Saturday, February 17, 2007

Help for writers who suffer from 'I' disease

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The first batch of stories from my magazine class this fall will invariably have a few people who write their articles in the first person.

What's wrong with that? Well, the biggest problem is that relatively few magazine pieces are written in first person, relatively few of the students writing these pieces have authorative voices to speak on the topics of which they write, and beyond that, well, it's just darned annoying to look across a 25-paragraph story and see "I" cropping all over the place.

The record in my teaching came several years ago when a writer used "I" 47 times in a 500-word story - and complained that the 500-word limit was too restricting. No disagreement here, so when his paper was returned to him, my note pointed out that he had 47 more words to work with right away. He wasn't amused.

In byline writing, the reason to avoid referring to yourself is that it's redundant. Your name is already attached to the article. So to say, "I saw the room was full of cats," is unnecessary. Instead, the writer should simply say, "The room was full of cats." (That would save two words.)

The cure for "I" disease is simple: don't use "I" unless there is absolutely no way around it.

But what about a first-person story? OK, a few first personal pronouns are ok, but very few.

At least that's what I say.