Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Insecure Writers: Let Me Inside Your Head!


NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. Most of whom are insecure. So we support each other from the safety and comfort of our desks. 

It's NaNoWriMo (ahem, that's National Novel Writing Month) time, so naturally, this post has a little bit to do with that venerable event. I'm not going to talk about it much, though, or really at all, at least beyond my introductory sentence, so this entire paragraph is a big, fat tease.

Sorry!

Not to worry, though, this is still a post about insecurity.

SOOOO, in honor of the aforementioned event that I will no longer discuss, I'm trying to move waaaaaaaay outside of my comfort zone, and work on my next novel without an outline.

Yeah, it's not going very well. Readers of this blog will know that while this method of writing (also known as 'pantsing') is a valid approach, it makes my head spin round and round in nauseating little circles while elves of anxiety tap dance in my stomach, and I subsequently produce nothing but nonsensical garbage.

None of which is the point of this post, but it's atmospheric. Y'know, setting the scene.

Which is this: See, I have this idea that in one of the stories in this new book, the narrator's gender is never revealed (an idea I am gratefully taking from Jeannette Winterson). The whole book is really a love story between two souls, and while it jumps from lifetime to lifetime, the souls are the same. It's also about love, and fear, and faith. And what better way, what more interesting way, to talk about all of this, and to explore how our souls love, than by taking gender out of the equation? I mean, does a soul have a gender? We as humans are so gender-focused that it's hard for us to think outside of that paradigm, but it's such a fascinating issue and question that I want to raise it.

Which means that I can't write this section in my favorite point of view, third person limited, which is what I used when I wrote Cloudland. I can't write it in third person omniscient, either, because anything in the third person would require serious and absurd diction gymnastics to avoid ever saying "he" or "she". No, if I want the narrator's gender to remain unspecified, I have to write in the first person.

MAN, is that harder than I ever expected. There are a lot of reasons for this, including my own lack of familiarity with this POV. But to write in the first person, you have to find the voice of your character. Not only how he or she speaks, but how this person thinks. And it's so easy, it's in fact way too easy, for that voice to sound insincere or forced or false. Because really, what you're doing is moving outside of your own head, and into someone else's. Not kind of/sort of into someone else's head, like in the third person limited, but really in there.

Add to this mess the fact that this narrator I'm creating is by nature a very private person, and you have a recipe for a lovely and explosive writing disaster. I mean, how can you be inside the head of someone who is intensely private??? Right - you can't. They don't like. They kick you out.

So this is my major insecurity for today. Can I pull this off??? Can I write in the first person? Or am I trying to do something beyond me? And even if I'm capable of it, will this character let me?

Time will tell, I guess. In the meantime, any and all advice, words of encouragement, dire warnings, and other thoughts are much appreciated.

56 comments:

  1. I hear you on all of this. @_@ I love the idea of uncertain gender throughout the whole thing, and that's awesome if you can pull it off. But like you, I'm a plotter, not a pantser, so I understand worrying that the whole thing's going to turn out an incomprehensible mess. Been there, done that, tried replotting it for a rewrite and only made it worse. So... good luck!

    And first-person isn't easy either, I deliberately haven't written that for a long time. If it's done well, though, it can get you closer to a character - as a reader - than you ever thought possible. I've read some great stuff done all first-person, and as much as I enjoy it, that's kind of what keeps me from giving it another try. It's intimidating and I don't know if I could do it that well. Oi.

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    1. Oh man, thanks Mason!! It's really helpful to know I'm not the only one. I'm worried that I'm going to end up exactly where you were - with a giant mess that refuses to be edited and rewritten. I like this idea I've got, and I don't want to ruin it!

      First person IS intimidating. When it's done well, it's wonderful, but when it's even a little bit off, it can destroy an otherwise good book. I don't blame you for staying away from it - I would, too, if it weren't for this damn idea...

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  2. I have a WIP sitting in queue (an opening scene and some plot notes) that I'm going to write in first person. I think it'll be okay once I get the hang of it. In a way, I find it easier, as far as keeping the POV close anyway.

    Go for it, I say. You can always polish it later. And if it helps, take an hour out of your day and start with your ending. Plot your outline backward from there. You'll be amazed how easily things come to you. Seriously. Try it. :)

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    1. That's encouraging - and positive - thank you! I'll keep trying. Maybe it WILL be easier some day,

      You know, I actually came up with this plot line because I was working on the ending. So yes, you're right, it's a great tool!

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  3. I agree with Melissa, go for it! I love the ideas you've discussed here and I think it sounds like you have the makings for a fantastic story. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks so much, Julie!! I really appreciate the encouragement :)

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  4. Great post, Liz. I too am considering a 1st person POV novel. It's completed already--in 3rd person--and smells more like a suggestion than an addiction. I even get bored when I edit it. You pegged what I need--a better understanding of my character's self.

