Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The I's have it

By Julie Wright

I actually have real writing instruction today rather than my usual, "You can do it!" posts that I usually do.

Something horrible when you write in first person--you end up with a disproportionate amount of I's.
  • I wonder if he thought he was clever.
  • I saw him plunge the dagger into her heart.
  • I wished he'd just shut up!
  • I wondered whether or not I'd have the guts to fire him face to face . . . maybe I should just send an email . . .
  • I couldn't help but laugh when she tripped on her strappy heels.
  • I knew I'd end up walking home. He always left me stranded.

In third person, you can mix words around a bit--interchanging the character's name for words like "his" and "he." This allows you to shake it up and keep the reader from going blind by staring at the letter "I" ten times in three sentences. But in first person, you're stuck.

I am part of an online writer's group (several writer's groups actually) where the question was posed, "How do I get rid of all those I's?"

Well . . . you could have the protagonist always referring to him or herself in third person, but that's kinda creepy. Or you could create long and convoluted sentences skirting around the dreaded word. Or you could simplify.

In the world of Julie Wright, where all things are chaos, she simplifies where she can (I told you it was creepy).

I write mainly YA and middle grade. Such writing leans towards the usage of first person. This is because the youth are self absorbed! Just kidding. It's more likely because youth have an easier time reading when they can become the main character. The emotions are sharper, the victory more sweet, the pain more agonizing. And kids, who live in a world of constant shift and discovery, don't mind spending time in other people's shoes. Adults may sometimes find the experiences of another person uncomfortable.

Because my books are mostly first person, I've had to train myself to look for the "I's" when editing. First draft is a free for all--filled with: "was", "I", "that", "were", and all those other dead words that drag a manuscript down to the unpublished hot place.

Here are some quick solutions to a few of those "I" sores.

  • I wonder if he thought he was clever. (Did he think he was clever?)
  • I saw him plunge the dagger into her heart (He plunged the dagger into her heart.)
  • I wished he'd just shut up! (Couldn't that man just shut up?)
  • I wondered whether or not I'd have the guts to fire him face to face . . . maybe I should just send an email . . . (Sending him an email seemed a less confrontational way to fire him. He'd probably appreciate me saving him from the embarrassment of a face to face meeting.)
  • I couldn't help but laugh when she tripped on her strappy heels. (Laughter erupted from my mouth when she tripped on her strappy heels)
  • I knew I'd end up walking home. He always left me stranded. (Of course I ended up walking home. He always left me stranded.)

In most of these sentences, by yanking out the "I", the sentence ends up cleaner, and more immediate. This is a good thing.

11 comments:

Shari said...

Excellent ideas! Thanks, Julie!

Becky said...

Hmm. I didn't realize I had this problem. Now I look at my ms and am inundated with I's.

Thanks for the tips!

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Thanks Julie. My WIP is in first person so this gives me something else to think about.

Annette Lyon said...

This is a great principle for all writing--not just getting rid of "I" but ANY pronoun. "He saw her . . ." Just cut it out and say what he saw. If we're in his head already, we know he SAW it! POV instrusions like that really weaken writing.

Great post!

Celise said...

I will definitely take this into consideration. My YA series is in first person prsent tense, so I'll have to take a closer look at my I's. Thanks Julie.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great pointers!

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

Very good advice. I like writing in first person too. What other "dead" words would be best left out?

David G. Woolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather B. Moore said...

I find when I start reading my ms aloud, I find all kinds of repetition. I just have to "hear" it sometimes to know it!

Anna Maria Junus said...

I love writing in first person and I never thought about this.

Time to do an ms search.

Kimberly said...

Brilliant examples! If I ever write first person I hope I remember some of them!