In writing, deciding on the right point of view (POV) can make or break a story. The same story told from different perspectives can result in dramatically varied reader experiences.
For example, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale would probably be less powerful if it weren’t told from the point of view of one of the “handmaids,” named Offred. The story is told in in the present tense, making it even more real to the readers.
What Are the Different Types of Point of View?
To review, the three basic points of view are first person, second person, and third person. For third person, we have the third person limited and the third person omniscient.
In the first person POV, the story is told from the perspective of one of the characters. We see everything through the lens of that main character’s life: their past, their beliefs, their desires—all of these filter into our understanding of the story.
The third person point of view offers the reader a third party glimpse into the world of the book.
The third person omniscient, which comes from the Greek words meaning “all-knowing,” gives the reader a Godlike bird’s eye view with insights into the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. In contrast, the third person limited perspective only gives insights into one character at a time.
What Is the Second Person POV?
The second person point of view is when the author addresses the readers directly. It makes use of the pronouns you and your, as opposed to the I, me, my in first person and he, she, it, and they in third person.
Considered the “middle child” of the group, the second person POV is less common and more difficult to master, especially in fiction. It is more commonly seen in nonfiction books or technical articles, such as how-tos or self-help pieces: the writer talks to the reader by providing instructions, tips, and steps.
The second person point of view is also very popular in advertising copy, because using the pronoun ‘you’ makes a direct appeal to the reader.
Examples of sentences using the second person are:
- You walk into the room and look around at the strange scene.
- When you write about a traumatic experience, pause and think back on how it made you feel.
- Fiction books are not just for entertainment; they will help you understand how the human heart works, thus making you well-rounded and more compassionate to your fellow humans.
How Do You Write in Second Person?
How do you effectively write in second person? Here are some tips on how to write a story in second person:
1. Remember your pronouns.
Because the second person POV is not common in fiction, be sure you don’t accidentally revert to the first or third person pronouns. Remember, the second person uses the pronouns you, your, yours, and does not have any character that uses the “I” pronoun.
2. Consider the narrator/reader a full-fledged character in the story.
Although it’s awkward to tell a reader things about themself, you cannot skimp on this if you want a believable and relatable story. Consider your reader one of the main characters in the story: this means you will have to create a character profile for them as well, listing down different details from their life.
3. Be creative in telling your reader things that they should know.
Now that you have a character profile for your reader, you need to find creative ways of expressing this information without making it accusatory or redundant: for example, instead of describing your reader’s past in a straight narrative, you can make it part of their inner dialogue. Compare the two examples below:
You walk up to the door and hesitate: this is the third day after the big fight you had with your girlfriend Diana, and you don’t know how she would respond to your coming here in the middle of the night with a bouquet of roses, her favorite flowers, in your hand. Would she see it as a peace offering, or a guilt offering?
After all, she saw what you did: you with another girl at the restaurant. You have an explanation, and she needs to hear it, but how will you convince her to listen?
You walk up to the door and pause before ringing the bell. You try to keep your grip firm on the bouquet of roses in your hand—Oh God, let it work as a peace offering. It’s been three whole days, for heaven’s sake! Why doesn’t Diana pick up any of your calls? Isn’t it about time she let go of her misgivings and listen to why you were at that restaurant with Mandy?
Can you see the difference between the two examples? They both use second person and tell the same story, but the second example feels less redundant: instead of telling the reader information that they supposedly already know, the narrative features thoughts that they could just think directly.
Examples of Second Person POV Books
In literature, the Choose Your Own Adventure children’s series published by Bantam Books soared to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. The books are written in the second person and every chapter ends with two or more decisions that you as the reader need to choose from.
R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series also led to a spin-off in the second person, entitled Give Yourself Goosebumps: Reader Beware… You Choose the Scare.
These types of interactive books are not limited to children’s stories, either. Some adult versions include the novel If by Nicholas Bourbaki, Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster, and My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris.
A runaway hit that’s written completely in second person, minus the interactive angle, is the 1984-published novel Bright Lights, Big City Jay McInerney. The story is set in New York in the 1980s, written in second person present tense to put the reader right smack in the middle of everything happening in the book.
Another bestseller that uses the second person POV is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. This science fiction novel is told through the perspective of three women, but one of section is in the second person.
Advantages of Using the Second Person POV
Although the second person POV has the special challenges of people not wanting to be told what to do or how they feel, it also has some advantages:
1. It brings the reader closer into the story.
Different points of view determine how close a reader can get to the story. First person brings the reader close to the story in the sense that they understand how the main character thinks and feels. But second person goes a step further and actually makes the reader the character.
2. It gives the narrator a specific person to address.
When a story is set in first or third person, the writer doesn’t normally address the reader. But sometimes, even in a third person narrative, an author might deviate from the POV and address the reader directly.
This is common in children’s books and is not considered second person POV unless it is consistent throughout the whole section or book.
3. It helps drive the point of your story.
Sometimes, the best way of getting the reader to understand why a character would do what they did is to put them right in his shoes. For example, the novel Complicity by Iain Banks tells the story in two POVs: one of the journalist, and the other of the murderer who was inspired by the journalist’s writing to kill.
The second person POV makes it seem as if the reader himself was a part of carrying out the murders, giving them a very unique perspective that could not have been achieved otherwise.
Choose Your Perspective
Remember, the second person point of view can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Just make sure that your book really calls for it and that it’s the most effective way of telling your story.
Once you’re sure, practice all you can, and be vigilant at cutting out accusatory or presumptuous statements. Make your reader your friend and you should be in good hands!
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