You are not someone who cares about the lore in your fiction, are you?
You are ready to explore. You are looking for meaning and you want interesting experiences.
Well, this is the second person point of view (POV) for you: non-traditional, exploratory, meaningful, and interesting.
It also looks a bit like an ad for an over-the-top travel agent or a self-help book, doesn’t it? There is a reason for this, and we’ll get to that later. But first, I have a little riddle for you …
Is this blog post written from a second person perspective?
By now you know I use the word “you” a lot. In fact, many bloggers address their readers personally as “you”. Is our writing suitable for second person POV?
As you may have guessed, The answer is no.
Certainly, I am speaking to you as an audience. But there’s always a protagonist in this story, and that’s me, in first person. I am the person behind this post.
What is the second person point of view?
Let’s start with a definition of the second person point of view.
In fiction, second-person POV uses the perspective of a single character, the protagonist, to tell the story. This character is well defined, with unique habits, traits and personality. The reader is simply placed “behind” this character, seeing and experiencing the world through their eyes, body and mind.
Need a second person example? It looks like this:
Finally, you go up the stairs to the street. You think of Plato’s pilgrims coming out of the cave, from the shadow world of appearances to things as they really are, and you wonder if it is possible to change in this lifetime.
– Jay McInerney, “Bright Lights, Big City”
As you can see, there is no “I” in this second person example. There may be a “he” or “him” whenever the protagonist interacts with someone, but your primary pronouns are “you”, “your” and “yours”.
For this reason, it is a bit difficult to create a variety of sentence structures in this POV. Starting every sentence with “you” can get old quickly.
If you are trying to use the second person POS, beware of this problem. You can alternate pronouns by writing about items and other characters in your protagonist’s environment. For example, here is an excerpt from Italo Calvino’s film “If a winter’s night a traveler:”
Adjust the light so as not to strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you get absorbed in reading you won’t be upset. Make sure that the page is not in the shade, a coagulation of black letters on a gray background, uniform like a pack of mice …
The good and the bad of writing in the second person
The second person POV places the reader as the protagonist. This means that she is “forced” to act and think in ways that might not be genuine to her.
If you, as a writer, are successful, this POV creates instant and complete empathy between the reader and the protagonist. He makes every thought and action his own and evokes emotional responses from his instincts.
If you are unsuccessful, reading this POV can be a very boring experience for your audience.
Writing in the second person means walking a thin line. When you write in this POV, you are very clearly trying to manipulate the thoughts and emotions of the reader. Not all readers will like this strategy.
But it is okay! All good writing manipulates the reader’s emotions; consider how we connect with characters like Holden Caulfield and Harry Potter. After looking at the world through their eyes in a limited third-person POV, no one can resist feeling for them – even though Holden is a pretty unkind character. This intimacy is emotional manipulation at its literary best.
The challenge from the second person perspective is to manipulate your reader’s thoughts and impressions without forcing feelings and emotions where they don’t belong. You want it to feel natural, and not to force your reader out of the story with too much effort.
How do you master this balance? By reading great examples from a second person perspective, testing it in your own writing, and sharing your work with others for feedback and advice. A partner or editorial responsibility group will be invaluable in exploring this POS.
When should you choose second person POS?
There is no such thing as a perfect genre or type of work for a second-person POV story, although the author Rebecca demarest suggests that this perspective works best in short stories or “scattered chapters” of a longer manuscript.
This POV seems to work particularly well when an author reflects the Zeitgeist. By speaking in the second person, the author can hold up a mirror of society, revealing particular emotions, actions and nuances of the time.
A great example of this use is “Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas”.s “ by Tom Robbins. He captures the crash of an American dream and the economic turmoil of the early 90s:
As far as you are concerned, the real fun stopped in the eighties. Before your time. At that time, someone in your place could make a lot of money. Giant money. You read about it, dreamed about it, all through college. As is typical of your luck that when you were finally able to poach your golden eggs, the goose had a hysterectomy.
The majority of the audience can relate to these hot topics, so it’s a good bet for an exploration of character, society, and empathy.
Other popular places to use the second person perspective are poetry, interactive fiction, and choose your own stories.
Will you try to write in the second person?
Try the second person POS. See what playing with that perspective can do for your writing, whether it’s in a new story or adjusting the perspective in a story you’ve already written.
It won’t suit all writers or all stories, but you might find that you like to write in the second person.
This is an updated version of a story that was posted previously. We update our articles as often as possible to make sure they are useful to our readers.
Photo via Joyseulay / Shutterstock