane. 'Identification'. Because most of the time, if I write someone in first person, you can bet one of their traits is that they don't mind talking...or, they don't mind a stage. Of course there thousands of exceptions, but that's my starting point. Would this character like to tell us a 300-page story, or would he/she rather have someone (the author) help them.

    I do character notes too, but what gets me to the end of the story is if I 'dip' the character into some kind of hugely emotional situation. That way there is some kind of direction for this character to go.

    I've read a lot of stories that begin in first person where the narrator is feisty, rebellious, and just plain clever, but it's like their bouncing around in the desert.

    So, I guess...first I think of the moment, then I think of the character. And I'm pretty sure I went waaaay off topic with this post. =). Thanks, Diane. Good subject.

  5. Great topic and question! I know that it is necessary for me as a writer to identify with my characters, but I'm not sure how I do it. It seems to be different with each character. I talk a lot about them with my husband and some writer friends - as if the characters were real people. That may be the key. I have to love them enough to make them real.

    And how I go about doing that, I don't know. I haven't analyzed it enough yet!


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