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How to Use Second Person Point of View
Second person point of view is often used in:
- Nonfiction, like self-help books.
- Immersive mediums, like video games.
- Advertising slogans, which aim to sell a good or service.
- Song lyrics, which connect with the listener by placing him or her directly into the narrative.
Although the second person is a less common choice for fiction writing, when done well, it can give a story a unique and powerful perspective.
4 Reasons to Write in Second Person Point of View
Writing in second person point of view has its challenges—mainly, asking the reader to suspend belief to the point where they imagine themselves to be part of the story. However, there are also advantages to using second person point of view. Second person point of view can:
- Present an uncommon point of view. Second person is rare in literary fiction. Most novels are written in one of two styles: first person, which involves a narrator who tells their story, (“I ran toward the gate.”), or the third person, which is the author telling a story about a character (“He woke up that morning.”). One of the first popular novels to successfully use the second person was Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, which put the reader in the center of a fast-paced, party lifestyle in New York.
- Create excitement. Second person takes the reader and puts them in the middle of the action. In the Choose Your Own Adventure books, a popular children’s series, the reader is in the driver’s seat, instructed to make decisions that direct the plot.
- Provide an opportunity to reflect. Writing in second person provides authors with the opportunity to reflect. Always a writer to push the limits of storytelling, Margaret Atwood has used second person in several short stories, like Bread. By using “you,” Atwood forces the reader to examine societal inequalities.
- Adding humor. Approaching a story with a unique perspective, like a second person point of view, can help add levity. In Lorrie Moore’s short story How To Become a Writer, she uses the second-person narrative voice to try to convince the reader to become an astronaut, or a movie star—anything other than a writer.
5 Tips For Writing in Second Person
Follow these tips if you’ve settled on writing in the “you”:
- Study those who went before you. While stories told in the second person are less common than first and third-person points of view, there are plenty of novels and short stories that can show you how it’s done. Other works worth investigating are Tom Robbins’ Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas and Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
- Imitate the masters. Take a well-known book written in the first or third person and try writing a page from a second person point of view. Dan Brown wrote his Robert Langdon series— Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, Inferno, and Origin—in the close third person. Pick an action-packed page and rewrite it as if the reader was Robert Langdon.
- Stay conscious of the narrative voice. Second person point of view can be difficult to articulate and it’s easy to slip into writing from your perspective. Be vigilant about always thinking of who the character is and remove yourself from the equation.
- Be descriptive. People are used to making observations when reading a book. If you put the responsibility of character or protagonist on the reader, it’s your job to make it credible. Bring them into the world by elaborating on details. Appeal to their senses and emotions with vivid detail to describe the setting, other characters, and events.
- Stay present. To ramp up the tension, use the present tense. It brings the reader in even closer and adds to the pacing of the plot. Using present tense and active verbs make it feel like it’s happening in real time. Read The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida, a second person, present-tense story chronicling a woman’s journey through Morocco.
Learn more about narrative point of view in Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass.