Second-Person Point of View

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Second-person point of view is a form of writing in which the point of view of a narrative work is told in the voice of the "onlooker," which is you, the reader. For instance, the text would read, "You went to school that morning."

The second-person point of view is rarely used in fiction because of its difficulty level. It is hard to develop a set of characters and a story in which the second person is appropriate.

Additionally, it is not easy to maintain a second-person narrative in a longer piece of writing, as opposed to a shorten piece such as a one-page essay.

Examples of Second-Person Point of View

Despite its difficulty, there are a few examples of works told in the second-person point of view. 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 Moore's 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 ten miles from the Cambodian border with only half a thigh, a permanent smirk nestled into one corner of his mouth."

Distinguishing Second-Person Point of View From Other Devices

Don't confuse second-person point of view writing with a writer who is simply addressing the reader. Many major authors, including classic writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, actually speak directly to the reader expressing their commentary on the plot or characters.

Contemporary writers of blogs and non-fiction will also write to "you" when offering advice or insights.

Another point of confusion is distinguishing second- from third-person point of view. When a writer addresses/questions the reader, the writer is writing from the third-person point of view. For example, "Do you enjoy pot roast as much as I do?" This is a question asked by a pot-roast loving third-person narrator. On the other hand, "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 Second-Person Point of View?

Most people naturally write in first-person or third-person because it takes a great deal of effort and intention to write in the second-person. Generally, people 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, or herself, as part of the experience.
  • They want to write a particularly persuasive or engaging passage that will be most effective when 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 being confused or frustrated. Only by refining your technique will you become an accomplished writer in this difficult form.