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The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person

Progress on my second novel has reached a temporary roadblock.

I said temporary!

A few things are going on. First, I have another job, and this week I work 10:00-6:30, which gets me home around 8:00. I don't do much but sleep and work during this shift. Second, I'm at a point in the novel where the outline I've been working from is hazy, because at the time I wrote the outline, I wasn't sure how things were going to pan out. Now I know how they panned out, but I still have to get from Point A to Point C in the plot, I just don't know where Point B is. I'll figure it out in due time.

My third problem is that the novel is way, way too short. I'm at 33,000 words now, and well past halfway through. I need to get to 60,000 words to reach the generally-accepted lower limit for a novel, which means I may have to go back and insert some additional backstory, more description, more characterization, or some combination of these things.

When I wrote Pebble, I started out with around 150,00 words, then managed to cut it down to 128,000 after I found out that the upper limit for novels, if you want to be picked up by an agent or a publisher, is 99,000. Anything more than that, and you basically have no shot.

No problem, I said to myself. Pebble is Pebble, it's too long but it's done, and my next novel will be shorter. I've learned a lot since then about the kinds of bad habits that contribute to wordiness, and expunged them.

Seems I overcorrected. Here I am, looking at a 45,000 word novella, if I don't do something to fix it.

How did this happen? When I had only an outline, it seemed like a complex enough story to stretch out over the requisite number of words. In fact, I feared I might once again be struggling to keep it under the limit. But the story simply flew off my fingers, and I think a large part of the reason is that I'm writing it in first person.

I wrote parts of Pebble in first person, specifically the dream sequences that Tim had, while in the well, about his childhood. But this is the first time I've tried to write an entire novel in first person. I've found that there are pros and cons, and one of the cons is that it results in a shorter story! That's because any information that doesn't come to the reader via action or dialogue has to come from the mind of my main character, and in my writing I'm constrained to what he would know. It's much harder than I thought it would be.

After this novel, I don't think I'll try to write in first person again for some time, but I'm not sorry I did it. I think it's great exercise, and every writer should try it at least once. It's good for me, because it forces me to stay in the head of my character. Anything I want to say has to come out of his head, and any idea I want to convey about what another character is thinking has to come through dialogue or facial expressions or body language. This is a useful skill to have, whether you're writing in first person or not, and I think it's well worth honing. That's what I'm doing. Honing.

Anyway, it's gonna take a boatload of work to beef this manuscript up enough so I can legitimately call it a novel. Hopefully it won't set my projected release date back too much!

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