1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    A first person question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Nov 7, 2009.

    If I wrote a story in first person, is it okay to say:

    "My face turned purple."

    Since the character isn't looking at a mirror, she shouldn't be able to see that her face is turning purple. Having said that, if she's feeling sick, is it okay for her to just make that claim?

    Thanks.
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    First off, you're the writer; if you want to use that line, use it. Do what ever is in the best interest of the story, not whatever people tell you should probably be done. We haven't read the story, so no one here is better equipped to decide that than you. That said....

    In general, what the narrated character doesn't know or experience themselves is not narrated, so "My face turned purple" would not really be said. However, it isn't at all uncommon for a writer in first person to shift the narrator outside of the narrated character and move into what is sometimes called the impersonal narrative voice, where the narrator continues to speak in first person but the focalisation of the narrative shifts away from the previously-narrated character in order to narrate something that is beyond the typical range of experience of that character.

    Basically, imagine that the narrator is a spirit (this technique was, in fact, at one time referred to as invoking the spirit of storytelling) that is bound to the narrated character, the character from whose viewpoint the story is being told. Now imagine that you as a writer want to narrate something that the character could not possibly know; in Bret Easton Ellis' Glamorama, for instance, there is a line that goes something like "I did not see the black limo tailing me" (the line is much better than that, but I don't remember it word for word, and that's the general idea). Obviously, the character did not see the limo, and since the novel is in present tense, it cannot be that he learnt of the limo later and added the detail to his story, therefore we have to consider this other possibility; that the narrator has shifted out of the head of the narrated character and, while remaining in first person mode, narrated something beyond that character's usual range of experience.

    So yes, it is possible to write "My face turned purple" even though the character does not experience it himself, but you should try to be aware of the dynamics of the text when you do so; consider what is happening with the narrator, the character, etc.
     
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ask yourself, "Would I ever say something like that? Would I do so if I were my character?"

    Out of context, I find that line hard to swallow.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If she's not looking into a mirror, it's more likely that she would say something like, "I was sick." I also agree with what arron and cog said.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    ^ Didn't we kinda say contradictory things? :D
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sort of, but I agree with what you said, too.
     
  7. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol--you both said it so convincingly, though.

    I think that the impersonal voice in a 1st person narrative is pretty rare. I actually couldn't think of any then did a face palm when I googled the topic and it gave me Great Gatsby and Moby Dick.

    So I think generally it's safe to say NO, don't describe yourself like you're having an out-of-body experience. You could have another character tell the narrator that his face is purple. Or the narrator could say that he felt his face turn red.
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Is the character being choked or something?

    When my character gets embarrassed, I have her say, "My cheeks burned." "My face grew warm." "No doubt he was staring at my rosey cheeks" etc.
     
  9. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    I don't see why not. When my face flushes, I can feel it and I know.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    But do you think, "Ny face is turning red," or do you think, "My face feels hot," or "It's getting warm in here."
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on the context of the story and consistency throughout.

    Consider that first person past tense, is actually the main chracter telling what happened to him--possibly just like a group of listeners sitting around a campfire as the story of what happened is told.

    Terry
     
  12. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Before I weigh in on whether that line should be said or not, I have to mention something about the use of color. You say the character is feeling sick...Green is usually the color associated with feeling sick to one's stomach. Flushed or pale or white as a ghost would be associated with fever or some other type of illness like that. A face turning red usually implies embarrassment. And a face turning purple would imply asphyxiation, as does blue more commonly. So I think the purple part doesn't sound quite right if the character is feeling ill, either to their stomach or viral type.

    As for if that should be said in the first person...Hmmm. I would probably say no. It's a type of telling since the first person narrator can't see their own face. The character feels things, but does not observe their own face since that is impossible. Saying, "My stomach acid churned and that uncomfortable tingle crept up my throat, as I resisted the urge to hurl." Something like that is more descriptive of what the character is feeling and gives the reader an inside look at what is going on with that character. If I were to describe feeling like I'm going to vomit, that would be pretty close to how I would do it. Though of course there are many different ways to describe the feeling of nausea...say from food poisoning to being super drunk, they all have different feelings.
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would rather consider whether you're wasting one of the great opportunities 1st person perspective carries, by using a 3rd person description. 3rd person is extremely flexible, but one advantage I think 1st person has over it, is to get really intimate with the character -- so why not take advantage of that? Why not tell us how the character truly feels inside, and how the world around them subjectively changes through their eyes, rather than limiting yourself to a plain 3rd person statement?
     
