“Every story is first person, whether the speaker identifies himself or not.” James Moffett
Just as you recognise a good friend’s laughter across a loud and crowded party, readers instantly recognise your voice in a story or novel. Your writing voice is unique. It stands out.
Sometimes readers will say they like your style—what they’re really saying is they like what you have to say. Is it fun? Radical? Full of hope, or edged with darkness?
Portraits and landscapes
In first person stories, you character will take on your unique voice in his throat—in his narration, his dialogue, everything. In third person, you as the author step outside the frame of the story and let the characters carry your voice from page to page. It is still your voice. Think of it this way. Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear would be first person and Starry Night would be third person. Both remain unmistakably Van Gogh pieces.
When you write in your real voice, it has power. The writing flows better. It makes people sit up and take notice. When you write a story or a novel, you’re really just having a conversation with them. It won’t matter if you use first or third person if you don’t have anything to say.
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom.
Vincent van Gogh created many self-portraits during his lifetime. In most cases Van Gogh’s self-portraits are depicting the face as it appeared in the mirror he used to reproduce his face, i.e. his right side in the image is in reality the left side of his face.
This portrait brilliantly illustrates it. It was painted in January of 1889 just weeks after part of Van Gogh’s ear was cut off. His right ear is bandaged in the portrait though in reality the wound was to his left ear.
The precise chain of events that led to the celebrated incident of van Gogh slicing off his ear is not known reliably in detail. It is said he cut off his own earlobe following a violent argument with fellow painter Paul Gauguin. The only account attesting a supposed razor attack on Gauguin comes from Gauguin himself some fifteen years later, and biographers agree this account must be considered unreliable and self-serving. It does seem likely, however, that by 23 December 1888 van Gogh had realised that Gauguin was proposing to leave and that there had been some kind of dispute between the two. That evening van Gogh severed his left ear (wholly or in part, accounts differ) with a razor, causing a severe haemorrhage. He bandaged his wound and then wrapped the ear in paper and delivered the package to a brothel frequented by both him and Gauguin before returning home and collapsing. He was found unconscious the next day by the police and taken to hospital. The local newspaper reported that van Gogh had given the ear to a prostitute with an instruction to guard it carefully.