POV Part 5 – What about Writing in 2nd Person?

second person point of view

Happy Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for each of you who stop by, visit, and read the posts here. Now to the week’s post…

First and third person POV’s are hands down the most common perspectives authors use. Often teens ask me, “Why not second person?” Because second person is using “you,” and generally your story is not about your reader, it’s about your characters.

Second person is common in our speech, but not in our writing. In fact, if you listen to teens speak, they will often refer to themselves in second person. It’s as if they want to talk about themselves but don’t want to be too obvious about it. For example, rather than saying, “I went to the movies this weekend, saw an awful show. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t.” They’ll say, “We went to the movies, and you know when you see a horrible show? You want to leave, but it’s weird to just get up, so you stay there.” Then everyone agrees because the speaker has used second person to pull their listeners in to their story, but readers don’t respond in the same way.

I’ve read one short story by Todd Strasser that is written entirely in second person. It’s available as an ebook as “The Vacation Crush of Squid Girl.” It’s also included in the anthology Thirteen StoriesIt’s a story about a teenager who has been dragged to a remote island for a “back to nature” vacation. She’s decidedly unhappy about the whole affair.

Here is an excerpt:

“In other words, you have been denied the minimum order wellbutrin from canada basic necessities for human survival. Only one thing will keep you from going totally psycho: the beach. At least you will go home tan. It would be too much to ask for boys.

Wait!

There’s a boy!

Under the hot orange sun, sitting on a towel on the flour-soft sand, you found him with Mom’s super bird-watcher binoculars.”

This excerpt reads like the teen girl is speaking the story about herself, but in second-person – very much like teens actually speak, so it works. The reader gets pulled into the narrative and imagines being on the beach without the basic necessities. It’s fun for a short story, but if it were to go on for an entire novel, it would get tiresome.

The only novels I am aware of in second-person are the Choose Your Own Adventure stories that are popular with elementary school kids. Do you remember those? You go on an adventure and then depending on the choice you make, you turn to specific pages. These novels draw the reader in as they become intimately involved in the story.

Second-person is never used in academic or professional writing. Its tone is much too casual.

To sum up, second-person POV reflects how people speak, and you can certainly use it effectively in dialogue. It has a casual tone, involves the reader in the story, and is relatively rare.

Have you ever written a story or a portion of a story in second person? if so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

2 Comments

  1. Monica on October 22, 2015 at 10:45 am

    I disagree that “Squid Girl” is technically second person, but is a colloquial use of the second-person pronoun to mimic casual speech and add to the sarcastic tone. It’s actually a first-person narrative using “you” instead of “I”. In every case one can substitute “I” in the text, which would not be true in a literal second-person narrative.

  2. Amy Isaman on October 22, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    That’s a good point, and actually I agree – thanks for your comment and pointing it out. I hadn’t thought about the story in that way, that you can substitute first person for the second person, and it works.

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