Writers have three main options. You’ve got the first person in which a character within that story narrates the story. Then you’ve got the third person, in which the story is narrated by an authorial voice from Beyond the Narrative. Finally, you’ve got the second person. You sit on the chair and feel happy to address your beautiful viewers.
Most stories are told in either the first person or the third person. A second-person narrative isn’t the same as a second-person. Address many novels, address the reader directly without departing from a first or third-person perspective. For instance, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is still a first-person narrative. Occasionally you get a story narrated entirely in the second-person perspective. An example is David Foster Wallace’s short story forever overhead.
In writing a short story, Tom Bailey notes that the second person can be a powerful, fresh, and inclusive universalized point of view, able to create a felt empathetic effect. But he raises the following flag of caution. He says, We are somehow more aware that we’re in second person than first or third, which have the curious ability to disappear, leaving us more completely, more believably inside the dream of the narrative. So a second person is very rare.
How to write in second person point of view? (With Example)
The second-person perspective places the reader directly in the story by using the pronouns ‘You’ and ‘Your.’ First-person is told from the perspective of a character, and the third-person uses a separate narrator. In the second person, the reader is technically the character and is being told everything they think and do by the narrator. When it comes to the second-person perspective, there’s an immediacy that you get with a second person. The narration is naturally blunter than the first or third. The second person relies on trust between the narrator and the reader.
Since the reader is being told directly what they are thinking, saying, and doing, there’s a natural propensity to doubt what’s being said, especially if the reader disagrees with the character’s decision. Many readers will get turned off from a story if the second-person perspective character makes decisions they feel they wouldn’t make in those situations. You don’t have this with the first and third perspectives since the character is naturally different from the reader.
Though the reader might disagree with what the character is doing or thinking, it’s less of a problem because the character is a separate person. The second person also has this weird effect of amplifying the voice of the narrator. The narrator tends to have a fairly strong voice since the character and the narrator are the same. But the emphasis is almost always on the character’s role as a character and not as a narrator. Since they directly address the reader, the narrator almost becomes a character themselves and naturally has a different relationship with the reader. Then you get to other perspectives.
The second person is a strange and uncommon point of view. In the second person, the narrator tells you what you are doing, seeing, experiencing, etc. The second person can feel more novel than the first or third person. It can also feel more participatory for the reader since the narrator addresses them directly as active participants in the story rather than as passive observers. The audience is implicated in whatever happens in the story, good or bad. There are a few ways to approach storytelling from a second-person perspective.
First, ‘You’ and the story might be the proverbial ‘You’ as in any human. For example, when someone tells a story and says something like, You never know what’s going on in someone’s head, they don’t mean you. They mean in general. It’s often the way instructions are told. First, you lay out the bread, spread jelly on one half, then spread peanut butter on the other half, etc.
Another way to tell the stories is a series of commands to the reader. Lay out the bread, spread the jelly on half, then spread the peanut butter on the other half.
If your reader doesn’t like the commands you’re giving them, they might put your story down. The most common approach to second-person perspectives is as a back door. The narrator offers a hypothetical that tells you much more about the narrator.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the narrator gives more than general writing advice, offering details that not everybody can relate to. For example,
“In your high school English class, look at Mr. Killian’s face. Decide that faces are important. Write a villanelle about a pause struggle, write a sonnet, and count the syllables. Nine, ten, 11, 13. Decide to experiment with fiction.”
The inclusion of the English teacher’s name is telling. It’s not the story of a general writer becoming a writer, but rather this writer becoming a writer. You can use the same idea of using tells in your story to show that it’s a back door first person narrative. Being unique and rare does not exempt the second person from its share of obstacles.
However, one potential pitfall of the second person is that it can become repetitive. As you start every single sentence with you, you consider this example. One easy way to fix this is to cut out the use altogether. As in this revised version of that example.
“Sit at the table as crowds mill around the food court, sip your soda and, place the glass back down, wait for the waitress.”
However, as you can see, removing the user can make the tone commanding. To fix this, all you have to do is experiment with your sentence structure. Find the best way to communicate the idea without being too repetitive or creating a bossy narrator.
“The crowd mill around your table at the food court, sip your soda and place the glass back down. The waitress takes her time getting to you.”
In this latest edit, the tone could be more commanding. It is more likely to draw a reader into the story. Sitting at the table becomes a chance to look around. Sipping the soda becomes a stage direction. Waiting for the waitress becomes an observation of a dawdling service worker rather than a command. All the same, information is there. It’s rearranged to be more engaging.
In the second person, you can have a narrator that has their own motivations and their own goals. These motivations and goals can affect how they direct the reader through the story. Despite all these exciting features, consider writing in the second person. Is anybody going to pick up on the joke in that last sentence? If your goal is to write marketable fiction, then a second person is not a winning proposition. Most editors don’t like it. Most readers have never heard of it, and it dramatically reduces your chances of success.
Any book written in the second person will be judged heavily on that fact. The perspective would need to be an intrinsic, important, and meaningful part of the story, not only something done to be different. The second-person perspective can be novel and hypnotic, drawing the reader into a story that seems fresh and new. However, it can be a very challenging perspective to master. It’s less widespread and intuitive than the other perspectives, and only some readers are susceptible to its charms. Still, studying the second person as its challenges can be very enlightening. Happy story writing!
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