I have a bad habit of writing in first person. I go to write and through no conscious thought it just happens. Seriously, It’s like I can’t help myself or something. I have a problem. I’ve only got one real explanation for this: I’m lazy. Writing in first person is great for my style. It means I can be snarky and sarcastic while still pretending I’m writing for the good of the story. It also means that I don’t have to try to explain why my character is doing what he’s doing. We’re in his head, you can see it for yourself.
I’ll admit, the first crack I had at writing a character in this style it was basically a self-insert. I was fifteen, what did you expect? But the slightly unhinged, self-absorbed and snarkilicious character I created was fun and wasn’t considered to be too Out of Character by most of my readers (Reflecting on it, I wonder if perhaps they were just being kind). And that was fine as long as I stuck to one character.
The problem comes when I try to write different characters in first person.
At the moment I’ve got two stories written in first person on the go. The first is my big project (which I promise I will stop banging on about one day. I just spent a full day staring at the latest chapter and trying to work out what was wrong with it. It’s on the brain) and the second is a short humour fic. Though they’re both written in first person they are written from the point of views of two very different characters. The humour one is written from my trademark snarky, self-absorbed viewpoint (So I may not have changed as much as I thought from when I was fifteen) and my big project is from the point of view of someone who’s damaged from an epically tragic childhood and has some serious anger management issues.
Trying to write these two stories together is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried. I’ll begin writing my humour fic and realise I’m writing in the subdued and matter-of-fact voice of my big project (I once caught myself doing that after having written about 2000 words. There was much frustration that day). Or I’ll be writing my big project and suddenly my main character will stop musing about his desire to not be a terrible person and start wondering about why all pick up lines are so awful.
The key to stopping this from happening is, I think, getting into character before I even begin writing. Though I say that my snarky character is practically a self-insert it’s not entirely true. It’s a self-insert when I’m in a particular mood. And as I’ve gotten a bit older and a bit better at writing I’ve gotten better at keeping my snarky character truer to canon. Still with heavy elements of my special brand of insanity, sure, but the character has moved further away from me in his choices and mannerisms. This I can only think of as progress. Similarly, my depressed and angry character is nothing like me. He is more likely to solve his problems with a good dosage of violence than any other way. Me? I feel bad when I crush ants.
So when I write in first person I do my best to put aside my own personality and thoughts. In order to write sarcastic humorous stuff I tend to watch sitcoms and listen to crazy happy (read: 90s) music. In order to get into the more depressing, damaged mood I listen to angry angry music and start a lot of my thinking with variations on ‘If I were him…’.
It’s hard putting myself aside (remember how I said self-absorption was a major part of my self-insert persona? Yeah) and trying to think in the voice of my characters. Especially because in first person there’s nowhere to hide. Your prose is your characters voice. The style you choose, the way your characters perceive the world, everything says something about your characters.
So even though I began writing in first person because I was lazy (I chose to write my NaNo in first person because I knew that if I ever needed to add in some more words I could just muse about life for a little while) as I’ve gotten better at it I’ve found it more and more difficult. Writing from someone else’s perspective is difficult and finding their voice inside the confusing mess of your own mind is one of the more difficult things you can do. But when you find that voice it’s magic. When you can capture another person’s voice you can begin to understand their character a little better and you become a better writer for it.
Or I could just be using this logic as an excuse to write more first person stories. Who can really say?