Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Person

Reading thuRsday

I confess I've never been fond of stories in the 1st person. With that bias, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Savvy, by Ingrid Law.

As I thought about that gap, I realized that what I dislike is the way that first person has become synonymous with stream of thought--that because we read "I did this" we must be in the character's head and privy to all their thoughts. In YA that often means we have to wade through a lot of whining, moaning, and self-indulgence.

It wasn't always that way. There's an earlier tradition of 1st person = story told by an eye-witness. Treasure Island is 1st person, but we never hear Jim Hawkins wondering whether he'll have a date. We hear about Jim's thoughts only to the extent that we need to understand his motives.

In Savvy I enjoyed hearing the character's thoughts because the story was as much about thoughts as anything else. The narrator must first figure out what her savvy (i.e., her special know-how) is, then try to make sense of it. I don't think you could tell the story of her journey to understanding nearly as well if you weren't watching her thoughts.

What it comes down to, as it usually does, is that you must use the right tool for the job, and not simply follow fashions.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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