Finding Your Voice: Writing in First Person (or Third)
by Shireen Jeejeebhoy
Which voice to use — that is a tough question. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, like a biography or memoir, then the voice comes with the territory, one would think. But for fiction, it’s a bit of a cross between intuition and trying out different voices.
For my first book, a biography, I had thought it would be an obvious choice to write in the third person. But I happened to know Judy Taylor, the subject of Lifeliner, and my editor who guided me in structuring the book suggested I write it in the first person. That idea blew me away. How would I do that? After much mulling it over, I decided it was a neat idea. In practical terms, because my role in her life was so small, I would write most of the book in third person, but during times I popped up, I would write from my own point of view. It takes a good editor and a lot of concentration to ensure you make the transition from seemingly third person to first as smooth as possible.
For my novels, when I think of my lead character, I try to feel them, and in entering their mind, I can feel if I should be writing from their point of view or not. If I’m not certain, then I think about what it is I want to accomplish with the main character.
Sometimes you may want to write exclusively from their point of view but not actually do it in the first person. Yet sometimes the only way I can enter a character’s head is to write in the first person. Writing “I” or “me” during the first draft brings home the immediacy of what they are experiencing in my story, as it was with Time in Time and Space. In that way, the words for Time’s emotions or her thoughts came more easily to me. This was true even though she is not like me.
Sometimes third person was the more logical choice, as it was for my first novel She. This novel has a protagonist whose name is deliberately not spoken throughout most of the story. That point needed to be driven home by using the third person so that the pronoun “she” was used exclusively, never her name. This helped to give a sense of her identity having been stripped away in a way that writing this story in the first person never could have conveyed. It was hard though, I must say, using only a pronoun and not a name in scenes where two or more women would be talking or acting out a scene. That made my head hurt! But the challenge was worth it.
In the end, if the point of view you begin with isn’t working, don’t be afraid to switch it. You may find that your story will suddenly roll along when you do.
Time is kidnapped by three boys from the future, then dumped in the future past to die. She finds shelter with a mysterious man whose name is Space, and she must either adapt or find her way home before the boys catch her and dispose of her forever.
“I am reading Time and Space by @ShireenJ and loving it! What a great writer!” – @Mariam_Kobras, 26 May 2013
Time is turning 40. But as she does every day of the week, she is on her way to her safe, boring job in the city, never thinking she is about to be yanked into a different space and time. Three boys grab her in broad daylight, pull her into a shiny cube, and take her to their present: a lab in future Toronto. Their prof is not amused. The boys had promised never again to kidnap people from the past, he reminds them. He orders them to leave her where they took the others: her future, their past. The Nasty Time, they call it.
But while they leave her alone in order to prep the cube, bikini girl slips in, instructs Time against her will on how to build a time machine to get back home, and hides just as the boys and prof return. But it’s all gibberish to Time, and she doesn’t want to learn anything about time travel . . . until the boys dump her in The Nasty Time. It’s 2411. She’s still turning 40. She wants to go home. But she can only do so if she learns to believe in herself.
Genre – Science Fiction / Time Travel
Rating – PG13
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