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Writing in the "second person"

edited February 2011 in - Writing Tales
Most books are written in first person, I, or third person he/she /it. I have read that "Only the most creative and experimental write in second person-the "you" point of view.
So with this in mind (she says ;) ) I am going to rework a story into second person as I also understand that it is the least used point of view in fiction.

Second person requires the reader not only to step into the head of the protagonist, but into his very shoes.
The writer has to become at one with the reader and convince the reader that the events are happening to him personally and that he is seeing and experiencing these events through his own eyes.

Good writers shouldn't have a problem with this, should they ?
Have you experience of second person writing and if so what do you think are the pitfalls, if any ?

I'll let you know how I get on !

This is another topic that I thought there was a thread on, but I can't find it and even if there is one, there's no harm in re-visiting the subject. :)

Edited to add " One of the difficulties of writing a novel which is entirely a dramatic monologue, however, is that although the reader comes to know the speaker, there are no conversations with other characters to show how they interact with each other. " (from a review by Mary Whipple of "The Portrait" by Iain Pears )
I don't believe this is true - so I shall have to produce an example !


  • edited February 2011
    Re monologues - I've written monologues that included reported conversations with another person. One of them, I'm glad to say, was a runner-up in a competition and was printed in an anthology.

    Of course another person's words might not be reported accurately by the person speaking the monologue who would be speaking from memory and possibly altering the conversation to suit themselves. (The same goes for conversations in autobiographies!)
  • [quote=lexia]Only the most creative and experimental write in second person[/quote] I recently sold a second person story to Woman's Weekly and I do like to think of myself as experimental (meals at my place are always an adventure!) I couldn't keep it up for a whole novel though.

    Good luck - it'll be interesting to hear what you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of writing like this as you work through your novel.

    I didn't include dialogue in my story, so can't help with that.
  • http://www.writersnews.co.uk/writers_talkback/comments.php?DiscussionID=133612&page=2#Item_34

    There's a bit here, if the link works.
  • [quote=lexia]Have you experience of second person writing and if so what do you think are the pitfalls, if any ?[/quote]

    I have read so many admonitions against it that I haven't dared. I am not convinced though, that as a POV it's invalid. It will be interesting to see what you come up with. Keep us posted.
  • edited February 2011
    I guess the reason most writers don't use the second person POV is that it is very difficult. Of course good writers should be able to do it as you say, but will it be better if they do? Isn't that the point of POV choice after all? If it screams for it, needs it, is better with it and is weaker with a different choice then you have your answer. If it's just because you want to experiment then try a short story and see how the suit fits.

    Probably the biggest recent success, well that I know of anyway, is Bright Lights, Big City. If you read that you'll see it couldn't be any other way. But even if it was it wouldn't have been such a huge best seller, become a modern classic and have a Hollywood film made of it.
  • All the best with this project Lexia.
  • I agree with ST. You should only use second person if you have a good reason - if the story demands it.
  • edited February 2011
    Here's a couple of "off the cuff " paragraphs written this morning. I will post the other reworked story when it's complete - and if it's not too annoying to read. Comments welcome !

    You probably won’t believe this because you don’t seem to know it yourself.
    Maybe you do but don’t talk about it or rather you don’t talk to me about it.
    So that’s why I have to say this because I know, and even if you think I don’t understand, I have felt what you feel and it scares me too. It's scary when your thoughts appear to have a will of their own and the world around you carries on regardless.
    That’s what we don’t have and that’s why you are afraid, as I am afraid.
    For if we don’t have control, then we are nothing.
    Like this morning, and every morning since it happened.
    You are awake and you lie there in your bed and you wonder why you are trapped and encased like a mummy in a tomb where there is no light, because you don’t want to open your eyes. Then you realise that the sheets and the covers are wrapped in a tangle around your legs where you thrashed and fought in your sleep against so many evils. Your muscles are stiff and taut and all that moves are your eyeballs behind the lids. You keep your eyes closed for as long as you can, trying to move first your toes and then your legs and arms, slowly remembering that you are a being in the here and now and that the terrors of the last few hours are not with you in this room.

    To be continued ... perhaps :)
  • [quote=lexia]you don’t talk to me [/quote]

    This is why I'm never sure if the second person really exists - there's still a 'me'.
  • I agree, Jay. As long as there is a me, then part of this is being written in first person as if addressing their thoughts to someone else. To be truly 2nd person, you'd have to write the whole thing like the last para above, and introduce other characters by name, never as I or me.
  • 'You' is how we all talk to ourselves anyway, isn't it?
  • Mentally, that is. Or perhaps just mental.
  • edited February 2011
    AHA ! I agree and hadn't realised that until you said Viv and Jay.

    Of course there can't be a ME. I wasn't thinking straight (but seeing as wrote that half an hour after waking up, I will excuse myself that way ;) )

    [quote=Jay Mandal]'You' is how we all talk to ourselves anyway, isn't it?[/quote]

    I think that real second person is not talking to yourself though. I guess that's the difficult bit. It's like talking to someone else but without letting it sound like there's a narrator.
    Do you reckon the second paragraph is second person then ? I will take out the I's and the me's and see what difference it makes, if any.
    The story that I am re working doesn't have any me's or I's in it, by the way - but maybe that is why it's taking longer than I thought to re do it !

    I think your last statement goes without saying, Jay. Mentalists Rule OK ! :)
  • edited February 2011
    Yes, the para starting 'You are awake' is second person and I like it - would read on...

    I'd cut the earlier stuff if I were you (or should that be 'if you were you? :) ) and start here.
  • Agree re last para - I would definitely read on too.

    The only second person prose I remember reading is a section of Complicity by Iain Banks, and the device is used to confuse the reader as the protagonist at that point needs to be ambiguous. I think it can be very effective if it is used at the right point.
  • Good luck Lexia. I find with POV it's always best to experiment and see what suits you and the character and story.

    You can always change it if it doesn't work.
  • VivViv
    edited February 2011
    This is from wiki so it can't be guaranteed accurate, but here's a list of published second person books

    List of notable second person narrativesNarratives written consistently in the second person or narratives including chapters or larger and/or intermittent passages in the second person:

    Ilse Aichinger 1954 "Spiegelgeschichte" from Meine Sprache und Ich: Erz
  • On investigating Ode to Joy/A Mouse/A Nightingale, they do seem to be written in the second person - if this truly exists.
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