Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This is not turkey-related (sorry) but you've been on my mind lately. You in the 2nd person that is. I recently read YOU, by Charles Benoit. YOU is a dark, downward spiral of an everyday teenager—i.e., you. I mentioned it to my writing class, and this week I have four stories in second person, so "you" is now on many minds. Here is a bit of my textbook cautionary response:

Second person is by far the least used point of view in fiction. It has severe obstacles. Second person requires the reader not only to step into the head of the protagonist, but into her very shoes. The reader becomes the protagonist.

In turn, second person requires the writer to become one with the reader. The writer must convince the reader that the events are happening to her personally and that she is seeing and experiencing these events through her own eyes. Second person is often used in conjunction with present tense because both add immediacy to a scene.

Second person is more common in nonfiction, such as in instructional or advice-giving articles. It makes the lesson up-close and personal rather than formal. Think of the “Choose your Own Adventure” series, where the reader makes choices, and the outcome is open-ended. It often has a jarring effect in fiction. Your reader picks up a book to escape into another character for a while and using “you” destroys this illusion. It can feel weird--as though you are being bossed around with someone always telling you what to do and feel. This may be exactly what the author intends (or not).

I'm not totally anti-second person. It can have a lingering and powerful effect on the reader and it is an exciting challenge for the writer. Give it a whirl this weekend--become one with your reader. (put that way it sounds kind of thrilling...) Why not?

Those of you using second person, have anything to add?


  1. DAMAGE by A.M. Jenkins is a wonderful recent example of a YA that uses second-person effectively.

  2. For the writer: first person on steroids. For the reader: a very strong drink, not for all.

    Always a terrific writing exercise.