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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

To Be I, or Not To Be

     Though I thought I had noticed a lot of juvenile fiction being written in first person over the last couple of years, I was still rather flabbergasted when Emma Dryden mentioned, during our master class with her, that editors often get excited these days when they open a submission written in anything other than first person.
     What's that? You mean the punchy voice, the one that's difficult to sustain, the one that absolutely must be appropriate to the age of the character and is so often difficult to nail? That's the voice that is most prevalent?
     It doesn't really surprise me when I think about it. After all, first person is a totally interior perspective which fits perfectly well with the ego-centric communication that has taken over. Isn't it what tweeting and twittering rely upon? The immediate personal experience, the interior thought, the reaction. Young people demand it: Tell me what you're doing. I'll tell you how I see it. It makes sense that they don't have the patience to filter things through a narrator.
     Even so, she suggested I try my existing novel in third person. Hey, it's been everywhere. If it would possibly help my novel to stand out, cause an editor to take notice, it sure wouldn't hurt to try, as long as I don't feel something is lost.
     See what you think.

There are two reasons I’m slouched as low as I can get in the back seat of the school bus: #1- Creepy Chloe Lang always sits up front. I want to be as far away from her as possible, even though I wonder what she has in the box she’s holding. It’s wrapped with a scraggly candy-cane striped ribbon. #2-So I can pretend I’m not awake yet. And that it’s just a crazy dream that the man driving the bus is my Dad.                                                                                                                                                                         
It seems weird that Mrs. H., our old bus driver, would give up her bus route a few days before Christmas vacation. After all, she’s been my driver since I started kindergarten. Her quitting right before Christmas feels suspicious, a little bit like charity, like she knew Dad needed a job, and quick. And in our little town, if you need charity, everybody knows about it. It’s one thing to give it. But it makes my stomach feel sick to think we might be getting it.

There were two reasons Emily slouched as low as she could get in the back seat of the school bus. One: because creepy Chloe Lang always sat up front. Emily wanted to be as far away from her as possible, though she did wonder what was in the box Chloe held, all wrapped with scraggly candy-cane ribbon. And, Two, so she could pretend she wasn't awake yet, that it was only a dream that the man in the driver's seat of the school bus was her own dad.
It seemed weird that Mrs. H., Emily's old bus driver, would give up the bus route a few days before Christmas vacation. After all, she had been the driver since Emily started kindergarten. Her quitting right before Christmas felt suspicious, a little bit like charity, like Mrs. H knew Emily's dad needed a job, and quick. And in their little town, if a person needed charity, everybody knew about it. It was one thing to give it. But it made Emily's stomach feel sick when she thought she might be getting it.
I think I kind of like the second version. It seems, somehow . . . I don't know . . . vintage. 



  1. Wow! Both of these are good, Fran. I'm having trouble choosing. My suggestion is to go with the one you feel most comfortable with.

  2. I like both of these too, Fran - although like you, I lean a little toward the third person version. It was very "fair" of you to do a completely parallel rewrite for the comparison, but you should keep in mind that even close third person allows you a few liberties that first person doesn't. For example you can include behaviors that the protagonist does unconsciously (like twirling hair when she's nervous) or thoughts that she filters out as too embarrassing or something. And you can also stretch the vocabulary since (except in dialogue) you aren't limited to the language she would use.
    On the minus side, third person tends to increase the word count (all those "she said" tags).

  3. I like them both, but to me, the first one makes me feel closer to the character. I feel like I know her better. And BTW: I want to know what's in that package, and I love that they live in a town that helps each other. It's so spot on that this character wouldn't want charity.

    I love it! I want more!

    1. Thanks for your gracious reply, Jilliebeans! This story has been through more rewrites than you can imagine.