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On First Person and Fanfic

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Jul. 27th, 2012 | 05:15 pm

I was going to write a rare personal post, but I seem to have lost the ability to talk about myself except to blurt out TMI pity party crap on Twitter like "so restless, ugh" or "I can't write!!!" (These are not direct quotes, but they may as well be.) Taking a Twitter hiatus has been good for me. I think. I'm really quite terrible at assessing my own emotions or knowing what is, in fact, good for me, and that's one reason I've gone back to therapy. The therapist I'm seeing takes a cognitive-behavioral approach and also makes me do a lot of work--there's a lot of recursive stuff, looking back on things I've just said and contextualizing/interpreting them, and sometimes I'm frustrated and think I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT PATTERNS THAT'S EVIDENCE OF but then when I really think about it I actually do.

Well, look at that, I've actually talked about myself.

And that actually fits in (sorta?) with what I wanted to talk about in this post, which is POV in writing and especially in fanfic. I'm currently writing a fic in first person (it's not for Inception, don't worry), and in order to do so I had to overcome a lot of internalized norms like "YOU NEVER WRITE A FIC IN FIRST PERSON! NEVER! NEVARRRRRRRRrr". I've had a number of conversations with people about this, and heard a lot of different interpretations for this rule, but I've never really heard an explanation that made me think "oh, OK, I understand; first person in fanfic really is a bad idea."

-Someone (I forget who) once said that it depends on the source material. For example, in Inception fandom, writing in first person seems "off" because canon isn't from any one person's perspective. It's a really interesting idea, and might explain some of the resistance to first person. But it might also be argued that fanfic is about giving us alternate perspectives on canon. Just by virtue of the fact that fanfic is a different medium than film, we get a different kind of interiority. I have never seen a fic that attempted to give us a "camera-eye" view; they're always anchored to one character's perspective. So what makes third-person limited, where we get only one character's POV, replete with unspoken thoughts and perceptual biases, so different from first person? Does third person give us more of an illusion of objectivity? (I think it might.) And is first person fic more acceptable in fandoms like The Hunger Games where the source canon is in first person? The fic I'm writing is based on a canon that's mostly first person, and I had a much easier time getting into the character's headspace and way of speaking if I wrote in first.

-First person also has a pretty bad rap as "self-inserty", although I've found that self-insertion is every bit as likely in third.

-Is the proscription against first person more of a "don't do this unless you're a highly skilled writer" rule? First person does tend to come out as more conversational; I find I end up starting a lot more sentences with "I", and my sentences are often sketchier, more repetitive. Third person, on the other hand, is more impersonal, removed, formal, both linguistically and syntactically. But I find that sometimes this "weakness" of first person can also be its strength. As an experiment, I switched a third person scene into POV, and writing that had been stilted and sluggish now felt much more vibrant and immediate. I also find that summarizing unimportant events is much less awkward in first person.

-One of the obstacles I've found to writing in first person is, well, my own prudery. In the fic I'm currently writing, everything was going swimmingly until I got to the sex scene. And then my inner censor was like "WHAT? YOU CAN'T WRITE ABOUT IT LIKE IT'S YOUR COCK! YOU CAN'T JUST COMMANDEER SOMEONE'S COCK LIKE THAT!' *turns beet red*" So at first I tried switching it into third person, but that just didn't work at all (see above issue with stilted prose). So, my cock it is.

-Is it because we want to see the characters' names next to each other? There is something very satisfying about that; reading "Arthur sucked Eames's cock" is much more viscerally satisfying than "I sucked Eames's cock" (forgive the blatantly hamhanded example; this is not an actual excerpt.)

AS ALWAYS, I want to hear your ideas.

And for the record, I really like second person too.

Link | kingfisher, cast your fly |

Comments {7}


(no subject)

from: sparkledark
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)

And is first person fic more acceptable in fandoms like The Hunger Games where the source canon is in first person?

I have noticed that first person fic is a lot more prevalent in Hunger Games fandom than, say, Inception fandom or Walking Dead fandom or a few others I've been involved with over the past couple of years, so I'd guess the answer to that question is probably a yes.

Also, when I first started writing fic, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, first person was a lot more common in general. I remember reading and writing a lot of first person in X-Files, QAF and BtVS.

Personally, I don't mind first person in any fandom, but it's a bit tricky to get right because if the character's voice sounds "off" it's extremely noticeable.

When writing, I usually find first person the easiest (depending on the character), but only if it's first person/past tense. For some reason my brain gets totally hung up on first/present. I always find myself wondering how the character could be writing their experiences as they're actually happening in real time, whereas with first/past I can think of it as a memoir or journal.

