I / You / They

Recently, a few of the friends I met at university and I re-started our online writing group. We used a Facebook group back when we were all still studying for when we needed a bit of advice or we just needed someone to read what we’d done and catch any elusive grammar mistakes (there is only so many times you can look at a paper before it starts making no sense at all).

Now, there may not be any strict deadlines looming but what we all seemed to miss was the support.

There is something immensely satisfying about chatting to writers like yourself who simply get the struggles, the frustrations or, sometimes, the insecurity of writing. Plus, it’s just nice to chat about ideas.

I’m the kind of person who works well when I have someone to brainstorm ideas with (even if it’s just because I need to hear the idea out loud before I can decide if it is any good after all). When I can’t do this in person, social media isn’t perfect but it goes some way to bridging the gap.

The other day, one of our group members asked for our opinion as to whether they should write something in first person or third person. Most of us answered along the lines of “go with what feels right”.

I realise that this is both helpful and not helpful.

Before I went to university I wrote more in first person but that seemed to change dramatically while I was studying at Sunderland. I think that all of my creative pieces were in third person although I hope not – I’d like to think that I had more variety than that. University was all about short submitted pieces and if you’re trying to squeeze in plot, character and atmosphere into a couple of pages then sometimes third person can allow you to open up more of the world to a reader in fewer words – show them the bigger picture – depending on the topic.

Occasionally, I’ll start a story and there will be a character’s voice strong enough to determine the point of view of the speaker. It’s not a trait of my writing that I consciously think about very often – I’m usually more concerned with what my opening line will say rather than who is saying it.

I rarely write in second person when it comes to fiction. To me, second person tense strips back too many layers between the character, the writer and the reader for me to write a longer story but it makes an interesting writing exercise if you’re practising or if you’re experimenting with style.

I remember a moment a few years ago when I was having the problem of “which tense do I write in?” I received this advice:

Write the opening of your story multiple times – one version in first person, one in second person and one in third – and then decide which version you like the best/ are most comfortable with.

Personally, I think that this is great advice and the changes that you can see by doing this exercise can sometimes offer insight into the story that may be highly relevant later on.

As for reading, I want to offer a recommendation of a book written with first person narration rather than third: Shadowmagic by John Lenahan.

Shadowmagic is the first book in a trilogy (Shadowmagic, Prince of Hazel and Oak and Sons of Macha) and I was in college when I first found the series. I bought the first book on kindle when it was on offer for free and I had no idea of what to expect. I didn’t even know that it was written in first person until I started reading.

I fell head over heels for the book – which quickly turned into a love for the entire series – from the very first line. I own them on kindle and in paperback (the omnibus edition of the series was too pretty too resist).

They are beautifully easy to read (almost everyone in my house has read them now), they are packed with the clever use of mythology and legend and I probably cannot recommend them enough.


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