Not for everybody

An email this a.m. from a colleague referring me to an online thread with multiple posts on the use of third person vs. first person.
First person, third person, for me any argument seems silly. The writer writes it the way it seems to need to be written, and it may work for some and not for others, but that’s always the way with everything. Back in the day when I was working for a living, I soon realized that 20% of any reader group wasn’t going to like it, no matter what it was. Stand on any street corner, I would say to people, and hand out $20 bills. You’ll find 20% of the people won’t go for the offer. They’ll know there’s some nefarious scheme involved and refused to be tricked.
The tense, like other conventions in fiction, tends to disappear in direct proportion to the depth of the reader’s engagement in the story. Writing fiction is in one sense very much like a magic trick, the kind of magic that practitioners call close work, where the cards or coins or whatever seem to appear and vanish not on some distant stage, but right there under your nose, over a dinner table or standing at a bar. You can smell the magician’s aftershave, but damned if you know how the queen of hearts turned out to be the card when you were the one that did the choosing.
To someone who knows the two-handed pass, the answer is simple (isn’t the answer in both magic tricks and fiction always, more or less, simple?). The artistry is making the two-handed pass transparent, so deft it disappears. And so it is with fiction, making the story and character (always a blend as tightly wound as strands of DNA) so agile, nimble, dextrous and proficient in the telling that the language, the tense, the words and punctuation — all the elements of the two-handed pass — become transparent, disappear, and all that’s left is the effect, the magic.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, only that you stumble across the doorway, perhaps the one in the ivy-covered stone wall in the Hermann Hesse novel, the entrance to the Magic Theatre, and you step through, ignoring the warning: Not For Everybody.

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