Story Basics 101: The Second Person

Quick note:
When crafting a story, a writer must choose between one of three perspectives to narrate through; first person, second person, or third person. This post dives into the second-person perspective.

*~*

The second-person perspective is all about “you”. The pronoun “you” and the varients that is. 

Second Person Example

You walk into the woods alone at night. The hairs on your neck stand up. Gulping, you turn around, fists ready to swing — nothing is there. Air escapes from your lungs. You’re losing your mind.

In fiction, the second-person perspective is rare. The Chose Your Own Adventure novel series was written in the second person and forced you, the reader, to become the protagonist of the novels and provided different story paths for you to take.

You can find the second-person point of view readily in songs, poetry, instructions, and video games.

Second Person Advantages (in fiction)

The rarity of the second person in fiction makes it different and likely to stand out, especially if done well. The second-person narrative can make the reader feel a part of the story rather than a passive bystander because the reader is placed within the story as if events were happening to them. The perspective can be fun to play around with and used for humourous effects. For example, my friend wrote me a story in the second person. “As a VIP member you are invited to the grand opening of our new superstore — Adult Toys R Us”. Best I don’t go into details. 

Second Person Disadvantages (in fiction)

From a technical standpoint, the second person is extremely hard to keep up the pace. The reader is the protagonist and you, the writer, have to keep up with directing the reader. The reader needs constant direction. This may kill the flow of the story. You also face a risk of overusing the pronouns “you” and “your”. 

From a reader standpoint, readers like to connect to characters, in particular the protagonist. The second person creates a disconnect between the reader and the characters. Essentially the reader is the protagonist, the story is about them (a fictional version of themself). You’re asking the reader to suspend their sense of self and embrace a new “you”. The new identity might not resonate with some readers. Could you easily take on the identity of a serial killer or a child perpetrator? This is tricky to pull off. Some readers might find the second person annoying or gimmicky.

Final Thoughts


The second-person perspective is fun to play with. While I don’t recommend trying to write a novel in the second person given the disadvantages, flash fiction is a fantastic way to experiment. If you’re a novelist and feel the story is best told in the second person — go for it. You could set a new trend if done right. Use a second-person perspective if you dare to be different. 

Coming up the third-person perspectives. A sister post, Story Basics 101: The First Person can be read here.

Fan Fact

The noun is written “second person”.
The adjective is written “second-person”. 

An interesting grammar rule I recently discovered when editing the post featuring the first-person perspective. Another English language quirk to drive writers nuts.

Exercise

Rewrite one of your stories and employ a second-person narrative.



Categories: Writers' Tool Box, Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 reply

Trackbacks

  1. Story Basics 101: The Third Person – THE WRITING ASYLUM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: