Copyright © 2009-2010, Steven E. Houchin
A few months ago, I received a critique from an agent I'd queried. She offered me a unique criticism of my writing that hadn't occurred to me. It was a repetition in my structure that got on her nerves. The solution to the problem was vexing.
My story is written in first person, so it is peppered with "I", "me", "my", "we", "us", and so forth. Use of these words is inevitable for first person. But, the agent saw too much of the pattern " 'I' plus verb". Looking at the writing sample I'd sent her - and keeping her critique in mind - I suddenly saw the annoying pattern, too. It was especially glaring when used to start a sentence. The agent had just added a new rule to my arsenal of "don'ts" for writing: spare the "I's".
So, now my task becomes removal of a bunch of those pesky I's. But, how to reword "I did something" into a new sentence sans the "I"? Here are some examples of before and after:
"They woke me on Sunday mornings when I craved sleep" becomes "They rudely woke me from a peaceful sleep on Sunday mornings".
"I reached over to her side of the bed, feeling only empty space" becomes "Her side of the bed felt cold and empty".
"I hurried to the window and peered into the night, the cold floor sending my spine a brisk shiver" becomes "The cold floor sent a brisk shiver up my spine as I peered through the window out into the night".
"I lit the bedside lamp and checked my pocket watch: one forty-five" becomes "After lighting the bedside lamp, a glance at my pocket watch showed one forty-five".
"I bundled up for the late-January deep freeze" becomes "The late-January deep freeze required plenty of bundling up".
"I descended Lake Avenue toward the harbor and the railroad tracks" becomes "Lake Avenue descended steeply toward the harbor and the railroad tracks, making for treacherous footing".
Some of these changes are definite improvements. Others are so-so, and probably need more work. In one case, the dreaded "I" remained, but moved inland. These examples are all from the first few pages. Jeez! I've got 470 pages in the damned book. Four pages took an hour to fix. Does that mean I have 118 more hours of re-editing to go? Ugh!
Quick! Somebody get me a carton of Oreos - and keep the pizzas coming!