1. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 Active Member

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    Using certain terms in the first person

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by carsun1000, Dec 31, 2015.

    Writing in the first person right now as opposed to my usual third person narration. I am incorporating using terms like "See" or "You see," or even "Did you know" as a way of drawing the readers in.

    You see, I knew I would get her attention.

    Did you know that I went to school with her? I knew her more than she thought I did.

    See, every time I tried to get to her, I ended up getting to him....
    .

    These are just general samples not in any necessary order.

    Will these fly? Will context of the narration dictate if I could use these? And if they don't, what are some more acceptable terms that could be used to open sentences that could draw readers in?

    Thanks.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So you'd be addressing the reader more directly?

    I've seen that done fairly effectively. Catcher in the Rye springs to mind, but I've read it elsewhere as well.

    I think it's the sort of thing you need to do fairly consistently in order to make it clear that it's not just a weird glitch, if that makes sense? Maybe with a framing paragraph at the beginning or end of the story making it clear who "you" is and what the circumstances are that have led to the story being written.

    If I just saw it happen a couple times, I think I'd feel like it was a mistake.
     
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  3. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was faced with this type of question with my current WIP as well, but I decided not to do it. My decision had more to do with what I read recently about (so-called) good writing practices.

    What I read was, more or less, strip away all unnecessary words. When I did, the story moved just a little faster. I also felt just a little self-conscious about including the reader within the text like that.

    Stephen King does this kind of thing and gets away with it, either because he's so experienced or because his sales are so high, but I'm not sure I can pull it off.

    But it's your decision, of course.
     
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  4. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I think there's certainly some truth to that but I wouldn't say it's a universal law. In first person how your character relates to the reader through their narration is an important aspect of developing their character, showing their mood etc. When your character is just doing typical narrative (ie where what they think and feel lines up with how they are acting/talking) then you can just trim off any extra stuff but when your character is hiding how they feel then I think it's ok to use a more characterful narration to illustrate that.

    Phrases like 'I promise I didn't mean for that to happen' says a lot about how the character feels in a short time (guilty in this case) in a way that 'I still feel bad about that' doesn't quite sell. Also it lets you keep a consistent voice between narration and speech which to me at least is important. If you're writing in first person then hopefully it's to give a better insight into what a character is thinking so don't be afraid to express those feelings the way the character would do so when it matters.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Pet peeve: I loathe "you see", makes me cringe.

    Normally, these are filter words you'd want to take out and see if they are really needed. Rarely they might be, but more often than not it's stronger writing without these added words.

    But you are asking about a specific use for them which is legit. Rather than asking if X or Y works, I'd want to read what others have to say about the technique as a whole. Perhaps there are other ways for a narrator to address the reader. Learn the broader issues then decide how you are going to do it.

    I would rather the narrator tell me something than simply explain to me what I should conclude. Word's like "you see" are weak because they tell the reader what to think. If instead you said something like, "What he didn't know was..." then you give the reader the information to draw the conclusion from.

    This is a worthwhile piece on the topic, and lists a number of books to look at that break the fourth wall.
     
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  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I don't mean to give that impression. I spoke only for myself and I'm rather self-conscious in real life, too. :)
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You see, I knew I would get her attention.
    I think if you've established you are talking to the reader, you could leave, "you see" out.

    Did you know that I went to school with her? I knew her more than she thought I did.
    This one isn't so bad. You could say, did I tell you... but it's about the same.

    See, every time I tried to get to her, I ended up getting to him.....​
    This one I'd redo. Again, if you need to establish you are talking to the reader, do it in a clear way, like "did I tell you" or "you would agree with me, I'm sure." Then you can leave words like "See" out.
     
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  8. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I am a big fan of breaking rules, but I think you need to break them hard. Add "you see" and "I think" and "I don't really remember" and "Some stuff happened that wasn't very interesting," and "I didn't like the color of her hair, so let's just say it was blue," and "Maybe his name was Ned? We'll call him Ned."

    Etc.
     
  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    All this sounds very Holden Caufield, one of the best-known narrators of the 20th century. It also establishes (in my mind, anyway) that the narrator is unreliable. He's got a bad memory or doesn't care enough to remember, so everything he says is now suspect.

    I think you're right about breaking the rules hard in a case like this. Go big or go home, as they say. A solid commitment to this stylistic choice would work very well and might even be fun to read.
     
  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think this can work, especially in short stories, but I think you'd need a compelling reason to do it. It's going to be a consistent reminder that the reader is reading a story, and when I'm considering a style choice the first thing I ask is "will it jolt the reader out of the story?" If the answer is yes, I need a REALLY good reason to go ahead with it.
     
