1. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 New Member

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    A fiction work in the second person: possible?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by carsun1000, Dec 14, 2011.

    Hello,

    I have been thinking about this idea of writing a novel in the second person. Now even though I have written in the first and third person before, I find it extremely difficult to even plot the outline. I mean, I know the story I want to tell but it proves really difficult to tell it in the second person. Has anyone here ever written or read anything wrote in the second person? If you have, were you convinced that you were carried along in the story?

    The concept I have is that this guy wakes up from coma (after he was shot) and had the whole story told to him by his partner (a detective)

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  2. Bob Magness
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    Bob Magness Member

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    The only books I can remember reading that were in second person were the old Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid.

    It is certainly possible, but I think it would be difficult. But in the case of your plot it would only be in second person if the person waking up from the coma is the reader. I think it could work if you are sticking to what the reader DID before the coma. But you wouldn't be able to say what the character in the coma was thinking or felt. Doable but tricky. Good luck.
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Hit up wikipedia, there's an extensive list of fiction written in the second person. It can be done well, has been done well, will continue to be done well.
  4. Baba Yaga
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    Baba Yaga New Member

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    Life's Lottery- Kim Newman- a grown-up version of the choose your own adventure books. Slightly disturbing in parts.

    If Upon a Winter Night, A Traveller- Italo Calvino- alternating chapters are written in the second person. An excellent, if occasionally abstract read.

    Good luck
  5. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Member

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    Half-asleep in Frog's Pajamas was written in second person, so I know it's possible. Never read the book so I can't tell you how, but it's possible. Check that book out for the how.
  6. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 New Member

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    Thank you all for your replies. It is definitely something to look into and see if I can challenge myself in this new direction.
  7. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. New Member

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    It can certainly be done, and has been done, just keep in mind that a lot of readers find second person "intrusive" or "commanding". Others (myself included) find it gimmicky. Just be aware that there can be some negative connotations that go along with it.
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    Science fiction writer Charles Stross has at least two novels in second person. One is called Halting State. He does a nice job with it. Just keep in mind that the "you" in a second person work does not generally refer specifically to the reader. That seems to trip people up.
  9. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. New Member

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    This may be true, but most readers subconsciously interpret it as so.
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    I know some people interpret it that way. I don't know about "most" readers. Unless they are reading choose your own adventure books or something. Taking Halting State, for example - there is no way a reasonable person reading that book could think the "you" was supposed to be them.
  11. joanna
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    joanna Member

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    Yes, it's possible. And it's even possible that it will be an intriguing and engaging story.

    But it's way more likely that it'll be gimmicky and annoying.

    Not to say you can't give it a try.
  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've never understood how people can actually believe this to be true. I can only conclude that people who make this claim have never read a novel or story written in second person, and somehow think that it magically transforms the reader into the narrator or something. Besides, people don't associate "you" with "I", they associate "I" with "I"; as Steerpike says, when the second person is used, it almost always either impersonal or used as an apostrophe directed at a character the reader is forced to construct. For that reason, it's capable of a great deal more complexity and nuance and openness than any other POV, but it is also much more demanding of the reader, which I assume is the reason for its absence from mainstream fiction.
  13. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 New Member

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    So if part of the recounter's monologue is something like this:

    "You told him to stop. When he didn't, you shot him. He fell at your feet with his head burried in the dirt."

    This is the partner recounting what happened to him after he woke up from his coma.

    Will this work? Seems though I will have to use the third person for the recounting
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It definitely works in that example, but I think it would be hard to write a whole novel with the set up you've given yourself...the narrator can't have been present at every moment the guy in the coma was present, so you're going to need to diverge into first person at points to carry the novel I think. You definitely don't need third person, and in fact I think that if you switch to third person you'll kill the second person stuff.
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    I have never read a novel written in second person, and thinking about it I'm not sure I'd like it. There must be a reason to why this is not done very often :rolleyes: A question though, as this got me curious: will the only person speaking in the story be the partner? Because as soon as the mc/coma-guy starts to talk you will loose the second person POV I guess... which makes me wonder if it will really be a totally exclusive second person pov-story...
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    It will most likely be much harder to get published.

