Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Yesterday was not the good sort of writing day. It was, instead, the sort of writing day when it took forever before the words would start to come, and then they came only in fits and starts, and, when it was all said and done, I had nothing but profound doubts about what I'd accomplished. It was the sort of writing day that tests to the limits my self-discipline as an artist. In more than five hours, I managed only 773 words. The cold didn't help. My office had actually become so cold it was painful to be in here. Spooky went out and found me a space heater (a cute little thing that looks like a Star Wars droid), which at least dealt with that problem. I was able to take off the two pairs of socks, the leg warmers, and the gloves. But, even though a significant distraction had been removed, the writing didn't really get any easier.
This new story is my third attempt at a first-person narrative. The first was "Riding the White Bull" (Argosy #1) and the second was the novella "The Dry Salvages" (coming from Subterranean Press), both from last year. Despite my longstanding disdain for first person, I wanted to attempt to crack it, find ways of defusing its inherent weaknesses. So these attempts have been experiments. But I'm starting to see the sort of first-person related sloppiness creeping into my own work that I've been complaining about in the works of others for years. Some of the problems are easy to address (leaving me to wonder why other writers don't), such as the problem of narrative origin: determining exactly whom the narrator is addressing and why, and establishing how the text came to exist as an artifact that might be read by others. Origin seems an easy enough hurdle to overcome. But others are much more difficult. The worst part is the limitation placed upon language, or, most specifically, upon style. Essentially, a first-person text is a monologue, the voice of a single individual character, the intensely subjective view of the protagonist, and seems less amenable to the author's voice. The author's voice, if it is to be an honest first-person narrative, must take a back seat to the voice of this single character. In the process, much is sacrificed, it seems, and little is gained. By contrast, in third person, I'm free to explore equally intense subjective povs from all the characters, if I so choose, while still maintaining a more informative ominiscient narration and a much greater freedom of voice. And yet, there's an obvious ease to first person, reinforcing my belief that it's popular because it's easier to write. I think this ease certainly accounts for its popularity with younger writers (though, as a younger writer, it was never popular with me). Anyway, I think that after this story I may abandon the experiment and return to third person. Only 2.3 stories and already first person is beginning to feel like the crutch I've always said it was.
This is not to say that first-person narratives can't excel. They certainly can, despite the fact that they almost never do. Examples of excellent first-person narratives are easy enough to list. But I think they require a writer of unusual talent to do well. And I consider myself only a writer of usual talent.
After the writing, Spooky and I made a chicken stew (more of a "stoup," really). I watched a biography of Gene Hackman, then a documentary on Venus (the planet, not the goddess). After that, I read for a couple of hours. Finally, I finished the first Ratchet and Clank game. And that was yesterday.
I certainly need to write today, but I may get dressed and go to a museum, instead. I don't know if I can make the words come today, no matter how much I strain. My head is too full of dead ends. I need some sort of intellectual stimulation absent from the act of composition.