He opened his eyes, and rested his hands on the balcony railing to look out over Elendel. It was the grandest city in all the world, a metropolis designed by Harmony himself. The place of Wax’s youth. A place that hadn’t been his home for twenty years.
Though it had been five months since Lessie’s death, he could still hear the gunshot, see the blood sprayed on the bricks. He had left the Roughs, moved back to the city, answering the summons to do his duty to his house at his uncle’s passing.
A nice mix of narration and exposition that fits perfectly into the flow of the scene. Although it’s not clear whether the character is actually thinking these things or if it’s the author telling us these things, the passage works because it’s in the character’s voice. All well and good. However, when I try writing passages like this, I’m immediately plagued with doubts. Am I telling too much? Does it sound like authorial intrusion? Am I distancing the reader?
I have no problem looking at someone else’s words and deciding if the narration is good, but when I stare at my own passages I have no idea if they work or not. I simply have no feel for it—like a color blind person trying to decide if a shirt and tie match. And this indecision really kills my creativity.
So I’ve spent a lot of time studying as many stories as I can, searching for that elusive “rule” that would allow me to “know” whether a passage of narration works or not. Since my stories are in third person, I’ve focused on stories written in that POV, but lately I’ve been studying stories written in first person and I think I finally stumbled upon my “a-ha” moment.
Writers who write in first person don’t worry too much about authorial intrusion since the narrator and the character are one in the same. As long as it sounds as though the POV character is telling the reader stuff in their own voice, most of the concerns about “telling” and “distancing the reader” go away. It’s still possible to do too much telling in first person, of course. You don’t want the POV character to tell us“I was scared,” but it’s perfectly acceptable to have the character tell us “I hadn’t felt this scared since that time I bungy-jumped off Lover’s Leap.”
And then it occurred to me. What if I wrote my story in first person, letting the character tell the reader what’s going on in his/her own words, and then rewrite it in third person? Looking back at the narrative passages I’ve admired in third person stories, I see how this technique could have been applied when writing them.
So that’s my trick. Perhaps you think it's silly. Or perhaps everyone else in the world already knew about it, but I had to figure it out on my own. It might be a month or so before I know if it helps, but for now I’m hopeful.
P.S. In case some of you are wondering why I don’t just write the story in first person and be done with it, I have two responses. First, I prefer writing in third person, at least for now, and second, I think my current story works better in third.
Doesn’t mean I won’t be writing in first person in the future, though. :)