Thursday, February 16, 2006

Emotional Distance

"What's wrong with First Person POV?" I see this question all over the place. Go online, pick any two of your favorite e-zones, read a couple of stories in first person with a critical eye, and you will soon see what's wrong. The way I see it, the problem is two-fold:

  1. First-person narrators more often than not tell the story, rather than showing it. They describe their surroundings, summarize their conversations, and narrate any action that takes place. Ho hum. If I want Story Time, I'll go to the public library. It's very difficult for a first-person narrator to get so involved in the story that he actually shows what happens. Everything is filtered through the narrator's perception, and the reader gets it second-hand. Just like second-hand smoke, second-hand stories are not good.

  2. First-person narrators maintain this deistance from the reader because the writer has maintained his distance from the narrator. The writer is looking out through this person's eyes, but never getting down into the person deep enough to actually feel what this person is feeling. If you can't feel what your character feels, how do you expect to communicate that to the reader? By describing it, of course, which, again, puts that distance in.

In horror, first person is especially unfotunate, because you give the game away up front. Of course the narrator survived, else, how would he be able to tell the story. Unless, of course, he's a ghost, or it's all a dream. Spare me.

To write frist person effectively, the writer must be immersed so deeply into the narrator that he becomes that person. He doesn't tell what he sees, he shows it. He doesn't describe his feelings, he shows them through his actions and reactions. People don't stop and analyze their feelings on a regular basis and tell themselves "this is what I'm feeling right now". No, we just feel it, and we show other people what we're feeling through our body langauge and speech.

First person can be done effectively, and the effect is powerful. In order to do that, though, the writer has to invest a lot of himself in the story. You can't lay another person's sould bare unless you're actually in there. I've written before about how painful that can be, but that's the price of good fiction. Good stories are written in blood from the wounds you open to get at what's inside. There's no easy way. There's no other way.

I have some thoughts about present tense, as well, but I'm saving them for another day.


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