June ,26 2016
Writing Wisdom #9: When ‘I’ is Not ‘Me’

Number Nine, here we go! I have been saving this one in my back pocket for a little while now but the inspiration to put it into words finally hit me at work yesterday. wisdom9Admittedly, third-person is my preferred viewpoint in stories. I used it for my own novel “Altai” and return to it frequently with each writing venture. Not to say that any a novella or poem hasn’t come into being utilizing the first-person narrative. Any writer will say there are positives and negatives of both and I argue neither is necessarily better than the other. I took a liking to third-person in high school, which was around the time where I really took up creative writing seriously as a hobby. Any off time between classes and chatting with friends would find me with a pen and paper in hand. One afternoon, my friend asked me if he could read some of the pages. I had no problem sharing the adventures of my made up characters and soon, anything I wrote he asked to read. I can still recall walking down the corridor with a newly inked stack of papers and meeting his eye. He stepped away from his locker and cuffed a hand towards me with a smile, anxious to have the cliffhanger I left him with, resolved. Yet, one memorable free period, he was skimming my newest project whilst I sketched, when he sighed in a strange way. “What is it?” I asked. “Oh, nothing,” he replied. “As if! What?” Then he turned to me with a grin like I was concealing a juicy secret from him. “Don’t you write anything that isn’t real?” Wasn’t real? What did he mean? The story was a light hearted tale about two friends going ice skating on a frozen lake behind their houses. A bit of fluffy fun that came to me because of horribly poor weather and a desire to be outdoors. I had been experimenting with the story structure and the narrative form, choosing to do a lot more first-person narrative than I ever had before. Nothing else of notable change from my other pieces in those weeks. “I don’t understand,” I said. “I mean, this is you.” “What?” “The girl with the blue sweater in the story, that’s you,” he explained confidently. “Why not try writing about someone else’s life like you did before? You're making me feel bad about mine.” Then it hit me. The gears slowly started to turn, bring the explanation to the forefront of my mind. He assumed that because I wrote the story in first-person, that I was one of the characters. That the story actually happened. “That’s not me,” I explained. “I just used ‘I’ for a change instead of their names for something different.” He laughed and told me that whenever he read one of my stories which utilized ‘I’ that he believed I was relaying a memory of something that happened. No, my friend, that wasn’t the case at all. He could not fathom that the stories weren’t true. Plus, I’ve never been skating on an outdoor rink, though I’d like to, and there is no lake behind my house. As life would have it, this would only be the first time I encountered this conception surrounding first-person narrative. It never occurred to me that there is a fraction of people who read first-person books and think they’re autobiographical all the time, without being told. Additionally, if that were the case, if you’re first-person narrator turned out to be a psychopathic killer, it would mean the author is too. That’s nuts! The thoughts of characters are not always a reflection of the author. In fact, the character’s point of view could be an exact reversal of the author’s feelings and beliefs. Part of the grand adventure of creative writing is bringing people to life with their own thoughts and emotions. The character could be a bigoted racist, but that doesn’t mean the author has to be. So, just remember if you ever need a reminder for first-person narratives, many a time you’ll read an author’s work when, for them, ‘I’ doesn’t mean ‘me’. xo Novellette

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