    I've thought about writing a psychological thriller in second person, where the reader is the one who is going mad. I've played with the idea of a novel that would make the reader feel like he's loosing his mind. The only way I can think of how to pull this off is in second person, using psychological tricks used by hypnotist as well.

    In this case, I would tell the reader what they feel. After a while, this should prove to make them feel strange.

    Quickly wrote that off the cuff to give an idea of what I'm talking about. I think it can be done.

    The closest any book has come to tripping my mind out is House of Leaves.
  17. Ettina
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    Ettina New Member

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    He's got a brain injury. Maybe he's silent throughout the whole thing because it's hard for him to speak.

    For example, if he has locked in syndrome (paralyzed except for the eyes), he could communicate by blinking while his partner points to letters, but that would be a slow and laborious process. He might just spell out 'what happened to me?' then let the guy monologue about it.

    Or you could do the same with Broca's aphasia, in which case he'd say 'what happened to me?', but really haltingly with very bad grammar ('what... happen... me?'). A video of a girl with Broca's aphasia can be found here.
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but if that was the case I personally don't see how it could work. Would the entire story be an eternal monologue then? I have a hard time figuring out a dialogue that would go on for 80k+ words... because as soon as the person stops talking and the writer explain what he's doing (going to sleep, having a cup of coffee, whatever) it would automaticaly turn into third person. I can imagine a short story in second person but an entire novel? I have to find one and see how it's done, I guess. This thread got me curious.
  19. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but if that was the case I personally don't see how it could work. Would the entire story be an eternal monologue then? I have a hard time figuring out a dialogue that would go on for 80k+ words... because as soon as the person stops talking and the writer explain what he's doing (going to sleep, having a cup of coffee, whatever) it would automaticaly turn into third person. I can imagine a short story in second person but an entire novel? I have to find one and see how it's done, I guess. This thread got me curious.
  20. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 New Member

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    Well now that I have seen or read how people are reacting to this, I am even doubting myself if it will be possible. The way I was hoping this will work was that the partner will tell him the story from the begining of their hunt for the killer. Maybe I should think about the MC telling his own story (first person) until he goes into a coma and have his partner pick it up from where he lost his ability to think about what happened.
  21. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. New Member

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    Well, from the conversations I've had with people regarding POV... They associate "I" with the narrator/author. They associate "you" with themselves as though the narrator were talking to the ones reading. It seems pretty simple to understand why readers do this.

    FWIW yes, I'm referring to the "average", non-avid reader who doesn't read much, if any, second person.
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    I'm still not convinced that most readers would do this. In second person novels I've read, for example, the "you" character in the story has a name and a gender. Let's say a woman named "Sarah." If I'm anyone other than a woman named Sarah, it is not likely I'm going to be confused into thinking I am the character.
  23. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. New Member

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    As I said in my second post, I think readers feel this way on a subconcious level. They know they are not the character named Sarah. But after seeing so much "you do this" and "you do that" the reader sort of catches themselves feeling like they are the one in the story.
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    Carsun: I like the story idea, why not writing it as you said in the last post, without the second person? There's absolutely nothing wrong with the idea in itself...
    Now, I have never read any novel like this, or short story either, but from what it seems to me it sounds as if it would be a person (the narrating character) "talking" to someone not present, as in a more internal monologue, or am I wrong? And even that seems hard to pull off in novel lenght, because doesn't it mean there will only include one single character altogether? Please correct me if I'm wrong. Is there somewhere you can read an excerpt of a novel in second person? I don't even have any titles so I don't know what to search for.
  25. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Check out Halting State by Charles Stross.

    Second person makes me feel most like the author is talking to me. I feel most like the character in the novel.
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