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  11. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I sort of see what you're saying but, well, there's a reason why Catcher is supposed to appeal to psychopaths. When you do stuff like that you create a narrator who isn't just unreliable, but who reads as actively disconnected from reality. That really needs to be a core element of the character, if not the whole book. It's essentially using irrelevant background details to demonstrate that the narrator doesn't care about other people; something that needs to be being done with a very directed purpose. Maybe they grow out of it or maybe they are just kinda crazy but that's adding a really big important thing to a character who otherwise wasn't designed to have it. Unreliable first person narration can make for amazing works (see Fight Club) but only when that unreliability becomes important to the story.

    And I think that's true of any other characterized narration. You shouldn't do it without purpose. Those little spoken touches all change how the narration reads and that should be used to your advantage. Saying 'You see...' does sound a bit smug or patronizing so use it to show the character feels smug without just saying 'I feel smug'. Asking the reader rhetorical questions can help show the character didn't know something or was hiding it (or even hadn't gotten around to telling us) so using them to do that is fine, while doing it constantly without a real goal is probably not a good idea.

    Like with anything you write; do it with purpose. If it's just words that do nothing then, well, they are words doing nothing. If it tells us something, especially something that would otherwise have to be communicated in rather blunt terms that don't fit with first person then sure, use it. It's a tool. And yes it has downsides and you shouldn't be doing it constantly, but if it lets you get across complex or difficult emotions that the narrator might not perfectly be able to express through narration, yeah do it.

    Do it when it makes a difference.
     
  12. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 Active Member

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    Thank you. Would you rather stay neutral with the readers then, since using "You" in any shape or form draws in the reader?
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    No, using 'you' is not the problem if you are going for the narrator talking directly to the readers. And I think talking directly to the readers is a fine technique.

    It's a little tricky at times, to recognize when you are using an unneeded filter. "You see, I knew I would get her attention," tells the reader your motive. But do you need add, 'you see', in order to tell the reader your motive? It's stronger without the filter.

    So are you using filter words to indicate you are talking to the reader? I think there are better ways to get that format across.

    First off, 'I see it happen' vs 'It happened' is an example of 'see' as a filter word. That's close but not the exact issue here.

    You are using 'see' as a command meaning, 'see this'. But it's still an unneeded filter.

    So let's break it down: Your sentence: "You see, [this was my motive]".

    You are telling the reader your motive. But you are filtering it with an unnecessary command. There are better ways to establish you are addressing the reader and once that is done, you can just say [this was my motive].
     
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    For example, talking to your reader is one technique:

    "I knew I would get her attention. Maybe it was foolish, but surely you can agree I needed her attention."

    Now you are conversing with the reader instead of filtering your sentence.
     
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  15. Bandag
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    I feel like a lot of people are missing the point here. A narrator who talks directly to the reader is one who is trying to convince you of their point of view. That's why it works so well in Catcher. Holden is lying to you and he's trying to convince you to believe him.

    That's not the only case where this works though. For example, you could use it if your story was about an innocent character on death row.

    "This is the story of how an innocent man ended up hanging. It's my story, and it is absolutely true. You have to believe that, because no one else does..."

    Or a sleazy lawyer,

    "You know that feeling, when you've beaten someone so entirely, so completely... but you can't let yourself be seen to smile because then you'd be an asshole? Yeah. When the judge spoke, I had that."

    or a PR man.

    "MagicCleanOxyTime really WAS the greatest cleaning product of all time. I promise you; I didn't have to lie once. Not one goddamn time."
     
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  16. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ that - though I wouldn't say it's always about the narrator trying to be persuasive. Sometimes it's just a way of adding atmosphere, and making your narrator feel more real. This kind of language might include things like unnecessary filters, but that's the way people talk. It sounds more natural. When I'm reading this kind of prose done well, it's like the narrator's actually talking to me, is there sat in the room telling me what happened. You can get a wonderful cadence to your narration when it's done right.

    I mean, this kind of thing's always going to be personal to a degree. I like this style. Not everyone does. But I don't think you can say the examples you've given are inherently stronger or weaker without context.

    tl;dr - if that's your style, go for it. Let people tell you afterwards if it doesn't work.
     
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  17. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I absolutely agree. First person narration is fundamentally a concept no matter how you do it. The narrator is only expressing things in such explicit terms to acknowledge the reader. When was the last time you thought to yourself 'I'm sad.' ? We just don't express emotions like that. We feel them, we don't need to say/think it. So first person is always closer to 'the character telling their story in their words' which presupposes an audience, even if it's just a diary or an unseen reader. The fact that a first person narrator is describing anything is acknowledging a reader; the character can see what they are talking about, why would they describe it except for the benefit of someone else who can't see it?

    Now, I'm not a huge fan of addressing the reader all the time but as long as it's there to establish character, and especially to underline the difference between how a character is acting and what they really feel then, yeah. Do it. It sells desperation and frustration and guilt and shame and all kinds of subtle things very concisely for the narrator to act like it to the reader.
     

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