Ur Hating on fiction all Wrong: Naysaying the Naysayers

Moonblossom alerted me to a post about hating first person fanfiction that’s floating around. I wasn’t at all tempted to respond, because, meh, whatever, people like what they like, and hate what they hate, who cares, but then…well, I can’t seem to resist putting my overwrought thoughts into words, so here we go.

First Person, Present Tense, Agonizing Pacing, and Madness

I know I have a weird view of how first person present tense works. It’s been getting weirder in my head for the last couple of years, and I think it’s only going to get weirder. When people tell me their experience of reading the things I have written, I feel compelled to explain my (potentially self-destructive) methods, and how the whole thing is all smoke and mirrors. What follows is the bulk of my reply to a kind person who probably didn’t need or want this volume of words sent back to her.

The Emergency Perspective

bibliomancer7 replied to your post: I have an ask I’ve been meaning to send. How do you self motivate to write? I find that actually sitting down and doing the writing bit is difficult for me, any pro tips for making myself stick to it?

Is first person controversial? I love it, as a reader! Anything sucks if it’s not done right, but first person works so well for a distinct narrative voice.

Yeah, I think it is. Well, it seems that way to me, people are always telling me how much they hate first person. 

I’ve reached a point now where I feel very very distant from my protagonist if I’m not writing in first person. I feel like I don’t know them the way I want to know them, like I’m just watching them from a distance. I don’t know whose voice I’m speaking in. (Surely not mine! I don’t exist in the universes I write about!) So I want to keep going with this first person present tense thing. New people, different voices, same narrative perspective. I love it, I’m addicted! 

While I don’t really understand what actors think about, it’s possible that my love for first person narrative might, if I’m very lucky, have given me something to talk to an actor about should I ever actually meet one in person. Because they do that, don’t they? Climb inside the head of a character and talk using the character’s voice in order to convey a story? I might be wrong.

I might be very wrong. I might, in actual fact, have absolutely nothing to talk to an actor about. 

My risk of having to strike up a conversation with an actor is low, but still. One  does want to be prepared in case of emergency.

For the last week or so I’ve become convinced that the vast majority of people from fandom have a burning loathing for first person narration; a loathing that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Most people, on first communicating with me, start out by telling me how much they hate it. That’s not a complaint; just an observation. Generally people do this as a segue to saying, “…but I loved your story,” because people who hate my story usually don’t want to talk to me. Or because they feel compelled to say that out of politesse, which I appreciate. In any case: practically everyone hates first person, is what I’ve learned from this. I’m not taking that personally, obviously, I just think it’s interesting how completely reviled this narrative decision is.

So I took the content of all the comments on The Progress of Sherlock Holmes (the chaptered version, anyway) and put them through wordle. This is the result. It doesn’t actually support my theory that everyone tells me they hate first person, but if you squint, “first” is one of the words in this word cloud, it’s just not the biggest like I thought it would be.

What it told me instead is that I should write a story called Absolutely Sherlock, which is an equally valuable discovery.

The Fathers of First Person Present Tense

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your Master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, >Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

My personal inspiration for first person present tense; the psychopathic, murderous duke in Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess. Robert Browning: bringing the most wicked of voices to first person since 1842.

Work that voice, Browning! Work it for all it’s got!