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:
- Your reader is totally immersed in the story.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Most editors and publishers do not want a whole novel written in Second Person POV.
- The repetitive pronouns can tie you and your story in knots.
- 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.’
- 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:
- Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
- If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
- Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- Complicity by Iain Banks
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
- Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
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 🙂
Part 1, Overview, can be found HERE.
Part 2, First Person, can be found HERE.
©2021 Harmony Kent