First person

18 August 2011

I normally avoid writing in first person because it’s hard. And I don’t like hard things. The biggest difficulty is the distance. Creating another person who is unlike myself and then figuring out how they talk and consistently writing the dialogue in a way that sounds right and normal for the character… it’s tricky. And I really admire authors who can do it.

Having said all that, it’s also sort of fun.

What I’m finding tricky just now is writing Heather in the first person. She’s American (which isn’t that tricky, as the accent’s close enough), she’s close to my age, and she lives in London, which is something I have done. But she craves attention in a way that terrifies me. Well, maybe terrifies is too strong, but… I look at the kind of attention Heather wants, the fame, the celebutante status and I have the same reaction I would if offered something like, oh, I dunno, heroin: sure, it might be the best thing ever. But kicking the habit looks miserable. It’s one of those things in life that, thankfully, make my brain scream: BAD CHOICE. Trying to feel the way she would, to be slighted by the things she would be, to be excited about the same things as Heather… it’s tricky to keep all that in your mind whilst you try and get the characters to where they need to be so that plot points can happen and the action can move on.

But, I suppose that’s the point of writing, and of being a writer, well, part of the point at least: putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and trying to understand where they’re coming from. So I’m trying to understand where Heather’s coming from, and I think she’s lonely. I really think she is. And that’s what compels her to want to be a celebrity, because those people, with all their adoring fans, cannot possibly be lonely. But how does a lonely person talk? And also: I think loneliness is unique. What I mean is that for each of us, our loneliness manifests in different ways.

I was talking to one of the lifeguards at my pool today, and he was enthusing about wanting to find a cool job, to do something cool, and I was telling him about Heather and he was really excited, and all that reminded me how much I really love this writing business. Not that I needed reminding, but sometimes, the challenge becomes a struggle, and I forget that I do it because it’s fun. The hard work is the fun bit, the figuring out, the chewing my teeth until I figure out a little clue or key, the worrying over character and dialogue and all that. It’s really fun. And weirdly, first person is fun. Which causes me to be slightly alarmed (my motto is if it’s that fun, it’s probably not good, anything too fun is dubious).

But for now, I will try and put myself in Heather’s shoes. Which are a size 38; bigger than mine.