Monday, April 14, 2014

"I" Doesn't Have to Mean "Me"

Dear Non-Writers,

I know you try hard to understand, to be supportive. And I appreciate it beyond belief. A writer can't survive without someone cheering her on from the sidelines. But we need to talk about a little matter that needs clearing up.

You see, there's this thing called first person. It's when a writer uses words like "I," "mine," and "me." "I hate cats" is a first person sentence. Yet, while I wrote that sentence using the word "I," I didn't mean me. I actually love cats.

Fiction writers do this all the time. They use "I," but they're not talking about themselves. The "I" refers to their point-of-view character and what that character thinks and says and does.

I used to think everyone knew this, writers and non-writers alike. And some of you probably do. Experience has taught me, however, that some people take "I" literally.

For instance, when I went to the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute in 2012, my class performed a poetry reading. Afterward, my mom brought up one of my classmate's poems. The narrator in the girl's first person poem spoke rather harshly about her mother. My mom said she was glad my classmate wasn't her daughter. That the poem would have made her cry. When I tried to tell her my classmate wasn't talking about her own mother, my mom said it didn't matter. It sounded like she was.

This particular misconception is one of my biggest pet peeves. It's ignorant and stems from degrading views of fiction writers. We aren't just writing "better-sounding" versions of our lives. We're writing about the human experience in all its forms.

So, in conclusion, my lovely, wonderful non-writers, remember when you're reading your friend or your family member's work that "I" doesn't mean "them." It'll help you avoid hurt feelings and arguments.

With warm regard,
A First Person Fiction Writer

7 comments:

  1. Thoughtful post. It reminds me of the time Obi-Wan said to Luke "A lot of what we interpret in life depends on a certain point of view." Most of us are guilty of projecting ourselves and what we feel into writing and onto other people.

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    1. I'm not saying that sometimes that "I" might not carry a little truth behind it. I'm just saying that we all know what happens when someone assumes...

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  2. Well said. Like you, I thought that was a given, but your example is actually a good showing how the "I" of first person POV can be misconstrued.

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    1. Thank you. I could have guessed you'd like this post. ;) You with your "Me, Myself, and I." lol I know this isn't the same, but it's still kind of funny. :P

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  3. Thank you for writing this! It's also one of my pet-peeves. I remember at school people used to believe that nearly everything I wrote about in my poems had actually happened to me, or reflected my feelings. I don't know why some people can't grasp that most writers use a persona. Of course our characters can reflect aspects of ourselves, but usually most things come from our own imagination or observation of others. I enjoy writing from perspectives vastly different to my own, including children, the elderly, male characters and even inanimate objects.

    ~Tizzy @ Creative Therapy

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    1. Exactly! That's happened to me at school before as well. It's an awkward situation. One that shouldn't happen. One that wouldn't if people only understood what "fiction" means.

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