For the uninitiated, said workshops exist for people to come together and critique each other’s work. Critiquing, of course, is the process of having your story dismissed, categorised and assaulted by a room full of strangers. In other words, it’s like being called up on stage and having your pants pulled down in front of an audience.
When it is done right, a story told in the first-person plural can hold incredible power. In this craft essay, we take a look at successful uses of this point of view and some of its common pitfalls.
“If the first-person plural tries to be too sweeping, if it does not acknowledge its own subtleties, it can miss the mark.”
Here at The Masters Review, we often see trends among submissions. During any given reading period, patterns emerge: sometimes, there are a remarkable number of stories with surreal elements; lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of pieces about drones; for one anthology, we received an uncanny number of stories that involved fish hooks. One of the most interesting trends to identify, however, is the popularity of specific points of view. For a while, we received an enormous amount of stories told in the second person (and we still get a bunch of these). But what we have been noticing a lot of lately (and loving) is fiction told in the first-person plural. Authors are embracing the collective voice—“us” and “we”—to tell tales about group experience.
I am Norma Dunning. I am a beneficiary of Nunavut; my ancestral ties lie in the village of Whale Cove. I have never been there. My folks left the North shortly before my birth. I am southern Inuk, born and raised.
I am a writer. I have always been a writer. I would dream of publishing my writing, but it was easier and safer not to. I kept all of it in a drawer. I would think about publishing, and then I would think about the process of publishing. As an Indigenous, female writer I didn’t want to take it. I didn’t want to take the criticism.
The first time I watched my own fiction writing coming out of a printer, I could not believe it. The printer belonged to the library of a well-known liberal arts college in New York, and it was weird for me to even be there. I was an Italian girl alone in the United States, and I was about to show that same writing to a bunch of students who would then give me feedback. All this, of course, would take place in English.
Maybe this does not sound like a big deal. That is how every creative writing workshop works and, in the end, the feedback I got was not bad at all. I can remember the story I read and most of what was said by my classmates. I went home happy, but my initial worries were absolutely legitimate. I had been reading books in English for a long time and I was pursuing a degree in English language and literature, but I had always written in Italian. Writing in another language was a completely new challenge.
Canadian literary magazine PRISM international aims to publish the best contemporary fiction, creative non-fiction, translation, drama, and poetry from around the world. While its pages have featured such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Carver, and Seamus Heaney, most of the work it publishes is unsolicited, and many writers whose first publication appeared in PRISM international have gone on to critical acclaim. PRISM’s Prose EditorChristopher Evans discusses what he’s learned about editing a literary magazine, from a writer’s POV.