Self-Insertion

I was musing the other day on the whole PoV thing. I like writing in 1st. I *can* write in 3rd, but I just prefer 1st for some reason. This new book I’m working on is actually in 1st person present – again, I’m not sure why, and I don’t know if it will stay that way. Just seems to be the way it wants to come out and I’ve learned it’s not worth fighting the muse over.

I always hear that writing in 1st person is risky since a lot of people don’t seem to care for it. Maybe it’s the limited information or the “I did x” lines that tend to get on people’s nerves. Personal preference is what it is, but one thing I sometimes wonder is if readers tend to be harsher on the protags of a 1st person story.

Books are often escapist, and I sort of suspect that having a 1st person leads into a bit of self-insertion on the part of the reader, even if it’s not on purpose.  Maybe I’m completely off the mark there, but often when I see reviews on books written in 1st (not just mine, ha ha), I see comments about how many dumb things the protag did, for example. And I don’t see that as much with books written in 3rd.

In the gaming world, particularly RPGs where you can make decisions that affect a game, the player becomes the protag. In theory, they’re supposed to make decisions based on how they’re playing the character – but a lot of times players will choose certain paths simply to get the “best ending” or to force a certain outcome. This is known as meta-gaming – e.g. the player already knows the circumstances and what’s going to happen,  as opposed to the character, who doesn’t.

(And hell, every gamer I know does that to an extent – we want to romance a certain character, or defeat a particular bad guy, or whatever it is, so it’s not like that’s some sort of flaw.)

But when it comes to books, readers obviously can’t influence what a character is going to do (unless it’s one of those choose-your-adventure things, ha ha). Maybe we can put the big picture together faster than the character – solve the mystery, ping who the bad guy is, whatever.  Sort of like watching a horror movie and yelling at the screen when the scantily clad non-virgin goes down into the basement to check out what that thumping sound is.

So I think sometimes as readers we forget that the protags *aren’t* us. Even though *we* might make a decision differently based on things *we* know or our life experiences, the characters don’t always have that same bit of insight. So she skips down at that basement and says “Hello? Joey is that you? Quit playing games, asshole!” to the muffled-breathing maniac looming in the corner. And then gets her head chopped off.

So we see phrases like “too stupid to live” popping up frequently. And yeah, maybe those characters *are* TSTL – but if the book is written in 3rd, the reader has a chance to bond with some other character that might be more to their taste.

Anyway, just an observation. What do you think? Do you find yourself grinding your teeth in frustration more at 1st person protags?

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9 Responses to Self-Insertion

  1. Harley Hoehn says:

    When I first read A Brush of Darkness I looked online to see if you had any more books because I thought it was amazing. I swear I almost cried when Brystion left Abby but when I read A Sliver of Shadow and saw that he came back I danced around my room. I can’t wait to see what happens in A Trace of Moonlight.

  2. ZapTheTemplar says:

    I have totally enjoyed the books but I am usually a third person girl. I do find it easier to get attached to characters that way, but didn’t have any problems with Abby. My thinking is that character development needs to be more subtle yet robust in first than third. If that makes ANY sense at all…..

    • allison says:

      No – I think it makes total sense. Regardless of the pov, character development needs to be organic. I think it can be jarring when a 1st pov basically infodumps everything you need to know in the first few paragraphs. (I think I took that to the other extreme tho – I get some complaints that most people don’t know what’s going on in the beginning of BoD. Which is true. I don’t give you much. But Abby doesn’t know much either, soooo….)

  3. Rhianna says:

    I most definitely DO find myself confronted with the TSTL thing in 1st person narratives but I think it’s more of an issue with the character ‘telling me’ about the concious idiotic decision than anything. In 3rd person narratives—and I like both 1st and 3rd for different types of stories—the characters’ actions have that buffer of the ‘narrator’ between their actions and my mind. Does that make sense?

    That said I do find 3rd-present a bit difficult to read. Hell, present tense in general rubs me the wrong way as a reader and I’ve never been able to put my finger on what about it gives me a mental shudder. Even with that being a personal preference to avoid a handful of books I’ve loved were written in present and I’ve survived. lol

    It seems like it would be the more natural flowing narrative from writer’s brain to page and considering how much I’ve loved your writing so far I’m quite certain I’ll enjoy your new project no matter what tense it’s in. 😉
    Rhianna recently posted..Review: Playing With Fire by Tamara Morgan

    • allison says:

      Yeah, present can be tricky. I’m not sure why my brain has been churning them out that way lately. Even the Mel short story for the anthology was 1st person present (though that may change during the editorial process.)

  4. 1st, 3rd… I’ve even read a couple stories in 2nd. POV doesn’t really bother me if it’s done well. Thinking about it now, I’m not a huge fan of books that switch from 1st to 3rd and back, though. Too jarring for my brain, I guess.
    B.E. Sanderson recently posted..Tackling the Nasty

    • allison says:

      I’ve seen the pov thing switch done really well – Sarah Monette does a great job with this in her Melusine series, for example. I think usually when it’s done by chapter it works okay, but so much depends on the delivery.

  5. Precious says:

    I have a preference for 1st. Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs are a fave. I can read POVs on 2nd and 3rd, but I prefer them not switching from one pov to another.

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