First Person Can Kind of Suck

I mentioned in my last blog post that I have a project that somehow turned into a novel. Anyway, I decided to take a break from that for a few days because I was kind of getting buggy, so I worked on something else: A kind of oddball short story.

This short story, in which I’m just looking at some of our modern technology and extrapolating a little into the future and considering its consequences, wasn’t going so well. It really was little more than a dialog between two people discussing the consequences of said technology, without any real story behind it. There was no action, no conclusion, no story really … just dialog. That would be fine if I were Plato, but I’m not, so it was lame.

I was thinking of just posting the would-be story / dialog here, but I got to thinking about it instead, wondering what the problems were. It was written in first person and felt kind of stymied, so I visited Jeffrey A. Carver’s excellent online course on science fiction and fantasy writing and read what he had to say about the pros and cons of first person vs. third person.

First person is awfully limited, and one of the problems is you have to worry an awful lot about where the character is going to end up in the end. What if he dies? How is he telling the story if he’s dead? Or gets marooned on some uninhabited planet somewhere. Who the fuck is he talking to? And it’s not just that: What if the character starts in one society or group of people and winds up in another? The nature of his story and how he tells it is going to be different for different audiences.

So, I changed over to limited third person. It’s easier, because even though in this particular case I never chose to change viewpoints from the one character, I always knew in the back of my mind that I had the option to do so if necessary. It freed me from limitations I had imposed on myself, and as I went through changing the narrative, a story emerged: An actual story! I worked on that last night until about 5:00 am, then got up at 9:00 this morning and wrote the last paragraph. Before lunch, I had sent a thirty page manuscript to a magazine: A story that materialized only after I decided to change from first person to limited third person.

I currently have two stories pending accept/reject in magazines. The first of those, which I may also have mentioned in the last post, is kind of … meh. If that one gets rejected, I’ll probably post it here along with some self criticism and consideration of where I think the flaws are. This latest story that I just submitted an hour ago though … I think I’ll send that to another magazine or two if it gets rejected. I think it’s of higher quality. My only real concern is the magazine I sent it to states that they aren’t interested in explicit sex or violence. My story has neither, but it has fairly course language at the beginning. It’s not gratuitous: There are important reasons for the course language at the beginning. But my fear is that an editor or reviewer might read that and get turned off before reading further and seeing why it’s important. I don’t really know how that works — the mechanics of reviewing story submissions. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Jeffrey A. Carver’s excellent online course is really great, by the way, for anyone else struggling with the science fiction / fantasy genres.

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