Natasha Raulerson is an editorial rock star! I am thrilled to feature her guest post about common problems with first person POV.
Before we dive into her wise advice, I want to let you know that she has helped me with my own YA manuscript. What did I love about her feedback? Her editorial style truly pushes you to become a better writer and her edits/comments are not only detailed, they offer actionable advice.
If you’re in need of editing services, I highly recommend Raulerson Editorial. This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, Natasha is offering 10% off. See details on the ad above.
Without further ado, Natasha Raulerson’s guest post:
Problems With First Person
That’s not to say writing in first person is a problem. Plenty of people do, and plenty of people read it. I like both first and third points of view (POV). They both have pros and cons. First person can work better for some prose, while third person is the best choice for others. Like so many things in the writing industry, it just depends. No matter what the point of view, it has to be done correctly in order to immerse the reader in a story.
So what are the problems with first person?
Well, most new writers begin with first person. It makes them feel more connected with the character. Not a bad way to start, literally putting yourself in the characters shoes and leading with ‘I’, but in the beginning, a lot of classic mistakes are made that bog down the manuscript, and keep the reader from delving deeper into the novel.
Problem Number One: The overuse of ‘I’.
Yes, ‘I’ is going to be the prominent pronoun, but there is such a thing as overuse. Count how many you have in one paragraph. If the majority of each sentence is I saw, I felt, I heard, I walked, I talked, I laughed, I cried, and all the ‘I’s are everywhere, chances are you’re overusing it.
So how do you avoid this? There’s a few things you can do. The first being to avoid filter words. Filters are any words that not only aren’t necessary, but also pull the reader farther away from the stories action.
Once it’s established that it’s first POV, we know that most, if not all things seen, heard, or felt are what the protagonist is seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.
I heard the train whistle go off in the distance and I knew was going to miss it if I didn’t get the lead out of my pants.
That’s one sentence that has three uses of ‘I’. It can be tightened up for sure. Let’s try this again, shall we?
The train whistle screeched in the distance, warning passengers of its impending departure. If I didn’t get the lead out of my pants, it was going to take off without me.
BOOM from four ‘I’s to one.
The ‘I heard’ and ‘I knew’ isn’t necessary. We know it’s ‘I’. Show us what’s there, what’s happening. Let us see it with the pronoun and filter word bogging it down.
List of Filter Words: See, hear, think, touch, experience, note, to be able to, notice, realize, seem, feel, can, decide, and sound.
Chances are ‘I’ is preceding these and in 95% of each case can be cut out.
Problem Number Two: Everyone sees, looks, glances, at everyone else.
This is a common problem in any POV really. If you go through your manuscript I bet you’ll find a TON of adjectives for ‘look’. All characters will be looking at each other, glancing at something, etc. They will do it multiple times in one scene, or with one character. This is also a filter word, remember? However, this action of ‘looking’ in some form or way is often overused.
Give your characters other actions. If they’re talking to someone it’s pretty much common knowledge that they’re looking at them. It’s okay to have someone glance away from time to time, but instead, try showing us their emotions with action.
Pete looked at me and frowned before glancing away.
Look and glance all in one sentence. See what I mean about it being an overused action?
Pete frowned, his body going rigid with tension as he clenched his fists.
The second sentence gives a better vision of what’s going on with that character. There’s a better sense of anger from this description and none of it involves using a ‘look’.
Problem Number Three: Turning
Do a quick find on ‘turn’. How many times does it come up in your manuscript? Maybe too much. Another action that’s over done is characters turning this way and that.
“I turned toward her.”
“I turned to close the door.”
“She turned and walked away from me.”
Sometimes, there are just so many characters turning they really should be dizzy. This is another action that’s often done entirely too much.
Give the characters something else to do besides spinning around each other.
Sure, someone can turn every once in a while. It’s natural, but do another find. You’re probably going to have more than you think.
Instead of turning to close the door, pull it shut behind the character. (Most people don’t really turn to shut the door anyway, but even then the action is implied if necessary.)
I walked inside, waiting for Jesse to follow, and then shut the door.
She stormed off, heels clacking with enough force to break the tile floor.
Each of the above sentences give more detail and better visual image of what’s going on.
By going through your manuscript and cleaning up these various issues, you’re going to draw the reader a lot deeper into your manuscript. It’ll be sharper, stronger, and engage your readers on a much better level.
Once you learn the common problems of first person point of view, you can learn how to avoid them, and become a stronger writer in the process.
Natasha Raulerson grew up as a tomboy hanging with the guys, getting skinned knees, and swimming in the South Florida sun.Though she’s more inclined to wear dresses now, she still prefers a good pair of chucks and comfy pair of jeans. Tattoos, Jack Daniels, and hanging at the pool are three of her favorite things. An author of adult romantic suspense, by day she writes about the characters driving her imagination wild. By night she enjoys a good book, hanging with her hubs and getting snuggle attacks from her two spoiled pups.
She is represented by the amazing Laura Bradford of The Bradford Literary Agency.
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