A few days ago I went to the library, sat in the Alaska section with the first 100 pages of my novel rewrite, and got to work. It was a rainy and cloudy day, and I sat by a window that overlooks a park (the grass all smeary with duck poop), and as I sipped seltzer water I suddenly became absolutely and totally convinced that I needed to change my book from first- to third-person.
After all, third-person is more respected, at least in literary circles. And forget the fact that my book isn’t literary nor meant to be literary–it suddenly seemed the perfect thing to do.
I spent over three hours changing every “I” to “she” or “Sasha,” and then, due to tense differences, hundreds of singular words to plural.
It was a tedious task. Still, I was excited because I was sure that I had finally found the magical solution, that one thing that would bring my book together and I’d finish it easily and confidently and it would be perfect and my life would be perfect, blah, blah, blah, amen.
Once home, I sat at the kitchen table, birch trees swaying outside the window, and I read through the first few chapters, my heart sinking because it wasn’t at all what I expected. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but it lacked tone and verve. The original draft had a quirky voice plus a slightly unreliable narration. Without that, the book fell flat.
My first thought was to rush to my desk and fix the damned mess, pronto. Instead, I went running with a friend. It was late, past ten o’clock when we hit the trails, and no one else was around except for the three moose we passed. It was a magical evening, the summer twilight spreading out and shadowing everything the most marvelous shades of grey and green, silver and lavender.
Running along the trails, the mountains lining the background, the air hushed and damp,I felt so alive and strong and filled with life that I could barely stand it.
The next day, I sat down and worked on my book, in first-person again, and it was as if I had overcome an obstacle or worked through a transition. Because suddenly I could see what I needed to do. It still wasn’t easy, mind you. But at least I had a semblance of visibility.
Maybe this is the best way through a rough patch, not taking the easiest or quickest route but by flailing and making bad decisions and flinging yourself down into a turmoil of doubt. Maybe making a mess is the best damned way of solving a problem, not the mess itself so much as the lessons learned from confronting and cleaning up the mess.
Or maybe I’m just making excuses for myself. Whatever–I’m tired of words. Sometimes, pictures can tell another side of a story. (From running the Williwaw trail with Sarana in the late night summer twilight.)
11 thoughts on “Third person or first person? Damned if I know.”
You said it all right here: “Maybe making a mess is the best damned way of solving a problem, not the mess itself so much as the lessons learned from confronting and cleaning up the mess.” If you’re an intuitive writer, this may be the way to go even if it is painful and sucks up a lot of time. Taking a run in the middle of it, giving your mind time to clear, is also tactically smart 😉
I think I’m the queen of making messes, Marie. But you hit it solid: I am an intuitive writer and it is painful and it does suck up a lot of time, sigh, sigh. Hope you’re busy writing like crazy. Well, you’re probably sleeping right now. But when you wake up, I hope you write like crazy. Cheers,
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lol … I was sleeping! And now it’s time to write. By the way, are you familiar with Lauren Sapala’s blog. She had a post awhile back about being introverted and intuitive: http://laurensapala.com/?p=5724. I don’t know if you’re introverted, but the way you wrote about revising/rewriting reminded me of Lauren’s post.
Oh, oh, a new blogger to follow, and an introverted one at that (and yeah, I am totally an introvert, though I do have my social moments, lol). Thanks so, so much. I’m heading over to visit with Lauren right now.
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My work in progress is in present tense. I’m very afraid at some point I will have a tedious task of changing it to past tense. Good for you for recognizing that running is part of the creative process. (Yours. Mine is napping.)
Napping is the second phase of my creative process, Kari. I love my naps! P.S. Still looking for a dog friend but alas, can’t seem to find the right fit. Maybe I just need to plunge in and adopt the next one that catches my eye, eh? Cheers and woof-woof to the four-leggeds.
I don’t want to pressure you, but dogs are the other essential ingredient in my creative process. Also… cookies.
Words…pictures…it’s all good.
Ahh, thanks so much, Diana.
Well said. Does your editor agree on the first person approach?
Yes, thanks, my editor approved of first-person. Hope you’re having a great week.
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