Me. Myself. and I.

Every pov has its pitfalls. When I started writing, I was clueless on lot of things. In fact, even though I knew pov existed, it was never a conscious decision on my part to write in first. It's just how it spilled out.

I found out about the First Person Pitfall in the very first exercise I posted in the Compuserve forum. The X wasn't about pov; it was about underpainting, actually. But, someone was kind enough to point out the error of my ways, in any case.

A sample of what I posted:

I squinted my eyes to the overhead gulls that circled in hopes of making a morning meal out of one of the crustaceans. I caught the sunlight reflecting off two large windows above the balcony of the main house; they looked much like angry glowing eyes of a lioness. Maids bustled poolside. They carried trays from the house and set them onto a large table. I spotted Katherine in the middle, arms waving gracefully as she gave orders. She took a place at the head of the glass table, looked our direction and waited. I bit the inside of my cheek.

The highlighted was what the critter pulled out. She pointed out to me that, while the sentences were "fine", using all those I's made it read "choppy". Hmm. I hadn't noticed. Then I went and read an entire chapter, specifically looking for that form. And wow. It was closer to tidal waves than choppiness. I could barely get through it once I noticed all of them. Yikes.
Of course, at that point I still didn't have all the tools to fix it properly, but that single moment defined the first major revision of my book. All that's left of that paragraph:

We walked in silence, the main house looming ahead. The sun reflected off two large windows above the balcony, like the angry glowing eyes of a lioness. Maids bustled poolside, carrying things from the house and setting them onto a table.

Out of context it's not the greatest, but it ain't choppy no more. I can't tell you how many paragraphs were made that much better with that one small (sooo gently put) suggestion. Sometimes it takes a gentle nudge, and a good example (and a bright light bulb tap dancing on my head) to have something click.(Other times it takes a brick to drop on my head, but we'll talk about those another day.)

I don't think I've ever told her any of this. But, I am forever grateful to Susan for her gentle nudge that day - and all the nudges she's given in the years since. Which, aren't always quite as, er, tentative now that I'm just one of the gang ;)

Also, after a lively, and amusing, thread discussion on those lovely repeat phrases writers seem to get stuck on, Susan made a funny spoof chain letter. I'd meant to post it a while back, but never got around to it. So, for your amusement I give you:

Dear Author,

Are you stuck using the same few descriptions for your characters? Fret no longer! This chain letter is guaranteed to net you thousands of new descriptions in just a few short days. How does it work?

Easy! First, make a list of the five most commonly used phrases in your wip. For example:

"She looked up at him."
"He grinned madly."
"Her eyes met his."
"He stared."
"He shrugged."

Then send a copy of this letter to the first name listed below (a writer who is equally discontented with her descriptive phrases). Add your name to the bottom of the list and send out the letter to five writer friends who will then do the same. You will receive 15,625 letters with 78,125 new descriptive phrases in a matter of days. Do not break the chain! If you do, your novel will never reach the NYT bestseller list.

Yours truly,


Alleged Author said...

What a great post! It is quite true that cutting down on the 1st person pronouns makes for more descriptive and interesting writing.

Susan Montgomery said...

I remember that post! You know, Tara, we've all grown by leaps and bounds by helping each other. I've watched your writing grow & deepen and become the rich tapestry it is and I'm the one in awe, to have the privilege of being witness to that.

I'm also lucky to have had such warm and helpful crits from you and others. It works both ways!


welcome to my world of poetry said...

A great post to read, I find it interesting reading how authors of novels go about writing their books. Thanks for enlightening us.


Old Kitty said...

It's great to read how your writing is progressing and that you feel more confident and more writerly! Yay for Susan and her gentle nudges!!! Wonderful! Take care

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thank you for your comment, always appreciated,

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Yes, very good point. I think a lot of writers starting out with a first person point of view forget that because it's in first person, they don't necessarily have to mention things like, "I think" (see above) or "I see". We're already inside that character's mind and eyes. This is just one easy way to eliminate the I. You show some great examples.

Lola Sharp said...

Oh how right you are. I see this all the time even in published books. This illustrates why we need CPs and to always continue to work on our craft. :)

Love you,

Anita said...

A lot of people default to first person. I think everyone should try at least one chapter of their book in a different's an enlightening exercise and totally worth the time.

Madeleine said...

Good post. When certain things are pointed out it can stick out like a bunch of sore thumbs. :O)

Deniz Bevan said...

I remember that thread! I'm so glad I met you *and* Susan over at the Forum [happy g]

Linda G. said...

LOL! As someone who writes primarily in first person, I feel your "I" pain. ;)

Lydia K said...

So true with first person POV. And that chain letter is hilarious!

M Pax said...

Great revisioning. We do learn as we go.

I agree with Lydia, the chain letter is funny.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm conscious of those things too. I still do them. But I make sure that if I use a certain phrase or word, that it really is the best choice (and I haven't already used it in the scene). ;)

Talei said...

Ah, your post made me smile and nod along. I am guilty of the 'choppy choppy' writing, at least initially and now I'm editing and picking them all out. It's a good exercise... *stabs eyes* We have improve and overcome and yes, get our novels on the NYT bestseller list! That's the plan and I'm sticking to it. ;-)

Chris Phillips said...

Great post. It really is something that needs to be pointed out occasionally.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love that letter! My characters seem to continually be taking deep breaths in preparation for ... whatever! :)

Angela Felsted said...

This chain letter rocks!

Jeanne said...

Love this post and your idea. When I critique for someone I look for overused words. It is surprising to people how many times their characters "roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders and grin, or laugh, etc." Great information to share. Thanks.

Carol Kilgore said...

LOL - love the chain letter!
Happy Easter.

Jai Joshi said...


I don't think I've ever written in first person, at least not significantly. I've been planning on trying it at some point but I do like third person and the fun I have with it.