My fellow editor, Lesley, and I attended a writer's retreat in Fairplay, CO and had fun writing among so many accomplished authors. The weather barely cooperated on the day of our arrival or departure; Fairplay is at 10000 feet and driving over the pass was...interesting. Unfortunately, it cleared up so we didn't get stuck there. Darn!! But the food was excellent, the tea was hot, and I started another book after a loooong revision. Drafting is such a joy.
But enough about me. The point is, we had a discussion about first person. Hopefully I didn't tread on any toes among so many first person writers (Lesley among a few acclaimed others!) when I said my experience with first person, as a writer and an editor, has been less than stellar.
I've found my own writing suffers in first person. A good exercise is to switch a first person story to third (laborious and intensive, but good) to see if the writing really holds up, or if "voice" is getting in the way. Voice alone can rarely carry a story, and often I've found first person voice often masks flaws that would be obvious in third. Here's an example from from one of my own unsold short stories:
I allowed my horse to straggle well behind our caravan, and so I did not die. My wineskin, the only relief from the heat, had consumed my attention. But even in my drunkenness, I could not miss Armidian Royal Knights on their giant golden warhorses filling the road and braying for blood. Balesat curse them! My whip on my mare’s flank made her as determined as a maiden at a Knight’s Eve ball, but we were not quick enough.
Braedon allowed his horse to straggle well behind their caravan, and so he did not die. His wineskin, the only relief from the heat, had consumed his attention. But even in his drunkenness, he couldn’t miss Armidian Royal Knights on their giant golden warhorses filling the road and braying for blood. Balesat curse them! His whip on his mare’s flank made her as determined as a maiden at a Knight’s Eve ball, but they were not quick enough.
I happened to love this story, but it didn't sell and didn't sell, and I finally realized how many weak verbs my First Person voice hid to my rather particular eye. FOUR in the first graph alone! And the "voice" did not translate well to third person at all. This is a natural mistake, though. Think about how you think in first person. In RL, people often use weaker verb forms in internal reflection. It's natural--we can't all go around thrusting and racing and lamenting and craving in our heads all day long. It would be exhausting. No. We think: I was late or: I need coffee. Also, we tend to think colloquially, with contractions, and in present tense. Are contractions and tense hiding poor verb choices? I'm desperate doesn't quite jump out in revisions as: He was desperate.
My advice? If you aren't selling your first person stories, check the writing itself. Does your "voice" hide flaws? Do you include unneccessary commentary or innactive verbs choices? Do contractions hide weakness or problems with tense? Try rewriting in third and see if the story holds up. If it does, send it over to ElectricSpec! We'd love to see it.