Last updated on December 3, 2017
In the third part of this series, I discuss writing fiction in the second-person point of view. In the first part of the series, I introduced and defined the basic points of view, and in the second part, I discussed the first-person point of view in more detail. In this part, we’ll be discussing the seldom used second-person point of view.
Second person actually has a special place in my heart and in my origins as a writer. I started thinking of myself as a writer when I was a freshman in high school when an English teacher assigned us to write three pages a day of anything in a journal. Shortly after, I met the girl who would become my best friend. Somehow, during late-night gab sessions, we started a tradition of telling each other stories. These were almost always told in second person. They were told out loud and on pieces of paper passed as notes in class. They were full of adventure, romance, and anything that appealed to us. We met our favorite stars and fell in love.
The second person made that all possible. Writing and telling a story in the second person gave me the power to pull at the heartstrings of my friend, to see her reactions firsthand. It wouldn’t have been the same if the story was about “Kelly” or “Sadie.” It was about her and only her. It was a unique experience as a writer, to be able to share my story directly with my audience and to personalize it as I watched her responses minute by minute. It has been an experience that I’ve often wished for nowadays when I ask myself whether my audience will find a certain passage as exciting as I do.
However, the use of second person, especially in a novel aimed at the general public, is not for the faint of heart.
“If taking a gamble is not your thing, forget about second person point of view and stick to the ‘safe’ choices of first person or third person.”
—Second Person Point of View, Novel Writing Help
It is the least commonly used point of view and can be seen as a cop-out.
“Like the one-sentence paragraph, the second-person point of view can also make us suspect that style is being used as a substitute for content.”
― Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
So, one must be careful about using second person. However, when used effectively, as in the Choose Your Own Adventure books, it can be an effective way to pull your reader into the story in a way that is not possible with the other points of view.
As I promised, this week I have rewritten my scene from The Magician’s Wife in second-person point of view. Read it, compare it with last week’s excerpt, and see how it strikes you.
Excerpt, The Magician’s Wife by Janell E. Robisch
“You must be careful.”
“Do not speak that way. There is nothing to worry about. It is just another spell. As soon as Kaleo arrives with the herb, everything will be fine.”
Your voice was shaking terribly, although you were trying desperately to be calm for Lew’s sake. You wrung a warm cloth between your trembling hands and gently applied it to his cheeks and forehead. Oh, my darling husband!
“Look at me, at my face!” he said, pulling your wrist and the cloth away.
You didn’t want to, but you looked at his eyes, your own blinking back tears. His green eyes were bright, but the flesh around them was pale and drawn. You reached out to touch that bit of skin, as if by doing so you could bring the life back into it. You felt his hand touch yours, and he squeezed gently. “This is the last time. The Guardians are calling me. It’s time to go.”
“No.” You shook your head hard and felt your hair brush the sides of your face. It seemed so unimportant.
“Listen to me. You have to be careful with the magic. Do not trust anyone. Do not tell anyone. If I had known . . . . I never should have taught you anything.” His voice was soft. “You must promise me to be careful.”
You touched his lips as they faded to a lighter shade of pink. It was as if all of his blood were rushing down to his ailing heart, but you knew the truth. You could feel its beat slowing as surely as if it were your own. Soon, it would stop. You thought your own would stop with it.
“I promise,” you nodded. “I promise.” The familiar emerald sparkle of his eyes began to fade.
You could feel warm tears sliding down the side of your nose as you made the four-pointed sign of the Guardians over Lew’s chest. “I love you,” you whispered, burying your face in his shoulder. You felt his cool hand rest on your neck with the lightest of touches. “Don’t forget me.”
“Never, my little star. Never.”
His hand slipped slowly from your neck, and you couldn’t help it. A sob burst from your mouth. You grabbed his tunic in both fists, wrecked by the knowledge that you would never hear his voice again.
Popular Second Person Books, Goodreads
“Why I Wrote a Novel in Second Person: A debut novelist takes a chance and finds her voice,” by Angelina Mirabella, Publisher’s Weekly