Monday, November 23, 2009

First Person Shooter

Somebody asked me today, "What does it take to write a good first person piece?"

As if I know the answer.

However, people who trained me to write told me to never do first person.

"I, I, I, I, I, memememememe. This is not your newspaper. This story is not about you."


"If everyone has a column, who are going to write the stories?"

Writing in the first person is the trickiest style. You need to tell the story from your eyes, your perspective, but need to address the reader and give details of the story - the subject matter at hand.

It goes into the realm of personal connection, and that is always hard to pin down.

Lots of people THINK they can do it, but that's bullshit. I read so many crap columns, man. I read so many crappy blogs.

The problem is, as always, hubris. Arrogance. The ego.

You think your opinions matter. Fine. Why? How? How do you justify the time people take to read what you think? Why should they care?

Dealing with readers is another problem. Everyone has an ego, and if you are being fake or condescending, it takes two seconds for them to sniff that out.

You think you can be compelling and push people's buttons? Without empathic mimicry, you'll still be pushing buttons, but you won't know what buttons you pushed. A blind man in front of a doomsday device. A monkey in front of a typewriter.

However, don't take my words for it. I am unable to say for sure what works. I know that Jeremy Clarkson is one of the best columnist ever. I know that I enjoy reading Stephen King's written introductions than most of his stories.

I know I look forward to Zainal Alam Kadir's columns every Tuesday in Malay Mail.

Here's one intro from Jeremy Clarkson:

I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend at the Spanish countrysides with my family, so the last thing I expected to do was to apply for passports for my two horses and my donkey.

I can't remember, but I think he was talking about some bullshit EU regulations. Now, Clarkson is a motoring journalist, so his column was probably about how the EU regulations affected car imports and exports. He started it about his horses and donkey needing passports to show how stupid it is.

I don't intend to ever write in the first person, professionally, so that's why I have a blog. All my first person, personal bullshit is here. SO I can focus solely on the subject matter when writing.

The style that has worked for me is a conversational semi-omniscient shit. I learned that in fiction writing, and found that it can be applied almost anywhere. It's like having the reader as a small midget or a fairy/bug on your shoulder. You take him/her places and you talk to her/him/it.

Sometimes, I get crazy, and I read people's minds while I write shit. That usually ends in me deleting everything.

Self-awareness is strength, but being self-conscious is the ultimate destruction of self.

You need to engage people on some level, because people in general only read viewpoints that agree with them. That makes them feel good. Or something that makes them perversely righteous about how wrong it is.

Something that is middling and dry is a yawn fest. Like this article.

So, back to the question: "What does it take to write a good first person piece?"

I don't have the answers. I don't think anyone does, either.

The only way is to read. Read, in the name of thy God.

Read. Write. Finish what you write.

- Neil Gaiman (chaos be upon him)