Come to Your Own Conclusions

I don’t like being told how to feel, and I don’t want to tell a reader how to feel. When I’m reading a piece of fiction and I feel like the author was trying to force a specific feeling on me, I get mad. I generally stop reading. I realize this is somewhat immature, because aren’t most stories built with the idea that they’re going to make me feel something?

When I write, I write in third person. First-person works best, I think, when the reader is meant to relate to the word through one character. I recently read The Hunger Games trilogy, which is in first person. As the readers, we’re obviously supposed to feel the world through Katniss’ experience of it — we’re supposed to relate to the cruelty and kindness of other characters as she feels those things. It’s not wrong. Obviously, it works pretty well for Collins.

But in the same way that I don’t want to tell the reader how a character looks — because it rarely has any bearing on the story what a character looks like — I don’t want to tell a reader how to feel about any character or institution in the story. Where I find a character to be a flat villain, another reader might see that character as a tragedy. I don’t want to force the reader to feel the same way about a character that I do. Maybe it means I’m doing it wrong.

For my writing, third person is the most effective way to share a story without getting too wrapped up in a single character’s thoughts and feelings.

(And much like with Highlander II, I shove my fingers in my ears and refuse to acknowledge that second person exists. Absolutely refuse.)

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.


  • Kevin Wohler says:

    I respectfully disagree. Not with your preferred point of view, but with your comments that description is unimportant to storytelling.

    I’m the first to admit I don’t include a lot of description, but it seems you’re advocating storytelling without any character description. That leads to cardboard, uninteresting characters that are a bore to read. Story is important, but a great story can’t survive without solid characters. Characters must realistic and relatable if readers are going to care about them.

    • Ashley says:

      It’s cool — everyone rolls their words differently. :D I think that’s what makes reading fun.

      I really don’t include much description of a character’s physical appearance unless it has some bearing on the plot or acton. For me, there’s nothing about how a character looks that helps me relate to them. I want to know how a character feels and how they respond to things happening. Whether character is dark-haired or tall or broad-shouldered doesn’t really offer anything to me.

      That said, there are tons of examples of physical appearance being fantastically used. So, you know — I could be totally wrong. :D

  • If I ignore Highlander II, I have to ignore every Highlander movie other than the original. I just can’t ignore that many bad movies.

    • Ashley says:

      I have actually never seen a Highlander movie — but my husband is in love with them. I stole that “Highlander II doesn’t exist,” thing from him.

      (Are they all pretty bad? I watched about four episodes of the TV show. It’s super special.)

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