Friday, 13 February 2015

Writing a "first person" novel

When setting out to write a novel, how do you decide whether to write it as an "I" story? Or as "he said, she said"?

I first began The Housemaid's Daughter with every intention of keeping my distance and writing in the third person. I planned to tell my story from the perspective of the Irish matriarch, Cathleen Harrington. The young heroine, Ada, would be revealed through Cath's eyes, and through Ada's third person point-of-view.

I got about ten percent of the way through, and knew it wasn't working. Too detached. Too prissy. I was champing at the bit to reveal more of Ada's character than my sedate third-person style was allowing.
It was time for a re-think.
Ada, I realised, should tell her own story, and let the reader - and me! - into her volatile and poignant life. This entailed a revamp of both my carefully-drawn mind map, and the CVs I'd created for each player. It forced me to get far more involved, and to confront my apprehension about inhabiting a character who'd lived a life very different from my own.

Strangely, despite my nervousness, the moment I switched to first person, the story began to flow. I found Ada's voice in a way that I would never have managed if I'd remained behind the safety of third person. First person may not work for you but, in this case, it worked for me.

I wasn't supposed to be born in Cradock House. Not me...

And later, when Ada returns...

The old house with its pale stone walls watched me as I came up the path. I wondered if it remembered me, whether the apricot still carried me in its sap, whether the doorknobs still remembered my polishing of them, whether the soul of Mama was smiling on me. Or whether I was making the biggest mistake of my life...

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