Introducing the viewpoint character in 1st person

Listening to: “Vi Sitter i Ventrilo och Spelar DotA” – Basshunter

Not the easiest thing to do, I have found. Especially if you have done free-writing with the character outside of whatever story you’re trying to write. Or if you’ve done a lot of character or even world-building. You know them perfectly well. Too well. You have their name, a basic part of their identity, ingrained in your subconscious while they are at the forefront of your mind–which they ought to be while writing first person.

You know how a lot of people will tell you  not to have characters refer to one another by name in dialogue? Personally, I think that’s stupid advice, since the reason is that people don’t do it in real life is not remotely present while one is reading, but I digress. However, the reason is relevant. People don’t tend to address one another by name because they have a great deal of visual investment in a conversation, or aural investment if blind or speaking on the phone. Writing does not offer this opportunity to invest these perceptions unless it is a full cast audiobook.

This is why writers actually should allow characters to address one another by name, if only occasionally. It allows the readers to refresh their memory as to who is speaking, and it’s a valuable method when you wish to write a brief passage with dialogue only.

Another reason not to use names is because of familiarity. For example, people you only see rarely, you don’t use names with because you can’t remember them. Or, you’re around them all the time, and using their name would only be useful in getting their attention when it isn’t easy to grab, or if there is an increase in urgency. I could go on that tangent for a long time, but I’m not going to.

To get back to the initial point, it can be hard to bring up your 1st person POV character’s name because you have this kind of familiarity with them, often along with the mental image that allows you the equivalent of facial recognition in a conversation. You know exactly who is talking. You also know this because of intentions. This book is from Anna’s point of view. Anna is always talking.

But do your readers know that as early as you do? Of course not, especially if they just start reading randomly and don’t take a look at the jacket copy or ebook summary.

So what do you do? This can really get on my pecs, especially since I have a tendency to have my characters begin effectively alone–either isolated and in danger or just not spending time with someone else at the time. One can only allow one’s character to talk to him- or herself so many times.

Easy fix would be to always have at least two people in the first scene. But that cuts off a lot of possibilities. Waking up stranded on a beach, robbing a museum, setting up a sniper rifle for an assassin who is not on time. The former does allow for talking to oneself, maybe silently.

Maybe it’s just bugging me right now.

I’ve done most of my writing without a jacket copy or summary, since I have a long history of writing by the seat of my pants (hate that phrase though, it sounds naff). So I have had tonnes of people tell me that they need the character’s name and some basic details immediately. This is another problem I have with people, the impatience and demanding nature. Give people a fast forward button and a comments section, and you spoil them sick, I say.

But enough grumping. Decide when you want the character’s name to be known geographically (by such and such paragraph, I mean), and just do whatever you have to in order to get it at or near that point. I suggest by the middle of the first page, probably not any later. Any crap writing can be edited when you have done everything else.

It’s enough to make one retreat to third person. However, stay true to what perspective you know it has to be. In my case, this story has to be told as a firsthand account, or it would lose its purpose very fast.

One thought on “Introducing the viewpoint character in 1st person

  1. Pingback: First Person vs. Third Person « Fantasy In Motion

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