A Point of View: Writing Second-Person

A series looking at how to write within the different perspectives. This essay deals with second-person point of view.

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© 2016 Epytome / Used With Permission

Follows: Writing First-Person

Point of view is one of the most important aspects of your story. There are three different types of point of view: first, second and third-person. This essay will cover second-person.

I don’t have an awful lot of experience with second-person. Primarily, I write in third or first-person point of view, but I have dabbled in second. It’s quite a limiting point of view, if I’m honest. At its core, you’re forcing the character that you’ve created onto the reader and, essentially, making them the same person. The reader is the main character in your story. You replace the ‘I’ or ‘she’ you’d see in first and third with ‘you’. This can be an amazing boost to it, but it certainly can’t be used for everything.

Let’s start by talking about how to make the second-person point of view powerful for the reader. You, as the writer, will be guiding their emotions and their feelings. You make the reader believe that they are a character in your story. Second-person lends itself to your story by focusing more on the emotive side of your writing. Sure your story about dragons set in an epic fantasy world is great, but if you chose second-person, the story will have to become a very person-centred story. You should be doing that regardless of which point of view you’re writing in, but you have a little more freedom with first-person, and a lot more freedom with third-person, to explore the world around your characters.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re good enough at it you could do it well, but I’d avoid the extremes. If you want your reader to believe that they’re a sadistic serial killer that revels in the pain of others, you’re going to have a hard time. The same is true for paragons of virtue. People who have no bad intentions or negative feelings are going to be just as hard for your reader to become. Your average reader isn’t sitting on one of the extremes, whatever they may be for your story, they’re most likely going to be sitting in the middle. So, realistically, you probably want your main character to be in the middle too. That’s not saying that you can’t dip into the extremes. Make the reader leave their comfort zone. You do have to build up to this across your story, however. It has to be a progression where you’re setting your reader up for this.

The number one thing that you need to watch out for is that you get the right amount of your character onto the reader. If you don’t put enough, then they’re not invested and your writing won’t have the impact it should have. Put too much and your reader will fight what you’re trying to do. One thing that I would advise is to show, not tell. Again, this is generally good advice too but I think it’s especially important in second-person.

You feel scared.

My reaction to this would be ‘no, I don’t.’

Your heart starts beating faster. Your eyes dart around the room. You see the shadows dance around, taunting you almost.

I’m not outright telling the reader what they’re feeling but I’m guiding them into feeling what I want them to feel. I can put myself into that character’s mind and feel what they would be feeling. That’s what you need to be doing to make second-person point of view work well for you.

One final thing that I quite like doing with second-person is to combine it with first-person. There’s nothing out there that says you can’t have two main characters. The first-person one who’s doing the narrating, and the reader. Doing this comes with its own issues and problems, but, primarily, you need to make sure that it doesn’t come out of the blue. Don’t start doing it half way through your story. Be consistent and make sure that there’s a point to it. Could the story be told exclusively in first-person? Or third? If you’re not sure what you’d lose by dropping the second-person elements, then you’d probably be best not doing this. However, if by including second-person point of view into a first-person story you’d create much more impact, give it a try.

All in all, I do quite like second-person point of view. It’s not one that I have written often and I probably won’t write in it very frequently. But I am a fan of playing with the reader’s emotions and feelings and getting them to think a certain way. Second-person is an amazing platform for you to be able to do that. Just don’t write a choose-your-own-adventure, unless that’s what you’re going for.


Next: Writing Third-Person

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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