G. R. A. R. G. H.

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick. I have managed to give myself enough of a mental hernia trying to leap a particular hurdle that I can’t even write this LJ post without stopping, starting, revising, deleting paragraphs, and generally replicating the exact problem I’m having with the aforementioned hurdle.

It’s like when you start paying attention to how you speak — whether you swear a lot or speak in sentence fragments or use “like” six times a second — and next thing you know, you can barely open your mouth for self-consciousness over what’s going to come out.

I am thinking too much about how first-person narration works, which is why I’ve managed to hamstring even my LJ-posting capabilities, let alone fiction. The usual remedy, which is to stop over-thinking it and just do it already, does not work in this case, because while the first-person narration I have is perfectly serviceable, I’m trying to kick it up another notch, and find this character’s distinctive voice. This is rendered difficult by the fact that the story in question is the Sekrit Revision Projekt, which has been around for a very long time. Convincing my brain the sentences need to go differently is like punching fog.

I’ve spent half this afternoon digging out every short story and novel in my library that uses first-person narration, in the hopes that beating my head against them will produce a breakthrough. So far, it’s produced nothing more than bruised brain-meats. It doesn’t help that the voice issue is tied up in how the story begins; I’ve more or less fixed the plot problems, but I still need a better beginning, and part of the bettering needs to be on the level of voice. But this isn’t the kind of first-person story where the narrator is self-consciously addressing the reader (or another character in the story), nor do I want it to be the kind of the tale where the beginning is framed in terms of hindsight — “When so-and-so first showed up, I didn’t know he’d be trouble,” or “The day my life changed forever, I was too busy playing with my cat to notice,” etc. It feels like a cheap and easy way to get the story in motion, and then you drop the hindsight effect after the first page or so. Lots of authors do that. I don’t want to. But I’m floundering around trying to figure out what I do want to do.

I recognize that, once I figure that out, and the voice, I will have dramatically improved this story, and probably my writing as a whole. This does not make flinging myself at the hurdle any more fun.

And we’ve reached a point where my brain is literally trying to stick squirrels into the opening paragraphs, as if they will somehow improve anything. Yes, details like squirrels are something this story needs, but they aren’t the key to the problem, O Subconscious. The squirrels can wait.

<beats head some more>

0 Responses to “G. R. A. R. G. H.”

  1. sora_blue

    Shut the file. Open another. Write until you find the voice. About whatever. About nothing. Even if you throw it all out, it’s worth it because when you return to the manuscript, you’ll have the dialect quirks down.

  2. sartorias

    Why is your narrator telling the story? (Does it help to figure that out, or do you know already, and it helps nothing?)

    • Marie Brennan

      Neither. I recognize this is a breed of first-person that annoys some people, but it’s the sort that’s like third person: the story is being told, but not to anyone or at any particular time or for any particular reason. It doesn’t have that kind of frame around it.

  3. akashiver

    i feel your pain.

  4. mindstalk

    Is it daily talking to oneself first person? “Oh man, she’s so hot, I’d like to do her. Hey, he’s looking at me funny, grr! Crap, the boss is coming, I’d better pretend to work.”

    “Gah, I’ve been flaking on this all day. [insert imaginary dialogue with husband asking about the day] I’d better get to work… kittens!”

    ‘stream of consciousness’ belatedly bubbles forth from my memory as a name for this.

    • Marie Brennan

      No, it isn’t. Stream of consciousness is very hard to sustain for any real length of time, much less tell an entire story in, since it’s so sharply limited in what it can relate. I do have a doppelganger-related story, though, a prequel novelette about Seniade (later Mirage) coming to Silverfire, that uses stream of consciousness in places. It’s the only way to communicate how deranged she was at times.

      • mindstalk

        Is there anything this *is* like, or are you trying to invent a new form of narration?

        • Marie Brennan

          It’s like most first-person narration; sorry if I gave a more complicated impression. I find it rare for a first-person story to be told as pure stream-of-consciousness; I find it slightly uncommon, though far from rare, for a first-person story to be told self-consciously, where the pov character is aware of herself as a narrator, telling her story to an acknowledged audience. (Sometimes that audience is an in-story thing — say, a fictionalized memoir, or an imprisoned character’s confession — but a lot of the time it’s just the character speaking to the reader, a la “Let me tell you about the time my uncle Vernon died and left me a winged cat in his will.”) Most of the first-person stories I read don’t do either of those things; they just tell the story, the way a third-person narrative tells the story, in the past tense, without any particular framing of when the narrator is speaking from, or to whom, or why.

          That’s all I’m trying to do here. Nothing fancy about it. My difficulty lies in two things: finding a distinctive voice for that character (sentence structure, word choice, what she pays attention to and what she ignores), and figuring out how to get my first scene going without resorting to the imho overused trick of retrospection. These are not unusual problems; I’m just having an unusually hard time overcoming them.

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