Writing by democracy

I’m learning to trust my instincts. That a book can’t be written by democratic process any more than a government can be run by one. (I know we’re trying, but really, is anyone satisfied?) I’m learning this by my repeated failures every time I attempt to resolve some dilemma or question by asking everyone’s opinion. It’s not that opinions don’t matter or aren’t useful, but I know my book better than anyone else and, in all honesty, when I turn to other people to help provide direction it’s usually because I want them to validate what I already think. And that’s profoundly dangerous.

I say this because, after spending several months wrestling with the question of whether to make my second book, Vestal, first or third person, I asked for outside opinions. And I got them. Pretty much split between first and third person, and some recommendations for a more playful/ experimental approach beside. The whole time I knew what I wanted to do. I was just hoping to find someone who would tell me to do it. I’m not sure why I do this. Perhaps because there are so many decisions to be made when writing a book, big decisions, small ones, one after the other, that I get a kind of lonely fatigue. And I want someone to help me share the burden of these endless questions and uncertainties. When what I really need to do, moving forward, is make the tough call, roll up my sleeves, and go to work.

To remind myself (and function as a warning for other writers who might attempt the folly of writing by democracy) this is what happens (on my Facebook page, specifically) when I don’t trust my own instincts:

(This is my Facebook status, and the comments it generated.)
What comes of asking my coworkers to help me decide whether the next book should be first or third person (I have the first 25 pages of the book in each, because I’m insane and can’t seem to decide)? Ryan Miller and Matt Fountain vote first person and Colin Rigley, Rhys Heyden, and Anna Weltner vote third person. Bah. Democracy fails us, yet again.
Rhys Heyden: Democracy is dead, long live democracy.
Anna Weltner: Third person if you have any sense. No: second person. Let’s get weird.
Ryan Miller: First person is more marketable.
Glen Starkey: You should write in second person, you thought.
Maeva Considine: I’m with Anna Weltner. Get weird, Schwellenbach.
Patrick Lin: Fourth person. (Like Yoda sounds a bit. Erm.)
George Cotkin: Compromise. Do it in both first and third, shifting with each section.
Erin Messer: Novel in verse. Second person verse.
Wes Hough: 5th person! “So I knew a guy who knew a guy that went to the store…”
Ashley Schwellenbach: Thanks everybody. I’m just gonna go have a mental breakdown in the corner.
Ryan Miller: See? That sounds much better than “She’s just gonna go have a mental breakdown in the corner.”
Wes Hough: In all honesty, I actually prefer 3rd person. I have read some great books written in first person, but they are fewer in number by far.
Ashley Schwellenbach: Yeah, Wes, I’m with you on that. Third person is a lot more literary and it affords you a lot more freedom as an author. However, I don’t want to automatically say, “for all my books, I’m going to use third person” especially when there are some elements of this plot that are very well suited to first person. And, when I thought of the idea for the book, it was my protagonist’s voice speaking about what had happened to her. I’m pretty torn, but I can’t continue writing two books–one in third person and the other in first person.
Wes Hough: One way I’ve seen is to write primarily in 3rd person, but when you want to speak in first person, put it all in italics. I think they did that in “The Hunger Games” as an example.
Jess Soliven: Read each one to a child and see which one holds their attenttion.
Pat Rigley: First person comes across as a bit Victorian, or Poe(ish).
Patrick Klemz: third
Youssef Alaoui: first person
Kristi Nicole Elkins: I prefer first person because I really like being in someone’s head, but you have to have a strong and interesting main character to hold interest. Which of course you will  But if you have several strong and interesting characters, third person allows you to jump from one to another. So I guess it depends on your characters.
Colin Rigley: Self-reflective-fourth-person past participle: “Then I wrote that she went on an adventure.”
  • en.wikipedia.org

    If on a winter’s night a traveler (Italian: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiator…See More
    Aaron Ochs: Fourth person. Break the fourth wall, and mock the reader
    Ashley Schwellenbach: Colin, that’s what I’m looking at the for the next book, the third one, set on the Amazon.
    Ashley Schwellenbach: I appreciate the diverse opinions though!
    Ryan Miller: Notice all the first person you’ve been writing, Ashley: “… that’s what I’M looking for … .” “I appreciate the diverse opinions … .” “I think I’M so lucky because I have Ryan Miller as MY friend and he shares his opinion with ME.”
    Ashley Schwellenbach: Alright, so there’s been some talk, since my protagonist lived a past life which I flash back to, of having the past life segments in first person and the present life in third person, since she’s more caught up in the past life than the present. Thoughts?
    Ryan Miller: Nah. Too gimmicky.
    Ashley Schwellenbach: Said the guy who’s wearing a gorilla suit and throwing a barrel in his profile picture.
    Ryan Miller: KONG 4 EVA!!!1!
    Rochelle Turner: I’d suggest thinking of THE moment in your book and think about how you want that to be. If that’s even possible, I don’t really know the process
    Ashley Schwellenbach: The deciding vote has been cast by someone who read the first chapter in both first and third person and read my last book. I’m very excited to have determined my path as I move forward!
    Ryan Miller:  It was Bryce Wilson, wasn’t it?
    Anna Weltner: Wait, so which was it?
    Ashley Schwellenbach: I’m not going to say until the book is finished. People will have to either buy it to find out, or read it and give me their feedback for my second draft.

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