Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Who's on First- or Second-Person?

One of the conundrums I continually run into while writing is which voice to assume.

I really admire writers who are able to incorporate personal stories and ideas seamlessly into their work in the first person.  Guys like John Eldredge, who is writing and talking and making his point, and then he just kind of pops this story in there - a story within a story - and switches over to the use of "I" and "me" and you barely even notice.  It just flows.

At the same time, you can't get stuck on the first person because at least in my genre, it's not memoir.  I don't write books about me; I write books about Love, as best as I can know Him and pray that somewhere in my words, you come to know Him, too.  Too much first person, and I feel like I'm getting in the way of the story I'm trying to tell.  I wouldn't want you to see too much of me.

On the other hand, every word I write is really a word I need to hear, and there are some days that if I don't put the "I" in there, at least while I'm drafting a chapter, the words I'm writing fly right past my heart on their way to my fingers, and then I feel like I'm writing the story but not doing a fantastic job of living it.

Still, though, I have to edit the I's out of the final copy because nobody wants to read letters I wrote to myself.  Not that I know of, anyway.

The second choice is second person, and that's to use whatever chance I get to write to "you."  You are, of course, the target audience.  These words are, in fact, what I'm hoping you will read and understand and invite into something you're doing.  It only makes sense to use the second person and generalize content to "you."

Or does it?  I don't know about you, but when someone is constantly talking to me (in second person), I feel kind of like they're lecturing.  I feel like they're talking down to me or at least talking across to me, and I'm a person who doesn't like to be talked to.  I prefer to be conversed with.  I prefer dialogue.

Then of course, there are those who use "you" and you feel like maybe they think they know better than you what your own life looks like.  You get the sense they feel far removed from the very things they're talking about, and you start to hear their voice in your head while you're reading (and you have a voice in your head while you're reading; we all do) like they think they're the expert.  Like they are generously trying to guide you through your own heart so you don't mess it up any further and by their great wisdom, they will do just that if "you" will listen to them.

There are a ton of books out there that claim to help you answer your life.  Those are not the kind of books that I write.  Because I don't have the answers.  A few, maybe, for me, but certainly none for you.  I'm not in your circumstances.  And when you start trying to generalize one answer to the answer, you leave a lot of wounded hearts in your wake, and I'm not willing to do that.  I write for the questions.  I write for the asking.  I write for the seeking, that maybe my readers won't be afraid to ask and won't be afraid to seek and will find somewhere the path that will point them toward their answers, which I can only pray is the Answer.

Thus, the second person isn't so simple as it seems.  We both know going into it that I, in the first person, am writing to you, in the second person, but if we get bogged down between you and I, that's just not the story.

Maybe the answer is we.  You and I.  Together.  There's certainly a place for that.

Actually, I love we.  I love the idea that in this story that we're building together (and that's how I see it), there's room for me, so that I get the message, too, and there's room for you, but you don't feel like you're all alone out there.  There's a we.  There's us - with the same questions, the same aches, the same longings, the same joys, the same sorrows, the same circumstances, the same life, the same world we're all living in.  There's a great place for we.

But then there's this: In some of my most pained, most honest, most seeking moments of my life, it's easy to read right past a "we" and think it doesn't apply to "me."  There are some words that have to be spoken straight to a heart so that those words are heard.  So that we hear them.

The best way to do that is with a "you."  Example:  God loves us.  Does that steady your trembling heart?  What if I tell you that God loves you.  That's the word.

And, of course, there are times that, if I'm ever able to do it as well as some of these guys I admire, I'd love to share a bit of my story with you, too.  Because truthfully, I can only speak for myself, and there are some incredible opportunities to put some skin on some things, and I have to do that with a "me" so that I can speak from a real experience.

So we're back to this again: I'm still learning the delicate balance of voice in my writing.  It's a little me.  It's a little you.  It's a whole lot Him.  There's a huge place for us.


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