Thursday, March 17, 2011

Me, myself, and I, or he, himself,, he

Like I said earlier, you read different when you're writing.

Part of that is a comparison of what the author you've chosen is doing and what you're doing.  In this case, I read today two different authors doing first person voice.  For those unfamiliar with this distinction, the first person is when there's a lot of "I..." and the third person is when there's a lot of "he...".  The other part of voice is tense, in terms of whether you write in present tense or past tense.  Or, I guess, something else, but that's rare and well beyond my abilities to consider.

The first and second novels I selected to read in my writer's workshop happened to be first person, both of them, which is very interesting in that my preferred writing style is third person.  Specifically, I describe most things as happening to Crystal, or Matt, mostly focused on Crystal, but never using the "I" pronoun.  It's just easier that way, and seems cleaner.  The two novels today were both based in the "I."

Now, before I go much into it, let me say that I hadn't really read the reviews of most of the specific novels I was acquiring.  For most, I was interested in the author's style, so reviews of the specific work seemed overboard.  That said, it was really interesting to read reviews after the fact.

If you read the theory on the various persons and tenses available, you read things like, "If you combine first person with present tense, you get all the human interaction first person brings to the table with the immediacy present tense provides. I consider that a winning duo."  There's no question that the first person present tense is the most powerful, when wielded properly.  Dear Zoe is an example of that.  I quit the novel after the first CD.  It wasn't because of any dislike of the novel, but rather because it was just, frankly, too powerful.  There were emotions there that I'd never experienced before, and though I cherish Beard's ability to bring them to me, they were frankly too raw for me to continue working with.  It really is a masterfully done novel, at least as far as I traveled with it, but the emotional baggage got too heavy.

Then there's Predator, by Cornwell.  Here, my decision to not read the reviews first played against me.  Yes, it was present tense, but that just served as an example of how weird a story could read if it was set in present tense but didn't merit it.  The whole story seemed stilted to me, and the numerous negative reviews served to justify my sense. 

The bottom line, I guess, is that it really is an interesting question as to which tense and person an author should embrace.  Clearly, though, some tense/person combinations are more difficult to pull off than others.

Word count: 60,041

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