Beginnings and Woes
For many moons, I railed against the first-person point of view. That might have been influenced by Beverly Cleary, who used it to great effect in the children’s books that filled my youth. I associated first-person narrative with books directed at kids … and Victorian gothic tales, which are in many ways similar to children’s literature. (Don’t @ me. I specialized in Victorian Lit at university and I won’t be swayed in my opinion that those books are basically great, sweeping, gory morality tales. And I love them for that.)
When it came to what we’ll call popular modern adult fiction, though, my experiences with first-person POV were disappointing. What I read of it felt “shove-y”, like a teenager in desperate want of attention. Characters who wouldn’t shut up in their own heads, telling me what they were feeling all the damn time. In my own attention-grabbing behavior, I ended up throwing more than one book across the room because of it.
I realize now I was simply reading the wrong first-person POV books. Bad first-person POV books. Really, really bad ones.
Around 2010, I became interested in detective stories. I’d always enjoyed police procedurals, and I’ve always wanted to write a detective story. The problem is, I’m not smart enough to come up with a crime to baffle a detective who’s reasonably good at their job. So, I started watching – and reading – the books on which some of my favorite TV detectives were based. At the time, that was Longmire and Inspector George Gently.
Craig Johnston (Longmire) and Alan Hunter (Inspector George Gently) are wonderful writers. It’s no wonder A&E (later Netflix) and BBC picked up their stories for televised popularization. Their writing is lively, witty, and, at its best, capable of lifting the reader out of their own self and into the lives of the characters on the page. And many of Hunter’s and all of Johnston’s stories are written in first-person! Due to my enjoyment of those series, I actively sought out other detective stories in the same vein. That’s when I discovered perhaps the greatest first-person crime novels of all time: Ross Macdonald and his weary but dogged private detective, Lew Archer.
It didn’t hurt that Lew was played onscreen in 2 films by the greatest actor of all time, Mr Paul Newman.
My life as a reader and as a writer has not been the same since.
Macdonald’s prose practically sings off the page into my head with every line. I’ve caught myself laughing aloud to Archer’s snappy repartee. Lew feels like a real man with real desires, hang-ups, and ambitions fulfilled and lost. The stories make me love being a reader, being able to enjoy a master – undisputed in my mind – working their craft. As a writer, the books inspire me to examine what I put down on my own pages, to write with clarity and purpose but never by sacrificing honesty and genuineness in the characters. I’ve found myself going back and re-reading all of the Lew Archer books multiple times, not just for the enjoyment factor but because each reading offers me new insight into craft, skill, and the characteristics of the first-person perspective.
When I read Ross Macdonald, I want to write as well as Ross Macdonald did. That’s not going to happen, but it’s a worthy goal. And every time I pick up my pen or open my laptop, I take that challenge to heart and try to put my best work forward. I’m even thinking of giving my own first-person noir a try.
What’s your take on first-person POV? Do you have a story that changed your mind one way or another? Let me know!
Sometimes, one gets the urge to write a raunchy sex story. I do, at least, though it’s been a while. I looked back through my archives and found I haven’t written a play-by-play sex scene in at least 2 years. I haven’t written a heterosexual sex scene in 5. And I haven’t written a het sex scene from a woman’s POV in 8. So I’m a bit out of practice. But I had fun with it.
The characters of Eve and Alan took me by surprise in that they appeared from basically nowhere with half their backstory already taken care of. As this is a first draft, it’s very rough around the edges (and through the middle). I don’t know if I’ll go back to these characters later or if they even warrant a second look-through. I did enjoy figuring out the ins and outs of this vignette/short story/whatever you want to call it. And hopefully I haven’t completely lost my touch for fluffy smut.
Click the title card to decide for yourself; the link will open a readable PDF. And if you’re so inclined, let me know what you think in the comments!
I’d had a Goodreads account for a while, but I hadn’t really used it. It felt like yet another social media commitment for which I have increasingly shrinking time. But a fellow writer and friend of mine – Christopher Mari (check out his books via the link) – recommended that I grab my own Author page at Goodreads. Apparently, it’s a good source for connecting with readers? And since I’ve got a published book under my belt, now, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
Here’s a screenshot of my Goodreads Author Pagemy Goodreads Author Page:
The long-form URL is https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18760553.Mayumi_Hirtzel?from_search=true
As you can see from the screenshot, my Goodreads “blog” is simply an RSS/Atom feed from my blog here. So you don’t have to follow anything different to keep up with me and my writing adventures. But maybe someone will find their way from there over to here, and I’ll be able to welcome some new friends!
Are you an active Goodreads participant reader or writer? Let me know in the comments, and we can connect!
I’ve talked about writing coach/author/editor Kate Johnston‘s Team Writer Saturday Sentence Challenge before. Briefly, each week, Kate offers members of the group a boring or grammatically-troubled sentence which we are tasked with sprucing up. The challenge is that we can only push this to two sentences, and we’ve got to make the reader feel something. This particular week, Kate provided a familiar cliche:
The thought passed through his mind.
Now, I’ve got a lot of characters who have a lot of thoughts crossing their minds. Some thoughts are crazy, others romantic, still others devious. For this particular prompt, my brain originally went a different way, with a different character, but the details in that first attempt went way off into deep raunch, I didn’t think it appropriate to share with mixed company. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of forbidden attraction. I just took it in a slightly different direction. Here’s what I wrote, as begun in the image above:
Firelight danced over the mechanic’s face, adding a glow to her smooth brown cheeks and full, glossy lips, and in that moment the hunter wondered how soft that cheek would feel if he stroked it, and how silky those lips if he kissed them. But then her husband sat down between them and, well, that was the end of that.
Of course, that’s not quite the end of that particular story. But sharing the ensuing details to that scene will have to wait for another day.
Did this Saturday Sentence Challenge answer from me make you feel anything? Have you partaken of any writing challenges, lately? Share your thoughts in the comments!