I'm jumping back again to an older post I hadn't gotten around to finishing, but, since I was just talking about Picasso here, I figured I'd go back to the post that inspired the Picasso comment and finish it up.
But let's get into some history, first:
Picasso showed skill and interest in art at an early age, so much so that his father started him on formal training at age seven, much to the detriment of his regular school work. Picasso was admitted into the advanced class at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona at just 13. Not only was he much younger than the average student of that level, but he completed the entrance exam in just one week, a process that usually took an entire month. At 16, Picasso was admitted into Madrid's Royal Academy of San Fernando, Italy's most prestigious art school.
All of that to say that Picasso was no slouch in the art department. He was classically trained and, possibly, the greatest classical artist of his day. The problem was that it bored him. He wanted to do something new and different, and that lead to experimentation and the development of many new art styles, especially Cubism. Cubism was born from a desire to go where no other artist had gone before not because Picasso couldn't draw. So to speak.
Of course, there were two responses to Cubism:
1. People hated it. Especially traditionalists. It was viewed as trash that no "respectable" artist would even deign to recognize. They didn't understand it.
2. People loved it. It was new and exciting, something that had never been done before. They didn't understand it, either, but they tried to. People are still arguing over what Picasso's paintings mean.
Of course, the most important response to Picasso, other than the group trying to ignore he existed, was to imitate him. After all, it looked easy enough. Just paint some weird stuff that people couldn't understand, and you had it, right? No, not really. Most of what ended up happening was people painting weird crap that was just crap. Some of the crap was good enough, though, especially when it was all new and exciting, that it got elevated to art status, too.
Sometimes, the imitation was from people that could actually do "real" art ("real" art being art that's not just weird stuff that no one understands because it really has no meaning). These were people that saw Picasso as a visionary and wanted to follow after him. There is, after all, skill involved, even if the result is something that's weird. However, some of the imitation was by people that used Picasso as their reason to not bother to know how to do "real" art at all. They saw Picasso as the short cut. Basically, these are the people that were looking at Picasso and thinking, "That's crap. I can do that. And look at how much money that guy's making!" And they went about making crap and trying to get rich from it. Some of them did, of course. Most of them did not.
Which brings me to writing and the cult of 1st Person that's going on these days.
Over the centuries, fiction writing has mostly happened in 3rd person. I suppose it developed that way because it seems more logical. You're telling a story about someone that's not you, so you tell it that way, "that way" being 3rd person. [Interestingly enough, the book that's most widely considered the first (Western) novel, Pamela, is written in 1st person.] From that perspective (the centuries of 3rd person writing perspective), I can understand the attraction to writing in 1st person, especially 1st person present; it feels new and exciting!
However, 1st Person is the new Cubism in that people are using it as a short cut to actually knowing how to write. The idea that you can write it from the perspective of your character is very attractive, because, if you make mistakes, you can chalk it up to being "the way the character talks." And, since it's 1st person, the whole thing is "the way the character talks." It's a nice bit of sleight-of-hand, and other people who don't know the rules (the readers) often fall for it.
I didn't really really become aware of this issue until I started teaching the creative writing class that lead to this (yes, go back and read that post if you haven't already). Their very first assignment was to introduce me to a character. I used the first of my Tib stories, "The Tunnel" (hopefully, this will be available again soon (I'm waiting for art)), as my example of character introduction. "The Tunnel" is written in 3rd person; everything I got back was 1st person (which wasn't a problem in and of itself). But that's not what did it. One of the stories I got back introduced about five different characters, and they were all written in 1st person, and the author hadn't included any cues in the story to let the reader know that we'd switched to some other character. Much discussion followed.
And this is when I became aware that everything they (they being the kids in my class (minus my son, because he's reading a different class of books)) were reading was YA stuff written in 1st person. But it was really through blog interactions that I realized that the reason everything they were reading was in 1st person was because it's just all in 1st person these days. And 1st person present on top of everything else. And that's when I started understanding why I kept coming across comments like, "That's just how my character talks" on various blogs.
It really hit me, though, when I looked at a couple of writing samples from a couple of people. Both were written 1st person present, and both were full of grammar and punctuation errors, and, when I pointed them out, I got the "that's the way my character talks" response, but, when I looked at their blogs, I found out, no, that's just the way they wrote, and neither of them were interested in fixing the mistakes or learning how to not make those mistakes. Neither of those are blogs I follow anymore, because, really, I don't have time for people that are bad writers and blow it off as being the character, especially when their characters were not writing their blogs.
Personal responsibility, people!
And this is where it gets difficult. I don't actually have anything against 1st person writing. I mean, I wrote The House on the Corner (mostly) in 1st person. Of course, at the time, if I'd realized how endemic 1st person had become, I wouldn't have done it that way, but I was experimenting with what I remembered about The Pigman (you can read all about that here) and didn't realize that 1st person writing was taking hold of the marketplace. Which is why I have such an issue with 1st person writing.
No, not because it's everywhere; however, because it's everywhere, I see, more and more, how many people are using it as an excuse to allow sloppy writing and brushing it off as just being the character. And I'm not just talking about independently published works, because the problem is rampant in traditionally published works, too.
Percy Jackson: I only read the first one of these, but there's very little chance I'll go back and read anymore of them. Riordan used the fact that it was 1st person to have his character tell us what we should believe about him as a person but used the action to tell us a different story about the character. The two things were at odds with each other, yet we were supposed to believe what the character said about himself for no better reason than he said to.
Miss Peregrine (which I reviewed here) also does the same thing with the character telling us what to believe even when his actions don't support those things. It's just sloppy, lazy writing.
I'd give more examples, but I have not been overly inclined to read any more of the current generation of 1st person YA books coming out. My experience, thus far, has not been a positive one. Add to that the fact that people want to use their 1st person storytelling as an excuse for bad grammar (and I'm sure I'm gaining a reputation for my stance on grammar and punctuation), and I'm not in favor of 1st person writing. It's just not where people should start their writing careers.
I understand the attraction. I do. It's so easy to just write away and believe that you're writing from the standpoint of your character rather than yourself; it's a problem in 3rd person, too (in fact, I'm reading a book in 3rd person, right now, in which none of the characters are distinguishable from each other), but the temptation is so much stronger in 1st, because everything you write is that one character, and it's easy to fall into the trap that that voice you're writing in is your character's instead of your own. At least, with 3rd person, you have the ability to distinguish between the narration and the dialogue.
At any rate, I'm ready for the fad of lazy 1st person writing to slip past us. I'm also waiting for editing to make a comeback. Seriously. I was just reading an article on CNN last week about how copy editing is one of the quickest shrinking fields, right now. Properly edited work is considered "too expensive," so publishers are cutting costs by letting their editors go.
But that's not an excuse for those of us in the "indie" publishing world to do the same. In fact, it's every reason to rise above the mainstream. Show you care enough about your writing to know how to do it. And, if you don't know how to do it, get help from someone that does. Don't let your 1st person writing be your excuse for bad grammar and lousy punctuation.