Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.
I received an email with this question and thought it might make a good blog post.
I need help getting rid of my "I"s. I say them too much in my writing. Do you have any tips how I can fix that?
When you're writing in first person, you will use "I" a lot, just as third person authors will often use "he" or "she." There's no way to avoid it. But if you've noticed that every sentences starts with "I," and you're desperate to change that but don't know how, here are some things to try.
1. Remember, it takes time and practice to perfect any writing. Patience and hard work will get you there.
Example of "all my sentences start with 'I'":
I walked to the store on Saturday morning to buy doughnuts for the meeting. I was both excited and worried that they'd chosen to come to my house for the meeting today. I hoped that they would like my house, that they wouldn't notice how old and run-down it was. I spent all day cleaning yesterday. I would be really upset if anyone said anything about the ratty carpet or the stained toilet that was constantly filling with water. I hoped no one would have need of the bathroom at all during the meeting.
2. Read a lot of first person books and study their sentence and paragraph structure. Go to the library and flip through some books to find some that are somewhat similar in style to your book. Then go back to your book and see which sentences and paragraphs can be rewritten or rearranged to give variation and create a better rhythm.
Example of varying sentence structure:
I walked to the store on Saturday morning to buy doughnuts. The leaders had chosen my house for today's meeting, and I was both excited and worried. Would they like my house? Would they notice how old and run-down it was? In an effort to ease my worries, I cleaned all day yesterday. If anyone said anything about the ratty carpet or the stained toilet that was constantly filling with water ... I don't know what I'd do. Maybe no one would have need of the bathroom during the meeting.
3. Add narrative (put everything in your main character's voice) to break up that list of "this, this, and this happened."
But maybe not. Maybe I was simply paranoid. Either way, I'd cleaned all day yesterday. If anyone said anything about the ratty carpet or the stained toilet that was constantly filling with water ... I don't know what I'd do, especially if it was Adam. Punching our group leader probably would be a bad move.
I forced Adam's face out of my mind. Perhaps the doughnuts would be so delicious that they'd distract everyone from the state of my home. And if I didn't buy any milk to go with the doughnuts, maybe, just maybe, no one would have need of the bathroom during the meeting.
See how much more we get with that last example? We learn more about what is happening, we see conflict, we feel our POV character's worry and it makes sense. We get his motivation for the scene now. We understand.
At a certain point, you won't need to put in as much effort "studying" how to do this. You will have learned, and the revising will come naturally. Keep in mind, this type of revising often adds words. This is great if your book is too short, but if your book is already long, be careful.
Here is a little blurb from one of my Spencer books (Chokepoint). See how Spencer gives us action, description, and narrative all in his own voice. (Also, in case you didn't know, Spencer is six foot four.)
Jake drove a 2002 Ford Ranger. Two door. It didn’t even have suicide doors. When he told me to get in the back, I just stood there holding the flower box, staring.
He couldn’t be serious.
Oh, but he was. He ran around to the passenger’s door and opened it so his date, Chrystal Figueroa, could get out. Jake was wearing a red bowtie to match Chrystal’s red dress.
“Jake,” Chrystal said, “I don’t mind getting in back. Really.”
“Not to worry, girl,” Jake said, folding back her seat. “Spencer is a gentleman, aren’t you, Spencer?”
“Sure.” I just didn’t know if I could fold myself up like a newspaper.
Two little jump seats folded down behind the front bucket seats. Katie already sat tucked behind Jake’s seat, looking like a candy bar. Her dress was silver and shiny, and she’d piled her hair in a mountain on her head.
“Here.” I reached in and handed her the flower box.
“Thanks,” she said.
I stretched my left leg inside first, then dove in. My back scraped against the roof, and I curled my spine as much as possible. I reached back to make sure the seat was folded down, and sank onto it. It felt like I was sitting on a spool of thread.
“See, no problem,” Jake said, pushing Chrystal’s seat back into position. It hit my shoulder and knocked me against the back wall of the cab. I pulled my feet in as much as possible, hoping I wasn’t stepping on Katie’s.
She giggled. “Like the ride?”
“I thought clown cars were bigger on the inside.”
“Don’t knock my wheels,” Jake said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror.
“Thanks for the corsage.” Katie had opened the box and put the thing on her wrist. It was bigger than her hand.
“Nice dress,” I said, which was a total lie. I would have preferred her basketball uniform over this. This normally cute girl looked like a robot dressed in aluminum ruffles.
Do you have any other ways that you get rid of "I?" Share your secrets in the comments.