I’ve never really given a lot of thought to my narrators. Typically, I write in an omniscient style and my narrator is an unidentifiable, all-knowing voice. The voice is essentially my own, telling the story of my characters. But recently I have been working on a large, internet-based project for and with a friend. The nature of the project requires a lot of the material to be written in first person, in her voice. But, because of my role as a writer, she has left it in my hands.
Writing in first person as someone else is not a new concept. As a fiction writer, I have done my fair share of writing in first person. But this person was never real. He or she was a character of my own making and their story came from my imagination. This time, however, there are facts that must be adhered to. I can’t change information to suit the flow and tone of a sentence. My word choice is held in check by the reading level of a typical reader (our potential audience). I am, for once, restricted by real life and it is a strange sensation.
Writing as someone else—a real someone else—has been frustrating, challenging, but also very exciting and interesting. When we have meetings, I sit and listen to everything my friend says so that I can better capture her voice as I imagine it would sound in written form. Whenever I write new content, I send it off hoping that I have succeeded in capturing the right voice and that I have all the facts straight.
But perhaps this whole endeavor shouldn’t be as difficult as I am making it out to be. Many writers, myself included, when they spend enough time with a character find that this character has come to life. I have characters whose personalities have become so familiar to me that I can take on their persona if the mood were to strike me. Is writing about a real person really that different? I don’t have an answer as of yet. But perhaps at the end of this project I’ll have a better idea.
After taking on this project, I have begun to ponder what someone once told me about writing in first person. They said that writing in first person smacks of being a novice writer in the publishing world. But honestly, with how difficult this project has been, I have to think that this individual was wrong. Writing in first person is equally as difficult as writing in other narrative perspectives.
This project has also changed the way I view my own narrators in my worlds of fiction. In a short story that is a mere work-in-progress at this point, I have been consciously manipulating the length of the sentences. The majority of the sentences are very long with numerous details and adjectives in order to make the reader move slowly through the content. But there are bursts of short sentences when my main character seems to be taking over the narration in order to further enhance the feeling of his inebriated state. Strictly following this format has been a struggle because it isn’t natural. And in the end, this may make it a struggle to read too. The whole endeavor may end up a failure.
But, if anything, I have learned that it is even more important than I originally thought to fully develop your narrative voice so that it matches the story that you want to tell. Making up a narrative voice for a real person in the real world is not a task that many people have had the experience of taking on, particularly when a specific purpose for such a story has been defined. I am, essentially, a ghost writer, telling a miraculous story that the world needs to hear. I am acutely aware of the importance of this task and I hope that I am up for the challenge.