Note, or maybe warning: I know what you’re thinking. Geeze, O’Shea, you put up nothing for better than a month, now two posts in a week? We just don’t know what to expect from you, old sport. So here’s the deal. Henceforward, Wednesday is blog day. Once a week, every week. I promise. Now on to your entry.
The latest issue of NEEDLE showed up yesterday. Always a thrill, but especially so when I’ve got a story in it. If you flip all the way to the back, you’ll find my offering, The Shroud of Turin. Being the narcissistic bastard I am, that’s the first thing I did.
I haven’t read that story for a long while. NEEDLE, being an actual print rag, has a longer lead time than its electronic brethren, and this being Steve Weddle’s special double-issue magnum opus, it’s been gestating for a good while. I think I sent him the story back in March, maybe April. Wrote it in February.
And here’s what jumped out at me (after the obligatory winces at a couple of edits I wish I’d made). I wrote it in second person. Forgot that. About that same time, Chuck Wendig interviewed me for his blog and made me start off with a story, which I also wrote in second person (and ended up liking so much that I cleaned it up, fleshed it out and added it to my collection, OLD SCHOOL, as the lead-off piece.) About that same time, I was messing with the idea of trying a whole novel in second person (an experiment that is, for now at least, on hold).
It seems that February was my second-person month, which, given the dearth of stuff written from that point of view, made it my month of writing dangerously. Now I’m looking back and trying to figure out why.
Here’s what I think.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I like to read my stuff out loud. Not just read it, actually. Talking to myself is often part of my drafting process. If you had a webcam on me when I’m in the throes of a draft, here’s what you’d see. Me tapping away, rocking back and forth in my chair (I tend to rock while I write, don’t ask me why). Then, every so often, you’d see me pop out of my chair and start walking around the room telling a chunk of the story out loud, talking it through. And, lots of times, no matter what person I’m writing the draft in, that self-narration starts out in second person.
Maybe it’s the day job leaking through. That’s mostly technical financial writing these days, but I used to do a fair bit of ad copy, collateral copy, brochures and what not. And I’d always try to start with you, with the client, with whatever challenge or opportunity was driving the communication. Establish a little rapport, prove we understood their business, build some trust.
Empathy, I guess, that’s what the you is for, that’s second person.
But in fiction writing, in choosing it as a point of view, it goes further. It actually makes the reader the protagonist.
Which you’d think would be great. For the two stories I’m talking about it worked. But, in both cases, it was an unconscious choice. When Chuck said, “tell me a story” I just started telling the story that became The Summer of Fishing in second person. The Shroud of Turin didn’t start as a story, just a riff, just an image that popped into my head that I wanted to get down on paper before it went away, so I opened a new doc and started typing and the first words that came out were “Used to be you had a job,” and, as it goes sometimes, when I took a breath a couple hours later, I had a draft of a story in the can. A story told in second person.
Yet when I decided to try a novel in second person, it ended up feeling forced, affected. I’d find myself unconsciously switching to third person. (I have to admit that third person is my go-to voice for novel writing just because it makes it so much easier to bake in new characters, new plot lines.)
Also this. The Shroud of Turin in some ways ended up being a first draft, or really an alternate reality draft, for Done for the Day, a story I wrote a couple months later for Tom Pluck’s Protectors anthology, a story that dealt with similar themes, but which is told in first person. Started that out in second person, too, but ended up feeling like I was just repackaging what I’d already written, realized this was a new story and it needed a new voice.
I’m not sure what the point of all this is. Maybe that second person only works in short fiction, at least for me. Maybe that it’s really more of a drafting tool, a way to start, a way to connect with an imaginary reader, one that you can swap out for a more conventional point of view once you get rolling. Except I can’t imagine either of the stories I wrote in second person back in February working in any other point of view.
Or maybe it’s this. We’ve all got our favorite tools, favorite voices, familiar patterns we fall in to out of habit. But every so often we need to get off the leash, jump the fence, go out and roll around in some of that funny smelling stuff we’ve always looked a little sideways at. Because sometimes it works.
Or maybe February was just my month of writing dangerously.
If you’re interested, you can listen to The Shroud of Turin and Done for the Day to compare tales on the same theme told from different points of view. And you can read the first draft of what turned into The Summer of Fishing at the beginning of my interview over on Chuck Wendig’s TERRIBLEMINDS.
And nobody’s gonna complain if you actually BUY a copy of NEEDLE (c’mon, 24 ass-kicking stories for what you were gonna drop at Starbucks anyway).
Or if you want to pony up for THE PROTECTORS, 41 stories, including contributions from guys like Pelecanos, Vachss and Lansdale, with all proceeds going to Protect, the National Association for the Protection of Children. (Hey, it’s less than five bucks and fits in a stocking.)
Or even if you want to pick up a copy of my short fiction collection, OLD SCHOOL, where you can find the final version of The Summer of Fishing. Also cheap, and it’s an e-book, so it will fit in anything, even one of those ankle socks.