Last time, I realized that the whole story, all forty thousand words, has to be rewritten in the first person perspective. I don’t know that I’d say things are going “swimmingly” because it’s mildly tedious, yet many issues are smoothing out quite nicely. I am happy to report that certain of the most cringeworthy dialogue ever typed has been replaced by dialogue… less cringeworthy. But oh, if you only knew, you’d understand the monumental achievement here.
However, it’s going to take longer than I had anticipated at the start of the month when I planned to edit my story. I set a daily time budget of a half hour, which is nothing, but in reality I spend one to two hours a night, say from eight to ten. I don’t like to aim too high because I’ll be discouraged if I miss it. Better to under-commit and over-deliver than vice versa.
Once I read through the story in plain text, removing all formatting, resisting all urges to edit, it was clear to me right away what I needed to do. And that’s why, despite the slow-going work of rewriting every single paragraph, it’s not torture because it’s improved things immensely and made my life much less painful. But I think that if you’re not in some degree of pain, you’re not doing it right.
So—perspective. Perspective is a deliberate choice, yet it must flow naturally. Some might enjoy the challenge of picking a difficult perspective and sticking with it, or others might feel that certain styles of writing are too passé and ought to be avoided at all costs. I don’t agree with either—a challenge is fine for a short piece but not for the long haul (why swim upstream unnecessarily, just to say you did?), and who cares if a style is popular or outmoded, as long as it’s natural.
What do I mean by “natural”? Simply that it is exactly what the characters demand. My story did not work in the third person because I was always one step removed, and it was very difficult to translate every thought of the character into a “showing, not telling” to please the imaginary reader. I couldn’t understand my own creation—she was entirely opaque. It was like she sat there with her arms crossed, looking the other way. But rewriting each paragraph, it’s like she is telling me the story herself as opposed to my watching, guessing, and then reporting.
What I do is open the previous draft and the new one side-by-side on the screen and retype every single paragraph. Honestly the hardest part of this is that one of my glasses’ lenses is scratched and dirty and I can’t see that side of my screen very well. I don’t know how I’m ever going to bring myself to buy a new pair before these inevitably break; I’m just so damn lazy I’d rather see out of one eye than just go and pick some out.
By imagining someone telling me the story, it’s becoming easier to see the story arc as opposed to, as I said, guessing. Because if something already happened, then the details a narrator chooses to share are going to build up to it. It’s the same thing, I suppose, as our telling someone about our life rather than their telling it. No matter how much they observed, they can never really know the truth about the why’s and wherefore’s. If we don’t know our own why’s, then that’s our fault. I think that’s why it’s delightful when someone can tell us something accurately about ourselves. Sometimes when I get a less-than-flattering comment about myself, I’m actually tickled in a certain way if they’re right, because they at least understood me. If they say, for instance, you’re a self-pitying asshole seeking a nice deep ego massage, I might get mad, but believe you me, I laugh out loud because hey, how can I argue with you if you’re right?
If nothing else, it’s a good writing exercise because it forces me to make a decision about every sentence and how it serves the story. Some sentences are fine as they are, requiring only pronoun changes, which indicates to me why it’s better off in first person. But many of them require total rewriting because they contain judgments that a person might not make about themselves. This allows me to change the entire tone of the story to be more consistently one voice, rather than a third-person narrator’s commentary plus the reporting of the protagonist’s thoughts. Narrators are almost characters in themselves, so they do have their own voices, and in this case, the narrator’s voice was competing with the character’s. Now I have to make choices about what words she would use, which tells me more about who she is, and where the story is going, which is infinitely preferable to sitting on my chair squirming and squinting for hours trying to guess and coming up with nothing.
To PH: you would be proud if you only knew the number of “felts” which have been sent straight to hell.
For those of you out there working on one project or another, do you have a certain perspective you favor, or if you change it up often, what factors go into your decision?