Point of View: Second Person

Wikipedia says:
The second-person narrative is a narrative mode in which the protagonist or another main character is referred to by employment of second-person personal pronouns and other kinds of addressing forms, for example the English second-person pronoun “you”.

An intriguing, difficult, sparsely used point of view, second person is also one of the least mentioned. I should probably also mention before I start that I don’t like this perspective much. It is at best hard and at worst impossible to sound natural writing in this viewpoint, and while it can be an effective tool in certain narrative situations (none of which come to mind right now…), I find the constant use of “you” pulls me out of the story. A lot of people (both readers and writers) would probably agree with me, but there are definitely those who don’t. Some of the most notable examples include Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) in Diary, Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City, and numerous short stories by  authors both famous and obscure. So, now that we’ve covered that, on to the actual subject.

The light that came through your window that morning was gray, sunlight filtered through the fog that had covered the town for over a month. But that morning, something felt different. You woke up instantly alert, as though someone had shouted your name, every cell tingling with a readiness for danger as adrenaline coursed through your blood. Mornings like that terrified you: something horrible and inescapable always seemed to follow.

Second person attempts to literally draw the reader into the story by placing them in the action. This allows a possible level of sympathy and empathy that the other points of view simply can’t match. The reader becomes the main character; the character’s problems become the reader’s, the losses and victories, the readers losses and victories. On the reverse side of this coin however, is the danger of alienating the reader. Because you’re making the reader the protagonist, they have to accept on some level that the character’s actions could reasonably be their own.

This is one of the other aspects that, personally, turns me away from second person in both books I read and ones I write. I find myself thrown out of the story entirely if “I” start saying and/or doing things completely contrary to my actual personality.

I’m sorry to say that because I have so little reading or writing experience in this style, I have nothing else to say about it. However, below are some links that may or may not prove useful to those who wish to learn more.

Novel Writing Help
The Writer’s Craft

See also: 
POV Overview
First Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Limited Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient

Excerpt copyright Erica Cameron.

3 thoughts on “Point of View: Second Person

  1. Sera Phyn

    Since I do that myself I can't really call you on it! 😉

    I know what you mean, though. Sometimes it's just fun to switch it up a little. I think second person can be somewhat intriguing in short bursts, but reading an entire novel in that voice isn't quite as appealing to me.

    And I can see why that's a popular post. Beautifully done! So much said in such a tight space. Brava!

  2. Sharon Longworth

    I try second person every now and then – more to bring a bit of variety to the blog than anything and I agree it's tough on both the writer and the reader.
    Just in case you're interested, the 'second person' piece people have liked best was one called 'Learning to Know'
    – oh dear, I sound like the worst sort of self-obsessed plugger of my own work now.

  3. Kamille Elahi

    I've used second person before but it's awfully difficult and I usually slip and end up writing in first or third. I read a book in second person once in class. I didn't like the book tbh.


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