In the Second Person, the story is told like this, “You are walking around in the depths of winter and you find yourself shivering”.
It’s not a format that we see much and as a result it can be tricky to pull off. But it’s worth a try if only to show up the advantages of the other points-of-view available to you. Or maybe you’ll be one of those people, like Jay McInerney, who turns it into a work that is acknowledged as a contemporary classic.
Write A Story in the Second Person Perspective
- Second person can be tricky because of the places we’re usually exposed to it: choose your own adventures; in-game narration; and, most damagingly, advertising (think about it…oh…see? Yup.) We learn how to write by reading and listening. If all you’ve ever heard in the second person is advertising and cheesy video/role-playing narration, and, ahem, self-help-y blog posts, then it’s no wonder it’s so hard to do well! Be aware of your influences (<cough>advertising<cough>) and resist them.
- Read a sample from Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney or Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins or How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. Notice how quickly you adjust to reading in this form. It might feel awkward at first, but readers adapt very quickly. Can you, as a writer?
- This POV can come across as bossy – the narrator is telling you what to do and think. To avoid this, use the old saw ‘show, don’t tell’. The good news is that Second Person can be perfect for this: “Your hands sweat. You would swear your head was detached from your body if you weren’t an educated person who knew this to be impossible. The burger you ate for lunch is lurching around somewhere near the top of your stomach and you’re not sure you’re going to able to keep it down…” Doesn’t this pull you in? Don’t you know exactly what’s wrong with this person or at least how they feel about it? And all without being bossy at all!
- The upside of Second Person is that it is highly effective for sharing psychotic or traumatic experiences. It’s great for when the narrator is self-aware, perhaps manipulative, or disassociating from something. They want to tell, but they don’t want to tell. It’s disorienting and that can be a strength. It’s unusual and that can be a way to inject something new into a story you feel has been told before.
- As an experiment, consider taking your first person story and rewrite it, in the Second Person?
What did you learn today, writing in the Second Person? Did you rewrite yesterday’s story in the Second Person? What did it do to the story? Share your comments below or in the community.