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    1. Thanks, Jacqui, and thank you for coming by! Good luck with your WIP - making big changes like that is daunting, but can make such a huge difference in the end.

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  5. First person is difficult. I've never attempted it. If it's a love story, not saying her or him will be challenging as well. Think of it as a great experiment and go for it.

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    1. I like that thought - less stressful. I'm experimenting!

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  6. I have never tried to write in first person. I think it would be a huge challenge. Good luck.

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  7. I'm on board with everyone else, Liz. Try it. See how the character feels, see how the story wants to be told. I switched mine from first to third at one point. Still pondering the issue.

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    1. Thanks, Karen. I'll definitely try it, and see what I can do. I might look into taking a class on it...

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  8. Oooh, I LOVE this concept. Well, yes, you're taking on a lot but you're sure to learn a ton as you go. My advice is to not worry so much about the personality on the first draft---get to know the character as you go along taking her/him through the plot. I'll bet the personality starts flowing naturally at some point & you'll have future drafts to craft it into any areas where it's missing on the first. And gosh, I hope what I just said makes sense to anybody else but me. Happy NaNoing!!

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    1. Hey, thanks so much! It does make sense, and I appreciate the advice :) My brain tends to run better when I let it plan, though, so I might do some intense character analysis and see where that gets me!

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  9. *gasp* No outline? *holding in panic attack* It's okay. These things can happen organically, right? *finding paper bag*

    LOL. Writing first person IS AWESOME!!!!! What I mean by that is, it's so personal. It's limited, so it's easier to focus. It's so sweet because you get to BE that character. It also means you have to know ABSOLUTELY everything about that character's life.

    Have a blast with it!

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    1. LOL, I know, right??? Where's my paper bag?!

      Thanks for the encouragement! It's good to know that it could be fun and exciting as well as intimidating!

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  10. NaNoWriMo is a great time to experiment! Forces you to just put the words down and not second-guess, because there isn't time. (In theory at least. :)

    Best of luck on your goals!

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    1. Thanks E.J.! I'm not great at experimenting, but I think it's time to try to get better at it!

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  11. First, thanks for the award last time. I'm totally honored!
    And I agree with Crystal - *gasp* No outline! I tried it once but ended up doing a mental outline anyway (although I tried to convince myself that's not what it was). Since then I've given in and am a proclaimed outliner :)
    *hehehe* I have a 1st person allergy too, but am toying with it in one of my MSs. But with your idea, I don't know how else you could do it. Go for it!

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    1. Oh, you're so welcome! My pleasure :)

      LOL, I'm with you and Crystal. My intention going into NaNo was to eschew the outline, but that ain't working, so I'm back to my usual method!

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  12. A shy narrator is brilliant. Conflict, tension and finally resolution (as they must narrate. Love!

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  13. I say try it. And if it doesn't work just scrap it. I had one project where I knew the plot but couldn't decide on the right main character so I experimented with 5 or 6 different novel beginnings (same plot, different main character!) until I could decide. And I probably had between 30 and 70 pages for each. It was exhausting, lol, but I'm so glad I tried it. So outline or not, I say go for it!

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    1. Wow, yikes, good for you for being so open and willing to experiment. It sounds exhausting, but it also sounds like it worked. I'll take your advice, and go for it!

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  14. I'm writing in first person right now, too, and I can testify that it is indeed a difficult POV to work with. Some think it is a cop out and that it is easy because it's just opening your mouth and yapping away, but it's not. It takes a lot of careful planning to figure out how to present scenes from one character's POV and only their POV. Plus, as you said, they have to be an interesting enough character that the reader will want to listen to them for all of three hundred pages. Tough. But you can do it. You've got a fascinating set up for a novel, so jump in there and find that voice. :)

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    1. Really? People think it's easy? That's... almost funny ;) Thank you for the words of encouragement - I do believe in this idea of mine, and want to give it a try, and the feedback helps!

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  15. Now you have a extremely unique story going on here, Liz. It sounds amazing! And I know you can do it! I finish a ya contemporary in the first person and it can be difficult at times. Just develop the protagonists characters. Maybe use names that go with both genders like Riley, Jordan(my daughters name), Ryan, Sam, stuff like that. But your idea sounds fantastic! Good Luck!

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    1. Thanks so much! I was just searching on line for gender neutral names, actually :) I think I might go with Sam for now. Good for you for finishing your novel in the first person - that's inspiring!

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  16. Of course you can do it, if you are prepared to put in the work necessary. First person is tough, especially if you're not used to it. Do your homework and revise until you have the finished product you desire.

