A blogger who wrote an otherwise happy review of Moonpenny Island had a somewhat unusual complaint. She said that the point of view so completely belonged to my main character Flor that she’d forget the book wasn’t written in first person. Then when Flor would be referred to in third person, this reader would be surprised and annoyed.
This is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. Sometime after I wrote What Happened on Fox Street, my editor, who knows the book as well as I do, said how perfectly it worked in first person. Huh? “Wait,” she said. “For a second there I forgot!” Once again, it seems, my close third point of view was so close that it felt like an “I” speaking.
And the blogger’s comment is also interesting because one of the many, many, too many iterations of Moonpenny was written in first person. That was back when Flor O’Dell was a big-eared boy named Larry Walnut (still have a soft spot in my heart for him). My editor and I agreed that voice didn’t work. Maybe because I’m not good at writing boys (but I don’t really think so). Maybe because the story still hadn’t gelled (possible).
But maybe because first person is not a natural fit for me. It feels like spandex, which I hate. It feels like wearing a hat that comes down over your ears, which I really hate. And–this will sound weird but anyway–it feels too egotistical. I know I know! Many first person narrators are humble, self-deprecating types. Some authors choose first person precisely because their main character is an interior type. Or because the character is unreliable, adding to the story’s complexity. All good. Right now I’m reading A.S. Byatt’s terrific “Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future” which, like most of Byatt’s writing, is etched in the acidic, heart-breaking voice of the protagonist.
But a big reason I write is to look around. To see what’s close up but also what’s beyond, including what’s not visible to my narrator. Sense of place is so important to me, and I find I can’t render that the way I want when it’s only seen through one pair of eyes. So even as I stay close close close, and even as the story’s voice officially belongs to one person alone, I cheat. I describe things she might not. I sneak in observations that are mostly hers but also a little bit Author. I wear loose, comfortable clothes and no hat.
Not to say I won’t ever try first person again. Every book is different, and each time I start, I have to learn how to write this one, this story. For now I’ll tell myself that the blogger’s complaint is a sort of upside down compliment. She felt so close to Flor she didn’t like stepping back, and that’s the symbiosis I love in fiction.