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Reflection on writing Mr. Rochester in first person

Originally posted 23 January 2010 on a different blog.

I recently read that new writers often find third person narrative to be very difficult, because they are more accustomed to first person, and writing things from their own perspective rather than someone else’s. While this might be true in some cases, perhaps a lot, it is not true for me. I struggle with it immensely. It’s uncomfortable and weird. Most of the stories I have ever written, regardless of which age I was at the time, have been in third person, either in the mind of one character or switching between them, or omnipotent. This whole “I”, “me” and “my” business feels unnatural, somehow.

Not sure why. Okay, blogging and letters and that sort of thing I have no issue with writing in the first person (obviously), but stories are a problem. It doesn’t flow as easily. There might be many reasons for it. First of all, I’m definitely more used to third person narratives, but even as a child, I preferred writing about he or she, not me and you. Why so? I’ll mull it over in my head when I can’t go to sleep at night and be my own therapist and see if I can come up with an explanation. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that it’s too personal, that if I write about me, people who read and can criticise it will be criticising me as a person, not the story itself. That could be a part of the problem.

Another issue, specifically with this project, is that if I’m writing Rochester from a first person singular perspective, it means I’m not writing as myself, but rather trying to be Charlotte Brontë, and I don’t want to imitate her, because if I try to imitate her style of writing, I’ll just be a bleak copy, because I won’t be able to be exactly like her. For instance, I think she drones on a bit too much a lot of the time, when she instead could have been a lot more succint. If it’s not relevant to the plot, it doesn’t really need to be there. That doesn’t mean you need to be minimalistic, just that you need to remember what the topic is and stick to it, without going off in a lot of other directions. Sure, they might add some flavour, but if it goes on for too long, it’ll just end up being dull.

I also don’t have her flair for the melodramatic, because it makes me roll my eyes a bit too much to write things which are Oh So Terribly Dramatic when they in fact don’t have to be. There’s a time for melodrama, but it should be used sparingly because then it’ll be even more dramatic once it happens. If it happens every other page, it just gets silly.

How do these reflections impact my view of my first attempt at writing Rochester? Personally, I’m not happy with it. Fine, it’s a first draft, so it’s not going to be magnificent. Didn’t expect it to either. For a second draft, I’d try to add a bit more to the scenery and that sort of thing, and polish it a bit more. Charlotte always had (at least in Jane Eyre) very extensive descriptions of everything, and I should learn some of that from her – including where to stop…

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

5 thoughts on “Reflection on writing Mr. Rochester in first person

  1. Many of my Rochester based pieces have been written from his POV. I find it interesting to do this, as JE is, from necessity, done from Jane’s own perspective. I found it quite easy to adapt – and to enlarge upon – his thoughts and his possible backstory (which is largely untold in the original book). However, it’s horses for courses, I think 🙂

  2. Yeah, I agree, it’s all just a preference. 🙂 I have a few more examples of writing Mr. Rochester coming up in the next few days. The next one is also third person (however, NOT trying to “get my Brontë on” too much) and the one after that will be in first person. Just before I wrote it, I had been watching bits of JE’06 and found the Toby Stephens version of Rochester whispering bitterly into my ear! Figuratively speaking. 😉

  3. I think the reason you’re having trouble writing from EFR’s POV is precisely because you are trying to write in Charlotte Brontë’s style.

    Since the novel is written from Jane’s perspective it is in her voice, which is also the voice of Charlotte Bronte. But Edward (or Mrs. Fairfax, or Adele) should tell his side of the story in his own voice, which would be completely different from Jane’s/Charlotte Brontë’s.

    Write Rochester’s story in the manner in which you can hear him tell it to you, not in the way Brontë would have written it.

  4. Very good advice there, RhubarbsMom, and thanks! You’re absolutely right. Jane’s/Charlotte’s voice is really not my voice (nor Rochester’s), so trying to write from that perspective is never going to work. No, if I’m going to write about Rochester, it’ll have to be my own way, listening to what he has to say. Right now, I’m more interested in either continue work with my modern-day JE re-telling (reading Jane by April Lindner and last night, I found myself thinking “he has a CAR? Pheh, I preferred the motorbike in mine!”) or start on a fantasy derivative. Decisions, decisions.

  5. I read Lindner’s book a few months ago. I think she did a good job of putting the story into the 21st century, but I personally found it not intense enough. I wanted more angst, for instance when Jane finds out the truth, and more scenes of actual conversation between Jane and Edward.

    I read the “Ivy Tree” back in October. I liked that one too.

    Both are worth reading.

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