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    1. Thanks, Isis. That's sound advice, and I'll take it! Thanks for coming by :)

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  17. Like others have already said, that sounds like an amazing set up for a novel. I love the concept.

    And I love writing in the first person. It can be tricky, though, but I think you'll find it gets easier.

    Best of luck to you!

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    1. Thanks. I hope so!! I'm going to keep trucking along, and maybe it will get easier :)

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  18. Go for it! It sounds like a great idea! You can do it!

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  19. I used to outline as well. It was difficult when transitioning to writing by the seat of my pants, but now I can't write WITH an outline! I just let the creative side of my brain take over completely when 1st drafting.

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    1. LOL, that's good to know! Maybe I can make the switch someday, too.

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  20. Hey Liz,

    Great post and here's to getting out of our comfort zones.

    I used to always write in third/past/omniscient. Love that person and tense. And there's nothing wrong with that (Rowling did it all in HP), but I wanted to involve the reader more, so lately, I've switched to first/present.

    It took awhile to get the hang of it (I kept automatically slipping into past tense), but once I did, it's been great (and easier than I thought). It's just a matter of doing it. Like telling a story yourself. It's tricky to avoid using "I" too much, though. But it can be done. NaNo is the perfect opportunity to practice this POV. Last year I conquered the two-space rule after a period (and colon) and changed to the one-space rule. It was tough, as I have been typing with two spaces for many decades now, but achieved.

    Good luck!

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Thanks, Mike! It's good to hear a success story - I appreciate it!! Right now I'm missing my familiar old friend, third person limited, but I'm trying to get to know some new friends ;)

      Congrats on conquering the terrible two-space rule! That stuff is way harder to change than it feels like it should be.

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  21. Picking a point of view is tough. I started my chapter book series in a third person point of view. But the feedback from publishers was that the characters weren't personable enough to have kids want to follow a series with them. So I switched to a first person point of view - alternating between a six year old boy and a 10 year old girl. I got an agent shortly thereafter. So you might find stepping out of your comfort zone will improve your writing.

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  22. I haven't written first-person in over 20 years, apart from short interludes like letters or personal essays within a book, and amn't even sure if I still remember how to do it. I've written exclusively third-person omniscient for about 20 years, and find it the most deeply personal, creative, flexible POV.

    I recently read Marisa Calin's Between You and Me, where the narrator's best friend is addressed as You throughout. It's written in screenplay format, and we never find out if You is a boy or girl. You could always use a gender-neutral name if you really want third-person.

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    1. Wow - that's a long time to get used to a POV! I've never heard of Between You and Me - I think I need to find it. Thanks for the rec!

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  23. What a cool idea for a story! I'd love to offer words of wisdom, but I'm not great with first person POV either. However, I do know that the more you do something, the better you get at it, so there's that silver lining... :)

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    1. Haha, thanks!! I know, that's what I keep telling myself - practice makes perfect. Just keep going. No one has to read this. Thank goodness ;)

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  24. I really hope you do because it sounds fan-freaking-tastic! Can you do two first person pov's? One for each soul?

    And as for no outline, maybe you could use a time line for this one instead. Or a Three Act Structure? Says the total panster. lol

    Good luck!

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    1. Haha, thanks pantser! I'm reverting back to my old ways and working on my character analyses, which make me feel better about not having an outline ;)

      I don't think I can do two people in first person, because the person who IS gendered, the woman, would have to refer to the other person's gender. There's no way to avoid those dumb he/she pronouns, unless I go to 'you'... and that feels even more challenging!!

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  25. That first paragraph certainly was a tease!

    I'm definitely not a pantser. I like outlines because I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction (like I've finished a marathon or saved Earth or something) when I get to cross through each bullet point.

    Your story sounds so unique and fantastic. What a cool idea about never revealing gender. I'd beta read the heck out of that! *hint hint*

    :)

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    1. Haha, sorry!

      YES! Isn't crossing stuff off the best feeling EVER?? I love it, too.

      Thanks so much for the encouragement! AND thank you for the offer to beta read. Be warned, I might just take you up on that!! It'll just be a loooooong time from now :)

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  26. First person + pantsing can definitely be challenging. My only advice: BE your character. Pull a Daniel Day-Lewis and seriously live as your character. See what happens!

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    1. It's good advice, and I'll try it! Thanks!

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  27. Interesting premise. Whether the soul has gender (is it tied to one's embodiment) has been argued pro and con for a few millennia, so there's some interesting philosphical (and religious and biological) stuff out there on the topic. Having to dispense with pronouns is going to be tough though.

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    1. Thanks! It IS a challenge, but as you said, there are so many interesting ideas around this that I want to try it.

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  28. Good luck with first person, Liz! It's my favorite. Maybe you'll grow to love it, too! :)

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