How to Write Point of View, Part 3, Second Person

Pictures of single eyes scattered atop one another and ringed by purple, red, or yellow eye shadow. From Pixabay.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Hi SErs! Harmony here 🙂 Today, I’d like to talk about how to write Point of View (POV) in the Second Person perspective.

Remember in the last POV post, I said that First Person is almost as up close as you can get? Well, Second Person IS as up close and personal as your writing gets.

What is Second Person POV?

This perspective uses the pronoun ‘You’. This sort of narrative immerses the reader in the experience of being the protagonist. Second Person voice is different from simply addressing your reader. Rather, it puts them squarely in the middle of the action. They become the actor rather than the reader. The events in the story happen to YOU as you read. Below is an example of Second Person POV …

By the time you get home, your husband will be dead. It’s hard to not smile at the thought. You have the best alibi an abused and beaten wife could ask for, sitting here having dinner and drinks with three of your oldest friends. It won’t matter how strong the police believe your motive to be. Not when you have all these people, and your credit-card bill, putting you right here from 7 until 11 pm. By the time you get home, at around 11:30 pm or so, it will all be over.

In Second Person POV, the narrator is the reader. The reader is the main character. An example of a book written in this style is The Fifth Season by M K Jemisin ‘”It wasn’t me,” you say at last. He frowns in confusion and you realise he thinks you’re still talking about the shake. “Jija. He didn’t find out about me.” You think. You shouldn’t think.’

The Pros of Second Person POV:

  1. Your reader is totally immersed in the story.
  2. Second Person narrative can reinforce the ideas which drive the story, as in the novel Complicity by Iain Banks. Here, two characters share the narrative from two different POVs. The POV of the murderer is written in Second Person, so the reader experiences the ‘complicity’ (referenced in the title) between the murderer and the journalist.
  3. This style can give your narrator someone to address. Unlike a straightforward First Person perspective, this type of narrator could have an agenda with ‘us’—something of which they wish to convince us. As an actor in the story, we—the reader—feel more involved in the conversation. An example of this approach can be found in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, where the protagonist is a Pakistani man speaking to an American stranger via the narrative: Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services. So, while this is written in second person to ‘you’, it comes from an ‘other’, and in this way blurs the lines between First Person and Second Person narratives.
  4. As well as being more intimate with your readers, this style can be used to create extra distance. Here, the ‘you’ is the conscience of the writer. It can be a little like a person asking for advice ‘for a friend’, when it’s obvious they ask for themselves. This approach is great for expressing shame and remorse. An example of this style can be found in Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

The Cons of Second Person POV:

  1. Second Person doesn’t allow you as much freedom as First or Third Person, so it can be difficult to maintain this style for a long time.
  2. Most editors and publishers do not want a whole novel written in Second Person POV.
  3. The repetitive pronouns can tie you and your story in knots.
  4. It can be a lot to ask your reader to occupy certain minds and scenarios. Often, greater distance is more effective for creating empathy. Best summed up in that old saying, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’
  5. It can get tiresome and wearying, especially when the protagonist is an unpleasant one.

Why would you write in Second Person POV?

While writing in Second Person may reduce your chances of publisher representation and limit your audience, sometimes no other POV will do. Maybe your story cannot be told from any other perspective. Some good advice from editor Ryan Quinn: ‘Trust your gut. If your gut isn’t working, neither will your story.

Top Tip: Although Second Person narrative is used but rarely in fiction, when done well it can bring a powerful and unique perspective to your writing.

In Summary: While there are pros and cons to using this perspective, the publishing industry leans away from this style of writing. The mainstream publishers urge us to use this approach sparingly. If used at all, it is probably best to limit the occurrences throughout the narrative rather than setting the whole novel in this form. However, as a few successful authors have shown, it can be done skilfully and received positively by publishers and readers alike. As with everything in writing, you can do anything as long as you do it well. Below is a list of well-known books written using the Second Person lens:

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ve found this post useful. I’ll see you again on Wednesday 15th September, when we’ll take a look at Third Person Limited POV 🙂

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website

Part 1, Overview, can be found HERE.

Part 2, First Person, can be found HERE.

©2021 Harmony Kent

73 thoughts on “How to Write Point of View, Part 3, Second Person

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  9. This was so informative, Harmony. Second person is so hard to pull off well that it scares me! Lol. It’s a tough pov for me to write (and read) since it’s sooo different. All the “yous” are a pain in the butt to work around, and in some ways it feels intrusive, like like the author is telling the reader what to feel and think. I tried The Fifth Season twice and just couldn’t get through it. But your examples are good ones and I can see how it can be effective. Thanks for the excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks Harmony. I found this post extremely helpful. I appreciate the breakdown and examples – that was quite a sample paragraph by the way, I’m going to check out a few books you mentioned here. I find second person tricky, but I’m tempted to write a new book in time, about grief and I was thinking about writing it the way I’m journaling the stories now, writing as me to my husband. There are quite a few books that are formatted like journaling or diary form that would be in second person, right? Love your segments here. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, Harmony. I have never attempted this, but think it could work in a short story. I haven’t read any of the examples and will be thinking about this, I know. Seems like it might be easy to fall about into first person when writing it. Thanks for explaining this so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have never written in second person POV, but your post has me thinking that this would be a great way to write an impactful short story. I may have to give it a try. Your post is most helpful and informative. Thank you, Harmony, for sharing your expertise!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve never written anything in 2nd person and don’t think I would attempt it. As a reader, I’m not a fan at all. Rather than feeling close to the character I feel a gulf of distance as if someone else is relaying the narrative. I’m sure, however, it would be a challenge to write and maintain.
    An excellent detailed look at a tricky POV, Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Early in my career, I spent a year writing short stories in different several different forms to learn and grow as a writer. Second person was one of the challenges I took on. It was extremely difficult; the one that took me second longest to complete. While I’m not crazy about the form and wouldn’t write a whole novel that way, I was pleased with the result. It can be quite effective in certain situations.

    Great synopsis of second person POV, Harmony.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Pingback: How to Write Point of View, Part 3, Second Person | Legends of Windemere

  16. I’ve not tried writing second person. Probably because I don’t actually like it. It doesn’t immerse me in the story. Instead, I find myself imagining someone standing there giving a running commentary to the person performing the action, about what they are doing. This seems odd, as the protagonist knows what they are doing, so doesn’t need someone to tell them!
    This pushes me away rather than draws ne in.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Second POV is very clearly explained, Harmony, but I suspect it would take a year of study to master it before I even began writing. However, you have tempted me to take a look at one of the books written this way out of pure curiosity.

    Liked by 2 people

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