Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When "I feel" Feels Distant

One of the great things about first person POV is its immediacy. First person takes the reader right into a character's brain, right into the middle of whatever they're experiencing. But sometimes, the very thing that's supposed to pull us into the scene, takes us out.

I think it's easy when writing in first person, to slip into a rhythm where, particularly when we're describing action we're constantly making "I" statements like, I feel, I see, I hear.

These "I" statements can be distancing to your reader. (Not to mention they get pretty tedious when almost every sentence in a paragraph starts out with I.)

Think about it. When I read:

Cold water trickles down my back.

I shiver because I feel cold water trickling down my own back. It's subliminal. We think to ourselves this way, so when reading a sentence that is something we would say in our own mind, we react as if it's happening to us.

Now, when I read:

I feel cold water trickle down my back.

I am forced to take a step back. I picture the narrator shivering as she feels the cold water. Because it's her experience. She's telling me what's happening and I have to picture it. So suddenly, I am sympathetic, and I'm still interested to know what happens next, but I'm not right there in the moment with her.

See the difference?

Of course there are times when you want to create that bit of distance, or an I statement is really the only way to drive your point home, but don't forget to pull your reader as close to the action as possible whenever you can.


Anita Saxena said...

This is great advice. My WIP is first person as well and I always have to remember not to say I this and I that.

Natalie C Parker said...

I totally agree with you about I statements needing to be limited, but I disagree that "I feel" is automatically distancing. I think (a-ha!) it's probably a matter of individual preference - some people might feel closer to a narrative when the word "I" is introduced. I also think that phrases like this have a lot to do with voice and rhythm.

Also, also, I bristle at anything that looks like a True Rule of Writing. Just in general.

Valerie Kemp said...

@Natalie - Well I did say that it CAN be distancing, not that it always is. I'm certainly not dispensing any "Rules" and I'm disappointed if it appeared that way in this post! I don't personally believe there are any hard and fast rules when it comes to creating art. I did also say that there are times when I statements are the best way to get something across. It truly is a matter of taste.

Julie said...

I agree completely...part of what I love about reading(and writing)is losing myself in the world before me. I want to feel what the MC feels, like I'm in the plot.
Good post!

Cozy in Texas said...

Very good post. Thanks.

Natalie C Parker said...

@Valerie - I agree. It's part of the challenge of 1st Person. It's not necessarily that an "I feel" statement is or isn't distancing, it's a cumulative effect of the number if I statements in general.

All things in moderation and such. ;)

A. J. Spindle said...

I really like this post. I remembered this when working on my book today and realized how many times I said "I could feel, I could hear, etc... Thanks for posting, Valerie!

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