Monday, September 13, 2010

In Defense of the 1st Person Horror Tale

There are a handful of well-paying (semi-pro and up) fiction markets which exclusively publish horror tales. Go ahead and give Duotrope a good search and you'll see. Some of the best stipulate their dislike for the 1st person POV in their guidelines.


My favorite mode in which to write is 1st person, and some of my favorite horror tales are written with a participant narrator. Think Edgar Allan Poe here, people. Think H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".

I understand why an editor would want writers to steer clear of the 1st person. I'm sure they've seen enough poorly written, serial killer narratives (or even the ghastly "I die in the end" stories) to choke a proverbial horse. But when the 1st person is done well, a story holds even more sway over my imagination.

Which brings me to Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters by John Lagan. I'm only two tales into the collection ("On Skua Island" and "Mr. Gaunt"), but Lagan has a way with weaving a 1st person story ("On Skua Island") which really left me with the chills. I ran up the stairs from my darkened basement on the way to bed after reading (I have no shame). A 1st person narrative has a way of drawing a reader into the story that doesn't always happen in a more objective POV. When that narrator tells his chilling tale and ends with "I'm feeling rather uneasy tonight," well, I am too. Mr. Lagan's prose is rather thick if not outright baroque, but he has a solid sense of pacing. He plants a seed early, and when the reader returns to find the fully flowered monster, wow.

So editors, I understand. I know the pitfalls of poorly written 1st person horror. But please, please be willing to see the benefits of a well-crafted tale, regardless of the narrative POV.


Cate Gardner said...

It's a brave man who reads horror stories in his basement. Sounds like a book worth checking out.

Laurita said...

I really enjoy a good 1st person horror story. An eerie tale with just the right detail and the narrator waiting for something terrible at the end is the perfect cure for a sound sleep. (Though I also loathe stories where the narrator dies at the end.)

This sounds like a book worth reading.

katey said...

The proper first person tale doesn't work unless it's in first person. To deny the usefulness of a certain point of view is a kneejerk reaction, like denying the usefulness of a genre.

That said, I get why it's discouraged, as first person in the wrong hands is one of the most catastrophic devices ever. But it still gets my back up when I see "do not send 1st person" these days. Weird, since some of my favorite places do it, but it makes me cringe every time :/

I'm sure I've cooed over "The Rats in the Walls" before. Man. So much love.

Aaron Polson said...

Cate - I spend most of my time in the basement; in its defense, it is a walk-out (half underground, half above as our house is built in the side of a hill).

Laurita - it is, so far. Like I said...a bit wordy at times, but worth it in the pay off.

Natalie L. Sin said...

The fact that erotica embraces first person POV shows how effective it is in creating intimacy between the story and the reader. Why should naked characters have all the fun?

brady said...

All true literature is written in 2nd person, future perfect continuous tense. Everything else is commercial crap.

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - " the wrong hands is one of the most catastrophic devices ever." Sort of like me with a shotgun.

Natalie - True. True.

Brady - Right on.

Akasha Savage. said...

Most of my short stories are written in the lst person...I find the writing flows easier. Having said that, because I know publishers of horror have an aversion to it, my novel is written in the 3rd person POV - I want my baby to have the best chance possible; sometimes you just have to pander to the ones who(supposedly)know.

Michael Stone said...

Any market that states "We don't want first/second/third person (delete as appropriate) stories" have their great fat head up their great fat arse, IMO. I can live with limitations regarding length, genre, subject matter etc. But POV? It's for the writer to decide what best serves his or her story and for the editor to decide if it works for them.

Cathy Olliffe said...

I'm with Michael.
I'm beginning to think that markets are like McDonald's, ordering up the same Big Mac from all writers everywhere.