Second-Person Point of View

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Second-person describes writing that is from the point of view of a narrative onlooker who is writing about you, the reader: "You went to school that morning."

The second-person point of view is rarely used in fiction. It is difficult to develop a set of characters and a story in which the second person is appropriate, and it is not easy to maintain a second-person narrative in a longer piece of writing.

That said, there are a few examples. Tom Robbins' "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" is an example of a novel told in second- person. Many of the stories in Lorrie Moore's book "Self-Help" are also written in second-person. This example of second-person writing comes from her story "How to Become a Writer:"

"The next semester the writing professor is obsessed with writing from personal experience. You must write from what you know, from what has happened to you. He wants deaths, he wants camping trips. Think about what has happened to you. In three years there have been three things: You lost your virginity, your parents got divorced, and your brother came home from a forest 10 miles from the Cambodian border with only half a thigh, a permanent smirk nestled into one corner of his mouth."

What Second-Person Point of View Is Not

It's important to know that addressing the reader is not the same thing as writing from the second-person point of view.

Many major authors, including classic writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, actually speak directly to the reader with commentary on the plot or characters. Contemporary writers of blogs and non-fiction often write to "you" with advice or insights.

When a writer addresses the reader, however, the writer is writing from the third-person point of view.

"Do you enjoy pot roast as much as I do?" is a question asked by a pot-roast loving third-person narrator. "You love pot roast, so you plan to cook it tonight," is a use of the second-person point of view.

Why Would an Author Choose to Use It?

While most people naturally write in the first- or third-person, it takes real effort and intention to write in the second-person.  Generally, people decide to write in the second person because:

  • They want to immerse the reader in the experience of "being" the protagonist.
  • They want to engage the reader in an extremely rich sensory experience, which can best be accomplished by forcing the reader to imagine himself as part of the experience.
  • They want to write a particularly persuasive or engaging passage that will be most effectively written in the second-person
  • They want to try a new and different style of writing.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with experimenting with any type of writing, second-person requires a good deal of practice and finesse. Don't be surprised if your first efforts end with readers who are confused or frustrated; only through refining your technique can you become an accomplished writer in this most difficult form.

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