“He who is afraid to to use an ‘I’ in his writing will never make a good writer.” -Lin Yutang
I recently came across this quote in a book about hsiao-p’in poetry, describing how hsiao-p’in distinguished itself by being much more personal. Instead of tapping into the grand universal truths of the world, they looked inward into themselves, relating their world to the readers and creating a much more intimate prose. I think it could work incredibly well for any form of writing, even on a more abstract level. If you’re too afraid to inject some of yourself into your words, your words will likely be lifeless and bland, with no spark or intrigue.
When it comes to writing personal pieces, like essays or memoirs, infusing the “I” is easy. In fact, it’s pretty much necessary if you want to create a piece that moves an individual and makes it memorable. But what about with fiction pieces, especially in the realm of the fantastic? How do you put yourself into a tale about mythical beings or wild space aliens or clever capable heroes that are pretty much everything you’re not?
Everyone’s heard the old “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” bit, and there’s a pretty good kernel of truth in that. Infuse an “I” into the writing by relating to your characters, stepping into their shoes, and bringing your own unique experiences and emotions into the story. I know I’m guilty for sometimes just creating a character for the sake of the character, but they only get interesting when I stop thinking of them as an idea and start thinking of them as a person. And it’s all well and good to challenge yourself to write characters beyond the scope of your experience (not to mention a lot of fun!), but when you get right down to it, the characters that probably stick the most are the ones that you’re able to write with an awful lot of “I.”
My biggest problem with infusing more “I” into my stories is that I’m afraid I’m just not very interesting. If I take a little longer, though, to realize what I’ve been through and the unique perspective I actually do bring to the table, the confidence in myself surges just a little bit more. And then I think about how all of my favorite stories involve characters who, on the surface, are fairly average like myself, but it’s the completely personal and all-encompassing way in which they are written that makes them so superb.