I Know What I Said But…

Until yesterday, the way I organized my writing was horrible. I had a series of finalized folders up to various dates, each one of them holding writing from different periods, each period organized in a different way. The main categories were Fiction, Poetry/Songs, and Essays & Other. But within each folder was a bewildering bunch of different folders classifying works in various different ways, and all in all, it was a horrible useless mess to track, to dig through, and to manage in general.

So I sat down and rearranged most of it in a few hours yesterday afternoon. I made genre folders, as above: fiction, verse (which includes songs), drama (for the one play I’ve written, in Korean), and essays. I’m not actively working on any plays or essays beyond what I write for Cahoots, so I only really reorganized the contents of the verse and fiction folders in any elaborate fashion. The structure of each is similar: there are a series of folders containing things which I am currently drafting, currently reviewing after drafting, currently have submitted for critique, currently am revising in post-crit, things that I am planning to send out in the immediate future, things I have sent out and are now pending submissions, old drafts which I am thinking of reworking substantially, interesting notes and sketches I have accumulated over the years, less-interesting notes and sketches that I am retaining mostly for archival purposes, and juvenilia /other abandoned projects.

The folder names for the various projects in different active stages have also been altered to indicate the type of piece it is, using one of the following strings of text: “Novel”, “FF” (Flash Fiction), “SS” (Short Story), and of course the all-too-common and self-explanatory “Novella” and “Novelette”.

Now that it’s all organized, my writing folder is much easier to navigate, and back up. I am feeling quite happy about this. I have, as mentioned recently, seven pieces in my “ready to send out” folder, and the other day I picked up/refilled some ink cartridges so that I can print some manuscripts to send out. Whee!

I also got some writing done. Now, I know what I said recently — that my East Asian Superheroes story would be the next project I’d be completing — but while tidying the drive, I ran across what I found to be a wonderful little sketch of a very vague idea I had about some Asians (a Thai woman and an Indian man) working for an NGO in a poor, war-ravaged, desolate land called… well, in the draft, it was Appalachia. I’ve made some significant changes, such as moving it to the 2nd person, and I’m now at almost 3000 words. I’m hoping to sew it up in only 1500 words more (see the progress meter for the story, “The Wager”, in the sidebar for this page), but at the moment, I have no idea how I will do that. Still, I am hoping to finish this before the weekend, and then I’ll add it to my “to send for crit” folder.

A snippet for the curious follows in the “read more” section:

All you’ve seen for all those hours you’ve been heading north are automated shipping trucks, with quaint and oddly-shaped plastiron bodies, going north past burned out farmhouses and huge clouds of dust. At least if you sighted a few people you could ask: “Internet? Do you know where I can get a wireless uplink?? But you haven’t seen a soul, and you have no clues. You’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

Still, you’re happy to be at a crossroads, to have some choice. Even if there is no sign that says, WIFI: 10 MILES EAST. Rajiv seems pleased, too. He brakes the jeep and turns to you. His eyes are so big, so deep and the color of the tea your mother used to serve on wintry Chiang Mai afternoons. His wide lips curl upward at the ends, and he sniffs softly. “Well, Priya,? he says softly, and you shiver a little hearing him say your name so directly, rolling the “r? as he says it. “What now??

His dark face in the morning light has a kind of glow around it. You want just to kiss him right now, hard and quietly as the sun climbs slow above the cradle of the mountains. Even if you know his short, curly beard will scratch prickle against your face a little. Even if it’s nothing like what you imagined your first kiss with him might be like.

So you lean forward, towards him, and touch your lips to his, and for a moment, this whole stupid wager and your plans and worries all float away, lost in the middle of all that dust on the wind.

6 thoughts on “I Know What I Said But…

  1. I’m curious as to the motivation to write something in 2nd person. The general advice I’ve seen/heard about using 2nd person is “Don’t,” unless you’re writing “Chooose Your Own Adventure” stories or some such thing. However, I’m sure you must have some strong reasoning behind your choice; under what conditions do you think 2nd person is a good choice?
    (I’m not trying to imply any criticism here–I sincerely am wondering when using 2nd person works better than the traditional 3rd and 1st, especially as–given the bias against 2nd person–you’re going to have to work harder in the story to justify your choice of POV. I am a seeker of knowledge and wisdom.) ;-)

  2. I’m not really sure I know any more than you. I do know that the traditional advice is conservative, and that I want to experiment. I suspect that I felt that since I think Darko Suvin’s observation that SF is, at its best, all about “cognitive estrangement”, sticking the reader into a head that is simultaneously very sympathetic to the reader’s society (or the society which the reader feels the most attachment to, since I assume most readers will be [North] American), and yet very different from the reader — the head of a Thai NGO worker in a ravaged America — will be quite estranging.