I also like third person/present tense with a very tight POV, which seems to be the default for most fic nowadays.

Omniscient is basically impossible for me, and I think most people should avoid it. Honestly, I think it's harder to get right than second person.

I dunno, I think whatever POV comes most naturally is usually the best for that particular story, and a lot of times that takes some experimenting. My advice would be to go with whatever's working for you and screw fandom norms- they are always changing anyway!

Edited at 2012-07-28 01:57 am (UTC)

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(no subject)

from: ladderax
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 03:29 am (UTC)

This is a really insightful comment! I didn't even consider the idea that there's more at stake in getting the character's voice right. There is a little more stylistic leeway in third person, perhaps, and a bit more room for mediation by the author's way of seeing things. And it's harder to "sell" really poetic prose in first person too.

Also a really interesting point about past vs. present tense. I find present tense (in either first or third person) best for writing about sex or other really powerful sensory experiences, but otherwise past tends to work best in first person. First person present tense can also creates an air of uncertainty and in-the moment-ness, but it is hard to do this convincingly.

I would sort of like to see a pan-fandom first person challenge at some point. And/or something where people remix fics from third person to first. And I totally agree with you that it's most important to do what comes naturally! (One thing I'm also curious about is why things sometimes just don't work, especially re. tense. I've heard many instances of people realizing that they needed to completely change their tenses in a fic, and I wonder what the reasons for this are.)

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(no subject)

from: sparkledark
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC)

There is a little more stylistic leeway in third person, perhaps, and a bit more room for mediation by the author's way of seeing things.

Absolutely. I think with fandom first person it's really important to SOUND like the character, for the author to intrude as little as possible, which can be extremely difficult in some cases. Especially if there's not much to go on, which might be another reason the source material makes a difference. Like, I'd absolutely consider writing Katniss Everdeen in first person since we have three books of Katniss first person to reference and get inspiration from, but I would never in a million years attempt to write, say, Eames in first person. I think I have a decent grasp of him as a character, but there's just not enough canon for me to figure out what the inside of his head might sound like, you know? It's a super-intimate way to write, and when it's working and clicking it really is easier and more fun than anything for me, but being able to get there is dependent on a lot of different factors. And when it goes wrong, it goes *really* wrong.

I would love a pan-fandom first person challenge! It would be really interesting to see what people came up with.

I usually change tenses and POVs a few times when I'm starting a fic, just to see what I feel most comfortable with, but I don't think I've ever changed the tense of an entire fic before. I'd also be curious to know the reasons for that.

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from: lathaina
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 12:45 pm (UTC)

Someone (I forget who) once said that it depends on the source material.

Is the proscription against first person more of a "don't do this unless you're a highly skilled writer" rule?

Strangely enough, the former reason doesn't appear to apply as much to the Sherlock Holmes fandom, where, as you know, all the canon material has been written in first person. There could possibly be more fic written in first person due to the canon material as compared to other fandoms but it's not as blatantly rampant as it should be. Perhaps the 2nd rule is the reason behind this. One example I could possible cite to prove that the 2nd rule is true would be katieforsythe's works. It's certainly hard to do without sounding utterly strange and off but she manages to carry of off quite well. Therefore, I think it's clearly more up to the skill level than canon material. I can't really say anything about the writing style bit because I don't know enough about it but this is what I think anyway.

Edited at 2012-07-28 12:46 pm (UTC)

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Lady Drace

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from: lady_drace
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 01:12 pm (UTC)

Well, I don't have a lot to offer here, because I never actually heard anything bad against first person POV. I've only ever written it once, but I think it turned out okay. So I don't see why you shouldn't.

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[will fuck for sex]

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from: anatsuno
date: Aug. 4th, 2012 12:07 am (UTC)

I'm very late, but basically: I love everything. I think fandom's reluctance to deal with 1st and 2nd person fics is silly and down to habit and policing. I agree w/ sparkledark that a proper third omniscient has become so rare and hard to pull off now that it seems to me harder to write than 2nd or 1st person. I'm not surprised to see people opine that it also depends on the canon - it's harder to enforce a diktat against 1st person fic when the canon is in 1st person obviously... Probably the taboos against self-insert are part of what makes it less palatable for people, but since I suffer no such issue, I'm free to enjoy good first person fics when I come across them. :D


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Unrequited Narcissist

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from: bottledminx
date: Mar. 5th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)


...My cock it is indeed.

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