|Some of my books; I feel very blessed!|
"You're a known entity in nonfiction now," he says.
"Women's inspirational nonfiction is your brand."
"You'd have to write under a pseudonym so not to confuse your readers."
"No publisher would take the chance."
Yet rarely a week goes by that I don't get an e-mail from a reader asking when the third book in the Emma-Lee trilogy will come out.
Sigh. Is switch-hitting really so very taboo?
More often than not, when I'm asked to lead a workshop at a writing conference, the topic requested is related to fiction. And I love it. Although I'm not actively writing fiction at the moment (just signed a new contract for another nonfiction book), I'm constantly studying the craft and skill-growing so that on that fateful day in the future when I return to my roots, I'll be ready.
So what I want to cover today is something aspiring authors often ask me about. It's a very good question and somewhat controversial. It's about switch-hitting too, but in a different way. It generally applies more to fiction, but can also apply to creative nonfiction (my forte) as well. Are you ready? Here's the question: Can you switch from first person to second person or third person and back again all in one body of work?
I've heard esteemed and ultra-learned writing teachers answer unequivocally NO to that question, and I've seen others equally pedigreed grin and shrug their shoulders.
So what are your thoughts on the matter, friend?
I've tended to fall more into the first category in theory but the second in practice. It's true that traditional English teachers preach hellfire and brimstone against the practice, but it's also true that many published writers do it and do it quite effectively. The thing is, it has to be skillfully accomplished or it becomes what I call an eyeball wall - it stymies flow and makes the reader stumble or even stop altogether to figure out what just happened ... the death knell for keeping the reader turning pages. And certainly the pox for getting an editor interested in publishing your book.
Then last night as I was reading my Bible, I came across the perfect example in this well known passage that switches perspective beautifully and seamlessly. So much so that you and I have never noticed:
Psalm 23 (NASB)
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." (starting out in first person) Now look what happens:
"He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (third person) Then we bounce back again:
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;" (back to first person) But whoa, what's this?
"For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou dost preprare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.; Thou has anointed my head with oil;" Hey, did we just hop to second person in the middle of a first person sentence? But we're not finished switch-hitting yet ...
"My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Ta-Da! Will you look at that - a triumphant first person ending! Beautifully written and beloved by countless millions after David, the psalmist who was inspired by THE Author of all authors, hopped around personhood perspectives like his feet were afire.
So that's the answer I'll go with. Switch-hitting is okay if and only if you're the reigning king of Israel and have slain a giant with a slingshot.
Switch-hitting is good. It's rich. It's powerful. As long as you're clever and skilled enough to use it subtly and effectively.
Now I just have to convince my agent.