Taking “I” Out of It

Happy Day 6 of NaNoWriMo. Hopefully it is going well for everyone participating–and even if it’s not, the month is still young.

An interesting fact, I have to say, that I have found as an editor is that many new writers gravitate to first person. Whether if it’s because it feels more natural to tell a story as “I” or just a quirk that makes it more popular, I’m not sure. Before I go on, I want to say there is obviously nothing wrong (or inherently inferior) with using first person for narration. First, Third, and even Second person all have their place depending on what kind of story someone’s telling. It’s all about what works for the book.

The problem many newer writers writing in first person have, however, is that pesky pronoun, “I” cropping up over and over again. As the narrator is “I” in first person novels, there is obviously no way to fully remove the word from your writing (nor should you try to). What you can do, however, is find some ways to cut down on the repetitive: “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb]” sentences, which make  “I” feel a little too front and center.

1) Remove filtering. I previously discussed “filtering” in regard to self-censoring. This is the other kind. Rather than trying not to filter the actual content, this is trying not to filter content through the narrator. If you are seeing a lot of “I saw X”/”I watched X”/”I heard X” you are likely filtering. To get rid of the repetitive “I [verb]” simply remove the narrator from sentences where they aren’t needed. That is:

I saw the car turn down the street.

becomes

The car turned down the street. 

As everything in a first person narration is being related by one person, the reader can assume everything happening is being seen by “I” It is perfectly fine to remove the “I” from these sentences to cut down on repetitiveness.

2) Change up sentence structure. Since not every sentence will allow for “I” to be removed (e.g. “I walked around the table”) try to change up sentence structure if you feel like you’re falling into a string of “I [verb]”s. For example, rather than writing something like:

I opened the door. I looked down the hall. I didn’t see anyone…

consider something like:

Opening the door, I looked down the hall. No one was in sight…

By joining the first two sentences, and starting with a verb, you don’t fall into that repetitive structure. You also lose one of the “I”s being used. By switching the last sentence to remove the narrator from the action, the third is gone, leaving the remaining “I” feeling much less noticeable.

As with anything in writing, don’t take these tips to an extreme. If you have a section that works very well with “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb]” you don’t necessarily need to change it. If things start feeling repetitive, however, or “I” begins to feel overused, see if you can use these two tips to make things a little less awkward.

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