My guest today is Matt Adams, whose witty sci-fi superhero novel, I Crimsonstreak, will launch in May. The book is now available for pre-order (details below). Matt discusses his decision to use the first person to tell this story.
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I, Crimsonstreak is my first novel, and readers will see the world through the eyes of Chris Fairborne (henceforth Crimsonstreak), a superheroic super-speedster with quick wits and a love of pop culture.
The character has a definitive voice; when I write as Crimsonstreak, I am Crimsonstreak. That’s one of the biggest draws of the first person perspective. As a writer, you completely become that character because you’re writing from his or her perspective.
Even though Crimsonstreak’s voice comes to me very easily, first person does have its drawbacks.
It’s limiting. The biggest problem with first person narrative is that it imposes certain limitations on what writers can do. For instance, if you have multiple characters working together to solve a problem, you’re only able to show what’s happening through your narrator. You’re limited solely to what he or she sees and feels.
That guy is boooooooring! If you’re going to use first person, you’d better be sure your narrator has a distinct, engaging voice. Who wants to read 300 pages of Captain Bland? Not this guy! Not you, either.
“I, I,” matey. Too many sentences will start with “I.” After a while the pronoun becomes nearly invisible, but when you read a piece written in first person, you get a lot of “I did this” followed by “I did that.” It is sometimes unavoidable, but writers must get creative to avoid repetition.
What are they doing? This goes a little bit with the first point I mentioned. If you have several characters to keep track of and they get separated, readers will have no idea what happens “off camera” because the narrator has no way of knowing what has transpired.
Hello, info dump! First person books can become filled with ye olde info dumps. This happens for a couple reasons. One, because the narrator has to talk to other characters to fill in gaps in action. Two, because the narrator is the guide to an unfamiliar world. Sometimes this handcuffs the writer, resulting in some “As you know, Bob” moments.
You’ll have to excuse my friend; he’s a little chatty. First person stories become grating when the narrator simply wants to talk. Constant monologues aren’t interesting, and writers must infuse their characters with personality without turning them into monologue machines. Words are precious; don’t let the narrator’s sense of self-importance override your story!
Get creative! This isn’t a pitfall, per se, but it is something writers must challenge themselves to do. I used flashbacks in I, Crimsonstreak to help flesh out certain themes (the narrator’s relationship with his parents, for example). I also used appendices in the back of the book to lay out the detailed history of the Crimsonstreak universe. The main narrative (via Crimsonstreak) gives readers the basics without getting bogged down in every single detail.
First person is tricky, but I love using it as long as the circumstances fit. It does demand forethought and discipline in order to be used effectively.
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You can visit Matt Adams at his website.
You can pre-order I, Crimsonstreak through Kickstarter and get nifty Crimsonstreak swag here.
Or you can use BN to per-order here.