3rd-person is my bread and butter but 1st-person is tons of fun.
How 1st-Person is Like Theatre
I know the script, I’m aware of other characters’ intentions, I can recite my lines in my sleep but when the curtain goes up I must react organically to the other players in that moment despite how I may have rehearsed. In doing so the scene flows naturally versus feeling contrived. (Key word: react.) Acting on the page happens much the same way. I, as the character, react honestly within the context of my character in that moment even if it doesn’t follow the scene outline precisely.
Example of Developing a Scene’s Action Normally: A character is in a paddock with a gelding; the horse usually ignores the character but today he’s pissed at life. If you brainstorm, what might the character do if the horse charges him? Fend him off with the feed pail and edge to the door? Call for help? Does his life flash before his eyes? Manage to calm the horse with food? Execute an internal soliloquy worthy of the finest melodrama about the fleeting images of life? Nice and logical (poetic?). Finish with a contemplation about what he could’ve lost once out of harm’s way (the bow on top).
Okay, Now Acting: You (yes, you, even if you’ve never seen a horse in real life) slip into that paddock of 5.5ft fences with the horse who’s got his head in the other corner and is chewing on hay, except his ears are flat and he doesn’t turn his head to acknowledge you – you know he’s in a bad mood. Tell me, when you bend to pick up the glove you dropped and, looking up, spot the blur of 1,700lbs of muscle and bad attitude coming faster than you can think, how do you react?
Adrenaline (what’s that feel like, describe it quick, the hairy freight train is almost on top of us); the door’s too far and takes too long to open (could be two steps away, still too far, he’s faster); it’s not graceful, not organized, you have no thoughts just the instinct to get the hell out of there and seconds to do it, it’s a scramble. Tumble over or through the fence boards like there’s no tomorrow (because there might not be if he catches you) and then rest sprawled on the other side, catching your breath with the stupid horse snorting and pacing 3 feet away. (Jerk. See if I give YOU apple treats anymore.) Contemplation can set in later or over time.
(How would I as the character react in a given situation? That’s just it; it’s a reaction. Reactions are innate. I don’t know what’d I’d do until I’m there. When a scene feels disjointed I literally think, “I’m gonna have to go back and act that out.” Then again, I could simply think of it like any other story where I’m using “I” instead of “he/she” and follow where pure logic points. But I doubt I’d get the same results.)
I appreciate how 1st-person lets me specialize in a single perspective. (Aspects unconsciously selected to be emphasized about a place/time/event differ markedly by individual as opposed to the observation/documentation powers of an objective reporter; those choices help gradually define the narrator without having to info dump character facts.) As the character I won’t notice everything and I may not even understand the things I do notice (I’m human, I interpret the world as it relates to me). Calling things as I see ’em adds to the beauty of it.
The Beauty of It
Take this quote for example: I have two 1st-person options here. I can either tell the story from the perspective of:
- the second speaker (a brazen, unstoppable optimist who commands a feared strike force and thrives on obliterating impossibilities with his uncensored genius); or
- the first speaker (a member of the strike force that obeys blindly because somehow the insane tactics of their leader, who’s never let them down, always work out. However success doesn’t stop his crazier methods from scaring the crap out of his men who are fairly sure he has no idea normal people don’t think like him, and probably ranks “fear of death” up there with unicorns, closet monsters and other fairy tales. In the thick of battle when it’s all or nothing his team relies on faith and guts, throws common sense to the wind, gives a battle cry like a hoard banshees and follows their brilliant lunatic. YAAAHH!!).
Same events; night and day. Two opportunities for complete immersion.
[P.S. I might like stories too much.]