Finding Your Voice: Writing in First Person (or Third)
by Rebekah Crane
Every November is National Novel Writing Month, or to people who participate in the craziness, NaNoWriMo. My first book was on submission at a bunch of agencies and I was sitting around staring at my computer waiting for an email that said someone wanted it (that never happened, by the way). It was then that I decided to start a new novel. I began writing a story told by a girl named Anna who lives in Minster Ohio and befriends a girl named Lil. There was a cute guy named Cash and that was about as far as I got. I stopped because I realized Anna sucked. She wasn’t worthy of telling a story. She wasn’t dynamic or unique or even quirky. SHE WAS BORING. I tucked the manuscript away. Three months later, I was driving down the street and this line popped in my head.
“My mom likes to tell everyone that from the day I was born she knew I would be a nice person.”
I ran into the house and wrote it down. I pictured a girl who spent so much time trying to be nice for everyone else, she forgot the definition for herself. I saw a girl with canned answers, a plastic smile and a bleeding heart that was slowly breaking. And then I saw Lil. A loud, brash, and broken girl ready to jump all over Marty. They were meant to be best friends.
I took a writing workshop last year held by a very successful literary agent. She said the thing she looks for most in YA contemporary manuscripts are characterization and dialogue. And she’s right.
As a writer, my job is to bring a page alive with imaginary people. They need to become the words. That’s done through characterization. Characterization is driven through action and dialogue. If you’re telling a story in first person, the internal dialogue needs to match the external dialogue. The reader needs to be immersed in your characters’ actions but also in their reactions, internally and externally. It’s about finding a voice that speaks to you. I mean, really speaks to you. You should hear them in your head.
When I wrote Marty, her voice in my head sounded different than Lil’s. Marty’s is light and sing-songy. Lil’s is deep, rough, and raspy. It’s my job as a writer to take that voice and put it on the page, so the reader can feel, hear, see and react to everything those characters do because they know them inside and out. And the most important way to do that in first person writing is to have a main character that begs people to be interested in him/her.
The original main character of Anna was a bust. The story wasn’t. I just needed to wait to hear the right voice.
If it isn’t working, don’t be afraid to delete. The original main character of Anna in was a bust, but the story wasn’t. I just needed to wait to hear the right voice. Once I did that, PLAYING NICE became the story I knew it would always be.
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Genre – Young Adult / Bullying
Rating – PG13