1. jess046
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    jess046 Member

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    2nd person writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jess046, Apr 8, 2010.

    Has anybody ever written any stories in second person? I wrote a short story a few months ago in this style and it worked well for the tone I was going for. But now I'm considering transforming my short story into a novel and so the question of what person I write it in is ailing me.

    Has anybody here ever written a novel in second person? Any opinions on why it's so rare...

    Also, what's everybodys personal opinions on this style. Would you like to read a 2nd person novel or would you instantly put it aside.
     
  2. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler" by Calvino. Read it. It's one of two second-person books that actually managed to be anything more than an experiment. If you enjoy it, then you should write in this difficult, experimental and wierd style. But you should read it first.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Second person has been used for Make Your Own Adventure novels. Thankfully, those were effectively made obsolete by gaming consoles.

    Second person treats the reader like a ventriloquist's dummy, telling him or her what to say, think, and feel. Personally, I prefer not to have the writer's arm crammed up my rectum.

    The second person narrative form is inherently obtrusive. With first and third person, you remain a voluntary observer, the fly on the wall. The writer's manipulation of the reader is far more obvious in second person.

    If you, as an unknown writer, try to sell a second person novel to a publisher, it will fly into the reject pile faster than a rocket sled with Teflon skids.
     
  4. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I wouldn't read one. To echo and maybe expand on what Cognito said, second person takes away the reader's choice of how deeply they want to become involved in your story. Think of advertisements -- you know, the ones that have the pitchman saying, "You're going to love this!" It's annoying being told what to think, feel and see.

    It decreases immediacy and intimacy, for me.
     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    This pretty well sums up the question, or rather the answer to the question. My first reaction when someone says, "You do ..." or "You heard ..." or "You tell ..." is to say, "Don't you tell me what to do!"

    As others have already mentioned, as a reader, second person is difficult to read. You are continually being pulled out of that state of (as it is referred to in theater) the willing suspension of disbelief - that constant reminder that you are a reader. Instead of drawing that 2d person 'you' into the story, it tends to have the opposite effect in that it serves to keep the reader aware that he or she is an outsider to the story.

    It can be done, but it is something that should be undertaken with extreme caution and, as Cogito pointed out, unless you are already a 'commodity' with a known name, chances are you are going to have a difficult time finding anyone to give it more than a passing glance before stuffing a "thanks but no thanks" postcard in your return envelope.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of the above...

    but i'd like to see just a small sample of your writing in 2nd, to see if it's actually that...
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It's worth noting that in the rare cases it has been used successfully--let's take Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, for instance--it has been used exactly because it makes suspension of disbelief almost impossible. Calvino's novel is one of the most famous and revolutionary works of metafiction in the 20th century. It is designed to call attention to the act of reading, the role of the reader, the question of form, genre, etc. You're not supposed to become engrossed in some superficial story, you're encouraged to consider your role as reader and that kind of thing. Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City is similar in some respects, although there is a stronger focus on 2nd-person as a narrative device there.

    You need to think about who your readers are most of all. A fantasy written in second person will not be read. A literary novel will be. Consider your reasons for writing in 2nd person above the arbitrary opinions of people on a website.
     
  8. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Let's soften that a bit, shall we? There are plenty of literary books that no-one reads. And there are several "fantasy" books that are quite literary.

    But yes, keep your readership in mind.
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I didn't mean in general, I meant: if a typical reader of fantasy picks up a fantasy novel written in 2nd person, they're unlikely to read it. If a typical reader of literary fiction picks up a literary novel in 2nd person, it's much less likely to deter them. I guess I should've explained better.
     
  10. Cecil
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    Cecil Member

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    I would never even consider reading a whole novel in the 2nd person unless it was written by an author I already like, and it had incredible reviews by people who's opinions I have good reason to respect.

    My advice: If the story doesn't absolutely have to be in 2nd person (and I would guess that it doesn't), then don't do it. Unless the reader has some capacity to influence the action or make choices for themselves in the story, then the reader isn't a character and should not be treated as such.
    And as Cogito said, video games pretty much replaced "choose your own adventure" by being better than them at what they do.
     
