You never know what will trigger a new idea. Today, the mailman brought me a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, a collection of SF stories by women. The gimmick is that all the stories are written from the male point of view. I hadn’t thought about the implications when I ordered the book, but browsing through for a first look-see, I realized that every story is in the first person. Now it isn’t necessary that such a story be written in the first person, but it’s probably the best way, the most convincing way, because the emphasis is on voice. If you’re a woman writing as a man and your character sounds like a woman, then you might just as well have made him a woman.
I’ve written one short story in first person, from a male POV, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to try it with a novel. A novella that I’m working on is first person, male, but that’s because it’s a fictional autobiography.
It’s said that first person fiction is popular with authors because it’s easy to write. New writers do seem to migrate to first person with something like a homing instinct. The truth is that first person isn’t really easy to write unless you’re concerned more with plot than character. You’re looking out at the world through the eyes of someone who doesn’t share your gender. Their voice has to be authentic. Their interpretation of the world has to be authentic. When it’s well-done, it’s a pleasure to read. When it’s badly done, it’s . . . bad.
So, having received this book, which I haven’t even read yet, I’m looking at The New Serfdom in an entirely new light. The latest turn of the novel’s development has made Gil almost Nolan’s equal in importance. The possibility of seeing Nolan entirely through Gil’s eyes is intriguing. But if I go from third person, limited omniscient, with first person flashbacks, to Gil’s first person POV, the whole story is going to change. The question is whether that change would be for the better.
Gil can talk about only what he’s seen, heard, experienced, or learned at second-hand. Are there parts of the story that would have to be left out? Are they important enough that their omission would hurt the story? Are there things that the omniscient POV can deal with, but not as well as from a witness’s POV? Omniscient creates distance. First person brings the reader closer to the characters. Do I want readers to stay somewhat aloof or do I want them to become emotionally involved? Omniscient can maintain a balance, but the book may be better served by letting it swing to one side.
All this is just first thoughts. I’ll have to work through the whole story, seeing it through Gil’s eyes before I make a final decision.
Note: The SF collection is Women Writing Science Fiction as Men, edited by Mike Resnick.