by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck
Ever listen to a conversation where “I” was the predominate word? I did this, I did that, I went here, I went there… I, I, I, I.
After awhile, the picture is etched that the person talking is really into themselves.
The same idea applies to writing in first person. As the writer and storyteller, it’s easy for us to get going in the first person narrative and forget to not let the “I’s” have it.
When I started working with editor Ami McConnell, she warned me. “Watch the overuse of I.”
“Hmmm, in first person?” I thought, but answered, “Okay, I’ll do that, very good idea.”
Yes, it’s way easier said than done. It takes time, rethinking and rewriting to avoid the overuse of I, or starting every sentence in a paragraph with that same slim pronoun.
Okay, I can hear the question, “How can I avoid ‘I” when writing in first person?”
You can’t, but you can change the way you structure a sentence to minimize I’s effect or to omit it completely. I found it hard at first to adjust my I sentences, but after awhile, it became a habit.
Here’s an example from my book, Sweet Caroline:
No answer. I check the pantry. “You here?” Still no answer. The kitchen feels cold and abandoned. Regret strangles my heart from some dark inner place, but I refuse to surrender.
After reading this short paragraph, the last phrase “but I refuse to surrender” doesn’t feel necessary. Or, it could be reworded to “but surrender is not an option.”
Frankly, the sentence really ends with “Regret strangles my heart from some dark inner place.” The reader gets the picture. When the galley’s come, I’ll edit out the last part.
Here’s another example:
I slumped down against the side of the boat, pillowing my head against a life jacket. “I’m not sure Mitch ever knew.”
This is a perfectly fine sentence, but it could be reworded to read, “Slumping down against the side of the boat, I pillow my head against a life jacket.”
Here, “I” is buried in the middle of the paragraph. It doesn’t stand out as much, but communicates as effectively as the first sentence.
Take a look at something you’re reading or writing in first person, and see if those “I’s” don’t stare at you from the page. If you see a sentence or paragraph with three, four or five “I’s” rewrite it, figuring out a way to trim them down.
Listen to me now, this is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Some sentences and dialog will have I’s, it can’t be helped. This Doc Chat is just to make you aware.
Avoiding the overuse of I does make our work stronger, and causes us to go deeper in the character’s POV and with our own writing to NOT let the “I’s” have it.
Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?
With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.
Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.
New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.