  11. -NM-
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    The choose your own adventure books were - and still are - very good and fun to read/play. They haven't been replaced, they are still out there with large amounts of readers.
     
  12. 68000k
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    68000k New Member

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    For what it's worth, second person is rather effective when it comes to interactive text fiction from the 80s, 90s, and today. It's up to debate whether this is really "literature", but I believe that in capable hands it is just valuable as any other piece of writing. Old saying goes 90% of everything is trash, and still applies in this case: there will be a 10% of gold.
     
  13. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    Actually, I think it's a bit of a misconception that 2nd person "tells you what to do" as a reader. The voice, when done well, is a means for the narrator for distance him/herself from the narrative and can also serve as an invitation to "walk in the shoes" of the narrator.

    (Choose your own adventures is an exploitation of the 2nd person form, and a very delightful one for young readers, in my opinion.)

    I think people simply misunderstand the 2nd person POV, though I agree it's a very "in your face" POV to write in. I used to think it was a POV where you (the reader) was being told, "hey, you DO, SAY, ACT this way." Now, I see it as a wonderful tool for detachment.

    If you look at "Bright Lights, Big City," by Jay McInerney(!), the narrator isn't telling the reader that he/she is doing all of these thing, but rather (imho) distancing himself from the craziness and asking the reader to indulge in a little sympathy.

    I personally love the 2nd person. Dennis Lehane has a wonderful short story in 2nd person called "Until Gwen." I highly recommend it. It appeared in Atlantic Monthly and in America's Best Short Stories (2006, I believe). Not sure why anyone would consider a story non-literary because it's in 2nd person?

    2nd person is, I feel, how many people "tell stories" (orally). When your friend Gus is describing an accident to you--"so, you're going down the highway and BAM! You see some wingnut charge at you from the on ramp and you slam on your breaks . . ."--Gus isn't telling you what YOU experienced, he's relaying a story. I find the 2nd person to be a bardic voice in that sense.

    *(I know the sentence above with the . . .'s and the --dash isn't perfect, sorry about that)

    What I do see with 2nd person is that a lot of people mix up 2nd person with the 1st person dramatic monologue. For example, the "you" in "Bright Lights, Big City," is not the same "you" that's in Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess."

    People whined, complained and griped about 1st person present when "Rabbit, Run" by John Updike hit the shelves and now it's no longer the red-headed stepchild of the POV community. My hope is that folks will get over their "ooooo, yucky" mentality of non-traditional POVs and realize that writers have a vast array of tools they can choose when embarking on a new project. I always find it interesting that folks who claim to be "creative writers" are often full of morbid trepidation when they are actually faced the "creative" part of the whole thing. We're artists. We experiment. Some break through into new ground. Others do not. The whole point, imho, is to do what feels right and take your story where IT wants to go, in a way that IT wants to be told. To heck with everyone else. :)
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This was the original question.

    Experimentation consists of holding every variable withing a standardized or normal range while changing the variable under investigation. Throwing all the guidelines to the wind is not experimentation, it's disorganization. An experiment has a purpose. An experiment has a question to answer.

    Jess wanted to know why second person is so rarely seen, and the answer is that very few writers can pull it off successfully, As with anything, it is possible to find exceptions, but those exceptions are not a good reason for discarding convention.

    If someone cannot be creative without jumping the tracks to be different, they aren't ready to experiment with violating common practices. In fact, if the writer does not understand why the conventional wisdom is in place, they should not break convention. Only when they know why the conventions exist, and why they wish to go against them, should they consider experimenting with them.

    In short, if you have to ask, you shouldn't break with convention.

    "The heck with everyone else" is not particularly helpful advice. It's on the same par with "go play in traffic."
     
  15. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Cogito, you make it sound like a poorly executed second person story will haunt the author forever. What's the harm in trying? If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out and you move on. Then again, you might pull it off. But you'll never know one way or the other unless you try. A failed trial is not lethal, unlike a failed attempt to play in traffic.

