Second Person POV: Choose Your Own Adventure
So you’re writing your story and decide you want to do things a little differently this time. You do some research and look up alternate storytelling techniques and some more unconventional plot structures. But that isn’t quite what you’re looking for.
Then you turn to some other resources, coming upon a handy dandy one that discusses points of view and less conventional forms of conveying your story to your readers and you find a neat little thing called second-person narrative.
If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that the entire introduction above was written in second person–i.e., addressing “you” rather than using “I” in first-person POV or “she,” “he,” or “they” in third-person POV.
So what is second person, you wonder? Well, it’s when you remove the fourth wall between the reader and writer, bringing your audience into the action. It can be used to make your story more interactive.
In this article, you’ll learn about:
- What is second-person POV?
- Why use second-person POV?
- Tips for writing second-person narrative
What is second-person narrative?
As you learned above, second person narrative means using the pronoun “you” instead of “I” or “she/he/they.” It implies that you, the reader, are the character in the story. Think of those Choose Your Own Adventures books you read as a child. It’s kind of like that.
In essence, you are the narrative and the main character. This style of narration can be especially powerful when used with young readers so they have the chance to feel like they’re a part of the story.
But plenty of grown-up books use second-person narration as well. Well, maybe not plenty. It’s actually one of the least-used narration techniques, and there are likely a few reasons for that.
For one, it’s hard to write. It’s not a style of writing we’re used to reading, therefore, it doesn't feel as natural to write it. Think about where you do see second person narration–usually in ads, video games, songs, or in non-fiction books. Using second person to write this article–a non-fiction piece–is actually pretty easy.
Part of the challenge with second-person narration is the suspension of disbelief you need from the reader to pretend that they’re the main character of the story. Depending on your audience, some people might struggle to think of themselves that way. It’s one thing to convince someone to use a specific brand of toothpaste but quite another to make them believe they’re an assassin on the run from evil forces on the planet Zoltag.
Why choose second-person POV?
So why would you choose to use the second-person POV for your story? There are a few instances where this technique makes sense to try.
Bring the reader closer to the story
As you read above, using second person can bring the reader closer into the story. It offers an intimacy you might not get with the more traditional third and first person POVs. Additionally, there is less of a filter between the narrator and the reader. When you’re reading first or third POV, most readers accept that the story is told through the eyes of the character with their own life experiences, biases, and perspectives coloring it.
With second person narration, that filter is less noticeable since you, the reader are experiencing everything that’s on the page.
To create distance
Weirdly enough, second person narrative can also be used to create distance. This can be particularly effective when combined with other POVs in a novel.
For example, in the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, we’re hearing the life story of Evelyn–the good, the bad, and the ugly. During a particularly morally questionable scene, a sequence where Evelyn is seducing a powerful man for her own gains is told to you in the second person. While Evelyn has been baring herself to the world, warts and all throughout the novel, this rather calculating act told through the second person puts her at a distance from her actions, perhaps lessening our judgment.
To break the fourth wall
Sometimes you want to talk to the reader. Sometimes you want to tell the reader things that none of the other characters know. In essence, the reader becomes a sort of confidant or witness, perhaps to the worst sins and confessions of the character. Or your character simply wants to relay the information directly to the reader, creating a kind of voyeurism for both parties. It’s another way that you can draw your reader in.
To have fun
Sometimes you want to try a literary technique simply because it might be fun. Using second-person POV is a great way to add humor and levity to your narrative. In the case of something like a Choose Your Own Adventure, you can heighten the excitement for your reader.
Tips for writing second-person narrative
Here are some tips if you want to give second-person narration a go:
- Be ever conscious of your narration because it can be easy to slip out of second person into first or third, since these are tenses you’re simply more used to. Read over your work regularly while writing to ensure you’re remaining true to the POV.
- Second person is the place to use present tense. Amp up that immediacy and intimacy by using present tense so it truly feels like it’s happening to your reader in that moment.
- Don’t forget that even in second-person POV you want to give details. Don’t forget to describe your readers' surroundings to immerse them fully.
- Second-person POV also lends itself naturally to showing instead of telling (one of the few times you can say this), so be sure to really be clear about what your narrator is doing and lean into it.
Read books written in second-person narration
I know, I know. Homework. But the best way to learn is to read what has come before you. In some of these examples, only sections of the book are written in second-person POV, and are combined with more traditional first and third. This can be effective so the second-person POV doesn’t start to feel overwhelming for your reader.
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
- You by Caroline Kepnes
- Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
- The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
- In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
- This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Stolen (Stolen, #1) by Lucy Christopher
- Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins
- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
- The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
- Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
- The Push by Ashley Audrain
There you have it. Give second-person POV a try and see if it helps build excitement in your story.
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