Saturday, March 6, 2010

When the Kaiyaiing Beast Takes Over Your Writing

Lately, I've been inundated with stories told in First Person, particularly in Urban Fantasy (UF) and Romance novels. When an author chooses that voice and that point of view (POV) to tell their tale, that author has committed to an extraordinarily difficult task. There are the obvious reasons:
  1. Being fully within the character's head/Becoming the narrator -- Princess doesn't talk about her "junk" and Butch never considers fuchsia a fabulous color
  2. Revealing tidbits as the character learns about them -- Unless Barfy has x-ray vision, he's not going to know about the bogeyman lurking behind the door
  3. Seeing settings and behaviors through the character's eyes -- Snuggles can't see the malevolent storm rolling from the north if she's under the bed
Obvious, right? Limiting what the reader knows is the best reason to write from First Person. Rational people don't wander into a house with a bomb ticking, but if Max has to put the Haagen Dazs in the freezer before the other sniffy-snouts abscond with it, a time bomb isn't even on his radar...neither is the were-bear charging toward his window.

The death trap of First Person writing is when the prose sound like a beast with its tail caught in the door.

I stalked the werebeast, my blade held high. I moved when it moved. I peed when it peed. I was almost done when it squatted lower. I couldn't do that. There was poison ivy at my feet.
Can you hear it? "I...I...I...I"  Yes, it makes you want to run from it while your ears bleed or dash in and save it while your eyes bleed. Either way, the reader is no longer focused on the story but on salvation. In fairness to the authors, kaiyaiing is a second revision edit. Remember:

First draft = story spewed pages. Second draft = clean up on aisle seven.

Some readers will chuck a book if it's written in First Person. I'm not one of them unless someone is attempting it in romance. I have yet to read a He-Loves-Me He-Loves-Me-Not (published or hoping to be) written in First Person that made me feel the love and the passion. That genre lends itself to the titillation of third person, possibly because there should be a "her" POV and a "him" POV. If it's all "I, I, I," the reader suffers a crisis of gender and sexual preference with a little dash of androgyny. Intriguing character complication in some genres, but not suitable for mainstream romance.

For those intrepid writers who love the First Person, please, be kind to your Betas and save them from the kaiyaiing beasts.


  1. Oh dear. I've tried writing in first person several times, but with each attempt, I began to feel self-centered. Sure, I can get into the character and it's fun, but reading over what I wrote, I hated seeing "I","me", and "my" every other sentence.

    I much prefer reading and writing in third person. I like having different POVs because I find it gives the story more depth to know how others are thinking about the same situations.

    There are some first person books I really enjoy, but as you said, most of them are urban fantasy with romantic elements. I have read a couple of first person romances and while they were good, they weren't the best I've ever read.


  2. I hated first person when I was in college. Would chuck a book long and hard. But then Lola Cruz came to me in first person and it worked. It works especially well for a mystery because the heroine is discovering clues right along with the reader.

    It does have to be done well, though, I agree.

  3. Danica, precisely! "I, me, my, mo, moo," reminds me of vocalization warm ups from the bygone days of singing. It makes me cry when I have to scrub my ms of them.

    Misa, I agree. First Person works really well with mysteries because of limited discovery. Omniscient Third would take all of the fun out of following red herrings.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I tend to write my mysteries in first person, but my romantic comedies in third. Had never given much thought to why, but your blog post definitely makes sense!

    Love that doggie pic, btw. Is it a basenji?


  5. Tawna, in 17 months I'll be all over that first release...butt-rocks at the ready.

    The beastie in the pic? It's a scout for the advancing armies of Hog Dair.

  6. Good points made. I've noticed I prefer my stories to be told in 3rd person, although I've read some UF in 1st person (namely Patrica Briggs) and I've really enjoyed them.

    Oh, and I 'bout pee'd my pants at the "I peed when it peed" excerpt-LOL