Let’s talk about the second person point of view, but first, let’s talk about video games. Suppose you’ve played any video game in the past twenty years. In that case, you’ll know there are two camera positions developers can use.
Either you are above and just slightly behind the character. From this point of view, you can control the character, where they go, what they do, but the character is not you. The protagonist is Agent 47, or Lara Croft. These games are called 3rd person shooters.
The other option for game devs is to put the player behind the eyes of the character. You see the world as they see it. Think back to games like Halo, or Call of Duty. You’re not controlling the hero; you are the hero. These games are called 1st person shooters.
The second person point of view is to literature, what first-person shooters are to gaming. In a second-person point of view text, you, the reader, are the character. That may seem a little confusing at first, but don’t worry, we’ll go into it further.
Below you’ll find the definition of the second-person point of view. We’ll talk about what a second person point of view is and why authors use it. We’ll also talk about why editors hate this point of view.Second person POV implies that the reader is a character taking part in the story. This POV uses the pronoun "you" and "your." It's like the author is telling you a story about something you've done. Check out these tips on 2nd person POV from… Click To Tweet
What is the Second Person Point of View?
Second person POV implies that the reader is a character taking part in the story. This POV uses the pronoun “you” and “your.” It’s like the author is telling you a story about something you’ve done.
How does Second Person POV affect the reader?
The second person POV is Immersive.
You, the reader, are now in the story. You are the protagonist or at least a character near the protagonist, taking part in the story’s action. The author is describing your feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
This POV takes readers beyond empathizing with a character; they will feel emotions the author tells them to feel. Think about it, if someone said to you that you look unhappy, you’d probably feel unhappy. Imagine an author telling you that you are sad.
The second person POV is Interactive.
Because this POV puts the reader in the action of the story, it creates many options that aren’t obvious to other types of stories. Mainly, a story told in the second person POV can be made interactive. You can ask the reader to make choices and create consequences based on those choices, turning your traditional narrative into a role-playing game!
So, second-person POV might be the way to go if you’re writing the script for a videogame, a-choose-your-adventure styled book, or an old fashioned RPG like Dungeons & Dragons.
The second person POV is Instructive.
You don’t see this POV often used in fiction, but the second person POV is more common than you realize. That’s because it’s perfect for giving instructions. This POV is the best way to tell someone what to do or walk a reader through a series of steps or actions.
This strength of second-person POV is why you’ll find it a lot in non-fiction works. For instance, instructional texts like cookbooks are written in the second-person. Think, “You’ll need to preheat your oven to 450 degrees.”
How to write Second Person POV
- Use the pronoun you.
First off, you’re going to use pronouns like you, your, and yourself.
- Write in the present tense.
It would also be best if you wrote in the present tense to make your story immediate and vital to the reader.
- Avoid repetition
When possible, avoid using pronouns since you’re limited to different versions of ‘you.’ All those yous and yours can get repetitive. Instead, use direct language with a technique called implied second-person.
Ex. Sit at the table vs. You sit at the table
- Have a purpose
Don’t write a story with the second person POV just to do it. Like any story decision, you should have a reason behind your choice of POV.
Why isn’t Second Person Point of View popular?
Disadvantages of Second Person POV
The limitation of the second-person perspective is that you’re asking your readers to put themselves directly into the story, which can stretch the imagination. It may also put your reader off as they’re not used to reading this kind of story.
The second person point of view tells your reader that they are someone they’re not, that the story’s events are happening to them, the reader. It’s a funky style, let’s be honest, reserved, mostly, for those “choose your adventure” children’s books.
In researching this article, I found that professional editors aren’t fans of second-person POV. If you plan to write commercial fiction, this POV might not be your first choice.
Advantages of Second Person POV
However, when executed well, this funkiness is the secret strength of the second-person perspective. This POV’s intimacy will encourage your reader to empathize with a character and experience a new perspective.
While not traditional, a story written in the second-person perspective could be a great way to set your work apart from the pack. But only if you put in the effort to make it work. Know that an editor will ask the question- “Why did you choose second person POV?” If you don’t have an obvious answer supported in the text, this may be a weakness.
When it comes to digital storytelling, though, second-person POV could be the dominant perspective. Why? As technology like augmented and virtual reality advances, storytelling will change as well. The second person POV puts the reader or watcher in the middle of the story; it’s naturally interactive. This POV lends itself perfectly to video and mobile games and VR headsets.
Second Person Point of View Short Story Examples
If you want to start writing in the second-person point of view, start by checking some examples. Below is a list of free short stories you can check out that were all written in a second-person perspective. As you read, ask yourself a few questions about the texts:
- Why did the author choose the second-person POV?
- What effect does this POV have on me, the reader?
- How would this scene/story read in 1st person POV?
- How would this scene/story read in 2nd person POV?
Here are five examples of second-person point of view used in short stories:
by Eden Royce
By Jennifer Egan
By Michael Cunningham
by Jae Steinbacher
by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor
Below you’ll find a few Practice Boxes. You can type in them; nothing you write will save or post anywhere. When you finish, hit ‘reset’ to delete or copy and paste your text into somewhere more permanent.
Read this scene from Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia
One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.
If you’re confused or have questions about this exercise, send me an email, or drop a comment!
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