Carol Berg June 19th, 2008
Question from Valtameren:
When writing a first person short story is it possible to over use the words, “I” and “myself” when actually referring to yourself. Is there anything else you can write in it’s place?
Yes, it is possible to overuse I when writing first person, just as it’s possible to overuse he or she in third person or any other word that gets stuck in the brainpan. Unfortunately I seems to glare in readers’ eyes like undimmed headlights, and ruin their appreciation of my own personal favorite storytelling “person.” It’s certainly something I have to watch. If you can’t see it for yourself, try reading your work aloud (always a good technique anyway) and listen.
You’ve said that you are conscious of the problem and work on varying your sentence structure, but here are a few other things to consider.
1. Search for instances of I thought, I felt, I saw, I heard, I knew, and the like, as well as the ubiquitous, I said. Many, many of them are unnecessary and can be deleted. You are telling the story from this person’s point of view. Of course the sights are things he sees; the sounds are things she hears. The narrative voice incorporates your POV character’s thoughts. No need to hammer it home.
Unless you have some particular need for emphasis, you can change
“I heard the nightingale singing.”
“The nightingale sang.”
(or something more interesting!) and we’ll know you POV character is the one who heard it.
2. Try to recast an I-sentence with some other noun as the subject. Often the effort will produce something more interesting and reflect your character’s “voice.”
You could replace:
“I didn’t believe Gerald was telling the truth.”
“Gerald couldn’t tell the truth if his granny were on fire.”
3. You can also “tone down” an I-sentence by leading with a modifying phrase.
You can reshape
“I had lived in awe of Kajetan’s magic throughout my boyhood.”
“As a new student, a boy of fifteen, I had lived in awe of Kajetan’s magic.”
4. Make sure your character is focused on external events and not overly on herself/himself ; remember, the narration itself can reveal your character.
“I had ever reveled in nature’s glory.”
“The dew hung on the leaf tip, poised to…”
“I watched the prince riding and knew he was the lord for me.”
“The prince rode as a man worthy of his destiny. My heart swelled.”
“The prince sat his horse like the First Outlaw. Any dude with a heart would follow him over a cliff.”
OK, you get the idea.
Any more techniques out there?
As for use of myself, it should be very rare anyway. Make sure you’re not using myself when me or I or is correct or when nothing at all would do just as well.
Incorrect: “He argued with Jim, Slim, Tim, and myself.”
Correct: “He argued with Jim, Slim, Tim, and me.”
Myself can be used as a reflexive pronoun when I is the subject of the clause, such as:
“I injured myself.”
“I grumbled to myself.”
But why not just “I grumbled?” Is anyone else there?
But if myself is popping up everywhere, perhaps you can recast the first example as:
“I sliced my finger to the bone.”
Myself can also be used (and overused!) for emphasis.
“I myself must tell the tale.”
Hope this feeds thought…