Playing and Puzzling in 1st Person
A lot of current YA lit is written in 1st person and present tense for good reason. Immediacy is created when we’re living the story minute-by-minute, straight through the thought process of a teen protagonist. Best of all, knowing how she thinks helps us readers to know her well. When we can experience her fears, humor, and loneliness right along with her, it’s easy to sympathize with her. It’s also agonizing when she’s making a mistake.
Though my last project, the Birthmarked Trilogy, was in 3rd person, which completely suited the story, my new novel is in 1st person, and I’m finding the P.O.V. to be a fascinating challenge. I feel incredibly close to my main character, Rosie. I’ve spent over a year thinking like her on the page, observing the world through her particularly astute, imaginative eyes.
I’ve also been severely limited by what she does not know about her world, and it has been a puzzling struggle to find ways to convey to the reader any information beyond what Rosie herself can see and comprehend. This interplay between what Rosie the character knows and what I know as the writer has been integral to the generation of the novel, and much of the time, I’ve felt like I’m on both sides of a wall where half of me is concealing info and the other half of me is trying to discover it. More than once I’ve told my editor that if I could figure out a way to explain it all, I would.
Then there’s the issue of voice. I’m not fifteen. I’m not living in the future. I need a voice for Rosie that feels rich and lively to YA readers today, and for that, I’ve had to dig deep. One resource I have to tap is the pile of journals I kept, beginning at age twelve. Rereading one lately, I was astounded to find how much I sounded like myself. Young Caragh can’t be summed up simply, but I can tell you she/I was articulate, loving, lively, observant, earnest, idealistic, and ironic. That authentic example of a young voice, my own, makes me believe a person’s interior voice is fairly consistent as she ages. In fact, I’d say age is a much smaller component of personality than other factors, and with that permission settled for me, I’m not overly focused on making her “young.” Instead, I’m happily exploring Rosie’s voice, from what she thinks to the tempo of her words.
I love how Rosie never apologizes to herself. I love how she’s smart and powerful and sometimes oddly brittle. I love when she lies and the reader can see the inconsistency between what she thinks and what comes out of her mouth. That’s a first person character to play with.