Writing in the First Person
“My mother has a scar on her face that goes from here to here. The scar traces a flattened V-shape across her cheek. It starts near her mouth and goes along her right cheek almost all the way to her ear. It was made by a man wielding a perfectly enormous screwdriver, a man who had in mind killing her….”
That’s the opening of the first Visioners book. Readers know from the first sentence that the story will be told in first person, through the eyes of Joanna Clark, rather than through the eyes of the author.
My adult stories – the Rebecca Series, featuring Joanna’s mother – are not told in that way. By Many or By Few, for example, begins with these words:
“Like a young animal with an old wound, the gentleman, aged twenty-eight years and one day… paced in front of the British Airways gate.” (That “gentleman” will turn out to be, eventually, Joanna’s father, although a lot is going to need to happen first!)
My adult novels, in other words, are told from the standpoint of the author’s “omniscience,” which is the way most novels are written. The author “knows everything” and is going to let the reader know the story, bit-by-bit. After completing four novels in the Rebecca Series, when I became convinced that I ought to write at least one young-adult novel, maybe two, maybe more, the first thing I needed to do was to read one!
At the time, I had not read a young-adult story in years, so I selected Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (the first book in the trilogy). I found it to be a great story, and I especially liked two of her technique choices: first, she wrote the story in the first person, through the eyes of her main character, and, second, she wrote in the present tense, so that we, the readers, are made to feel as though we are following Katniss Everdeen step-by-step as she experiences her life.
I have found that writing Joanna Clark’s life in first person, present tense, actually gives me – not just her story’s readers – the sense of following her step-by-step as she experiences her life. And it frees me, as the author, not to need to explain everything that has happened. I am not writing from the omniscient standpoint, but from her standpoint. All I know is what she knows!
So, for example, in the first Visioners book, I don’t need to explain how Detective Belton learns that he needs to leave New York and fly to London. I am just as surprised as Joanna to realize that he has done that. It’s a very exciting way to write a story. I may be the author, but writing in first person and present tense means that I’m never truly ahead of the story. I’m right there, with my 14-year-old main character, every minute, experiencing her world at the same time she does.
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