Tuesday, January 20, 2009

*I* Don't Think So

Every now and then I run across this strange prejudice regarding both writing and reading first-person point-of-view. Since I'm writing in mystery, which has its goddamn ROOTS in Hammett and Chandler, you only hear this sneering in the metaphorical corners, but there is most definitely a prejudice against first-person POV. To which I say, oh, put a sock in it! Some of the greatest writers ever have used first-person POV to marvelous effect. I can't think of few lines ever written in literature that pack more of a punch than Jane Eyre vis a vis Charlotte Bronte saying to me, "Dear Reader, I married him." You go, girl! In my opinion, Lolita wouldn't have half the punch if it were told in third person.

Like all aspects of writing, I see it as a device. Yes, I *do* write in first person, but not always, and it depends on what sort of relationship I want with my character. I think it works so well in crime fiction because it magnifies the sense of isolation of the protagonist. There is nothing more lonely than an "I." The "I" battling the world on its lonesome. In Hammett's no-name detective stories, the protagonist is so isolated that he doesn't even have the fleeting camaraderie of his peers to have a name!

So by writing in first-person POV you sacrifice the broader strokes that a third-person POV inherently confers on you, but you reap other rewards. Of course, it entirely depends on what sort of story you're writing. But it always shocks me when I hear sneering and this tacit tag line that when I'm a mature writer I will start writing in third person POV. Well, in my "book," you don't get more mature than Chandler. I'm in *very* good company!


Elizabeth said...

People SO overdid first person in the 80s, trying to be the next Raymond Carver, that there's a backlash now. it will pass... just keep doing what you need to do and pay no mind to those sneerers. They're just fickle.

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Claire,
I must travel in the wrong (or right) circles, as I don't hear that sniping over first person. Now the present tense annoys me, but that's a matter of taste.

Anyway, Sue Grafton is well on her way to a whole alphabet of first-person novels. If people don't like f.p., the hell with them.

Bob Sanchez