  14. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I would say something more like "I could feel my face turn purple". Rather than just my face turned purple. Or "I felt flushed" or "I could feel the color draining from my face". Adding the feel to it would help since the character isnt looking into a mirror. That's just me, I could be horribly wrong. haha
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    unless the person is in front of a mirror, the sentence would make no sense at all, in the first person narrative...

    in dialog, it would only make sense, if it's mentioned that someone told him/her what color s/he turned, or if a mirror was involved...
     
  16. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    YES THIS ONE.


    " I could feel my face turning purple" Your POV allows you to feel, taste, touch, smell etc not just observe so make the most of it.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How do you feel your face's color? It's a pretty weak way to describe yourself.

    It isn't how most people would think of their rising temper. They might feel their jaw tighten, or feel their face getting hot, or notice their hands balling into fists. Those are primary sensations. They might feel their temper growing, and know by experience that their face is probably turning purple, but they don't directly feel their face changing color.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    In context, it could be perfectly fine.

    "My face turned purple," I said, sitting on the witness stand. "I grew increasingly sick."

    "So what did Acme paint company do to compensate you, after sickening you and discoloring your skin?" the lawyer asked.

    Hehehe...

    Okay, now seriously... I agree with those who suggest describing how your character feels.

    You can get creative with this, and even find metaphoric and symbolic language to describe the feeling.

    "I crouched over the edge of the sink, a throbbing pain in the pit of my stomach, the ceiling circling in a kaleidoscope vertigo. My head throbbed, growing like a purple balloon that might soon explode."

    Here, the character is not saying his/her face feels purple, which as Cogito points out, makes no sense, but is using his/her imagination, viewing his/her own head as a purple balloon.

    That's true, plus yellow for jaundice.

    (Though I've never understood the "green" thing. I've had plenty of sick stomachs, and I've never turned green. The only green person I've seen has been someone with make up, like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.)

    I could imagine blue or purple if the sickness is accompanied with a loss of oxygen, difficulty breathing, as you say, asphyxiation. That's the feeling I was going for with the throbbing head--lack of oxygen, poor breathing, poor circulation, causing your head to throb, thus, blueness. One's extremities can also turn blue, when there's a lack of circulation, severe swelling or congestive heart failure. The dead can also appear blue, or gray.

    I know it wasn't your intent, but your question reminds me of some of the writing prompts I've seen on writing prompt sites... questions like, "In 500 words, write what the color pink feels like."

    To Cog's anger scenerio... true, you don't feel your face turning purple, but you might feel your face, "growing hot, like a ball of blue fire." Or some better metaphor or simile for something with color.
     
  19. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I dunno about you 'mericans, but in the UK its pretty much an accepted and common phrase to say 'I felt myself going red' or ' I could feel myself going red'. You can't actually feel a colour (notice the correct spelling of colour), but its accepted over here.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ahh, but in that case "Going red" is an idiom, whereas feeling one's face turning purple is not.
     
  21. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    What does it mean? I googled "going red", and quickly saw an article about going red (with anger), one about going red (with embarrassment) and a third about going red (dying one's hair.)

    Are there similar idioms for other colors?

    (Sometimes, I feel like I'm going chartreuse, but not often.)

    By the way, technically, the correct spelling is "Kuller" but both the Americans (color) and the Britains (colour) get it wrong. So, because of constant usage in two nations, the dictionary folks threw up their hands and decided the other two are both correct and Kuller is not.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A common color idiom is "feeling blue." In America, we use the term "seeing red" in much the same way they use "going red" in the UK.

    With idioms, the logic gradually fades over time. There is not much literal logic to someone saying, "I felt myself going postal," but most people would correctly interpret this as a sign that the speaker is about to slip into a mindless rage, even if they have never heard of overstressed United States Postal Service workers going beserk and slaughtering coworkers with firearms in the late 1980s.
     
  23. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Ah yes, I've missed the obvious... I imagine this could also include, having "the blues", being a "yellow" coward, being "green" with envy (or more recently, "green" by recycling and conserving energy), or "brown-nosing" by being overly appeasing to a higher-up.

    Because of the nature of the OP, I was still trying to relate it to literally having a purple (or red) face, so I suppose the obvious nature of idiom escaped me.

    Charlie

    PS. There are no orange idioms, and nothing rhymes with orange. Orange you glad about that?
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!... i have to second all cog has said...
     
  25. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    Yes, you're right.

    I'd prefer to show and don't tell. Besides sight, your character has other sensory perceptions.
     

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