    It’s also in part an experiment for me to play with the voice and see how 2nd person actually works, what tricks make it work better, and so on. I tend to find the advice of people, when it’s as general as “Don’t do it!”, usually reflects difficulty, not a real rule. (I tell students the same thing about the semicolon.) This makes me want to try and experiment with whatever is declared verboten, so that I can see how to make it work, since, obviously, it exists for a reason. :)

    What I’ve found so far is that one ends up using a lot fewer pronouns than in 1st or 3rd person, and that one must choose the right character for the job. That, and that there must be a seres of things the reader can relate to, followed by something a bit more estranging, and that a cycle of these can work well.

  3. There are reasons behind the advice not to use 2nd person–I just summed them up with the “Don’t.” I am all for experimentation, and I’m interested in seeing how this turns out for you.
    I don’t know that 2nd person puts you in the head of someone else, though. 1st person generally works better for that, if only because we identify ourselves as an “I” and not a “you.” 2nd person creates more distance, because you are automatically setting up a distinct narrator and the “me” character as being separate, and I think, creates distrust, because someone is telling “me” what I’m thinking and doing and I am constantly stopping and pulling away from the story to question that. Easier in 1st person to get into someone’s head b/c there is only that single “I” in which I the reader can immerse myself in.
    Anyway, it is quite a challenge to see if you can pull it off. Good luck. Definitely send it ’round the list when you’re done.

  4. Tinatsu,

    You’re right, there definitely are reasons behind the often-given advice to avoid 2nd person. I was just commenting that most of the time, when a teacher gives blanket advice to avoid something, it’s because it’s hard. (Which is usually why I avoid giving blanket advice in advanced-level courses in essay-writing, but very often give it in Beginner- and Intermediate-level courses.

    As for the specifics… yes, you’re right that 2nd person certainly involves the risk of vaulting the reader out of the story. It’s this weird thing where I’m setting up a character whom I think can suck readers in, and with whom they can identify, but there are also a series of dislocations set up to jeopardize that identification. In some sense, I am playing a game of chicken with the reader’s sense of identity, or something.

    The things working in my favour are that (a) she’s a relatively sympathetic outsider in America, meaning she’s kind of the apologist for the Americans in the story, which I think wins her some readerly sympathy, and (b) she’s a woman. I don’t know for sure that female readers will identify with her that well — that depends on how well I get her voice down — but you can be sure that male readers will have enough interest to overlook the dislocations because, really, male readers are fascinated with what goes on in female heads, and that interest might well override a lot of the alienation they feel.

    There’s also a funny thing going on in the dynamic about “distinct narrators”, which is interesting. I don’t really conceive of the story having a narrator distinct from the “you” in the story, which would be the first person “I”. The way I’m writing it is less as if a narrator is telling “you” that you do something, and more as if you are telling yourself what you’re doing… as if it’s an act of self-perception in the act of doing X, Y, and Z. In fact, I drafted a lot of it in 1st person, and when I went back over it, shifting it to 2nd person, I found that I wasn’t just changing pronouns and verbs — in fact, I was restructuring whole sentences to avoid pronouns altogether, which in itself is interesting.

    Who knows, though. It could be a grand and awful failure. I have a feeling that if it is, the story won’t be all that salvageable. But that’s okay. Short stories are for experimenting. As Ian MacLeod said to me, “You can crash the plane and walk away in one piece, unlike when you get to page 100 in a novella and realize you’ve messed it all up.”

    I definitely will send it to the list sometime, but I think, with this story, it will have to sit for a while and stew, and then I’ll get out the sandblaster and polish it and shine it up before inflicting it on y’all. I’ll have other stuff, old things never-submitted-anywhere, which I’ll be revising in the next few months, and that’ll probably be better reading till I get around to a second pass on this story anyway.

  5. oh boy–the 2nd person discussion thread! :) i experimented with this POV for a bit last year, and learned that with 2nd person, you immediately lose half your audience. (just a ton of readers out there who HATE the 2nd person).

    so as long as you can accept that fact, go ahead with the 2nd person.

    on the other hand, it is a very experimental voice, and there is definitely something fresh about it, too.

  6. Heh. I used to play free jazz and compose atonal (or at least, post-tonal) music. I think I can deal with occasionally alienating part of my audience, especially in a short piece, for the benefit of an experiment. :)

    We’ll see if it pans out.

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