    To be honest, I think MsMyth is correct. If a story works best a certain way, what right has anyone but the author to say otherwise? So indeed, the heck with everyone else. After all, most of these guidelines are merely that. They are to be disregarded if the story would be better off without them. Finally, and above all, if the author is just writing for the fun of it, then fun is the priority. Not standards.

    So I think that saying most people don't pull it off very well is justified, but that saying few people can or that second person is inherently inferior is going too far. It would be declaring something you either cannot know or cannot prove. And to reiterate, a failed attempt in fiction writing does absolutely no harm to anyone, and therefore, there is no sound reason against trying.

    That probably sounds confrontational. Not my intention. Though I do know that it's a little off topic. :redface: Still, I'm tired of people picking on the little guy. He has his uses too.
     
  16. Jobeykobra
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    Jobeykobra Member

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    I agree with everything you said there, but Jay McInerney wrote that novel.
     
  17. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    I get the original question. My post was addressing more the other responses. The advice stands. If you're being creative and you're experimenting with new forms and craft elements, then all the power to you. Fail brilliantly. Succeed. In the end, it's your story, your POV, your tense, your baby.

    Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

    I think people frown upon 2nd person in the literary world because "it's not the POV their parents used" and well . . . maybe it feels weird? Maybe it feels like a device to others? I just want a good story. POV is irrelevant (imho). And that's where the "to heck with everyone else" attitude comes in. If it's my story and I want to write it in 2nd person, I'm probably not going to let the grousers ruin my good time here because they have a personal dislike for it. I just don't see the point.
     
  18. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    I have serious issues. :) As most of you probably already know. Haha.
     
  19. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    what the heck? Man, am I really that out of it? :(

    4 days straight of AWP will fry your brain. Thank you for correcting. I'll fix it in the original.

    I'm so lame. I fail at internet.
     
  20. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    Just to answer the OP and not get into the debate about creativity vs convention, I more or less abhor 2nd person. I don't like the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style (and that's not counting flipping through those freakin' pages. . .ugh!), and I don't like the ones where the MC addresses the reader as if it's a face-to-face conversation.

    Maybe most readers can only suspend belief as long as they're removed from the story, or maybe they prefer to feel like they're snooping a little. Whatever it is, a glance at popular writing styles indicates I'm not the only person that immediately puts down books in 2nd person.

    However, the only thing lost in trying is a little time. If it worked for the shorter version, something spiffy might happen in the longer one.

    //R
     
  21. Gingerbiscuit
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    Gingerbiscuit Senior Member

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    I think the question you have to ask is "Why would this need to be in second person?"
    Is there something you need to say that can only be said by making the reader a part of the story? And if that is the case then does it need to last throughout the entire novel? Experimental writing techniques can be extremely powerful but for me, if you try and experiment without having a reason for it then you run the risk of ruining a perfectly wonderful story by trying to be too clever.
     
  22. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    Why do you need 1st person? Why not just a close 3rd? Why present tense? Why past?
     
  23. jess046
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    jess046 Member

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    thanks for all the replies, guys. I actually started to write my story (just as an experiment, I haven't really planned it properly yet) and I dabbled with 2nd, 1st and 3rd person. I kept on slipping back into 2nd person, which was weird, because I primarily write in 3rd person. I'm thinking I should just go with it and see how it pans out. Maybe try a novella?

    I can see why people wouldn't appreciate the 2nd person narrative voice, as it can easily be a case of the author telling the reader what to think. I know in my short story, I made that error a couple of times, so I went back and edited it of course. As long as instead of saying "You were furious", you replace it with some kind of action, I don't think breaking the show don't tell rule will be too difficult.

    Oh and I'm not too worried about publishing or anything like that right now. I don't really write for money...so if I have an idea, I go with it, regardless of what's popular in the bussiness. But in saying that, the reader will always be a very important part of the process, so I appreciate everybody's comments on 2nd person.
     

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