1. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    I'll speak to you...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ghosts in Latin, Feb 19, 2009.

    Are you fond of narratives that seem to speak to you?

    "He called it paradise. You may too if you saw as he."

    "... we can surely have his world unfold before our eyes."

    etc.
     
  2. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you talking about occasionally using the word "you" (addressing the reader) or about writing something in 2nd person (like the reader is a character in the story)?

    Either way, I would very much like to see a discussion about this. I write in first person a lot and I made the mistake(?) of having one of my characters make a passing comment to the reader during a line of internal monologue. My proofreader (a.k.a. my sister) went off on me; she HATED it. Ever since, I've avoided it like the plague. But I wonder if a lot of readers feel that way or if she's just weird.

    Personally, I don't mind being addressed by the writer. But it's a fine line to walk. Don't insult the reader's intelligence or try to put words in the reader's mouth/mind. The problem with adressing the reader is that it is always one-way; the reader can't talk back. All a reader can do to express pleasure is continue reading, and to express displeasure, stop reading. For example:

    What if I don't think this place is "paradise?" What if I don't want to "have this world unfold before my eyes?" I'll stop reading (r continue on as an angry reader, which is probably worse ;)). Some writers will actually attempt to force an idea into the reader's head using these types of statements (see "propaganda"). It's easy to make that mistake without even realizing it. IMO, the best way to adress the reader is with the utmost neutrality or not at all.
     
  3. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I disagree with Mouse. I am currently reading a book entitled, "The Phoenix Guards," and it, in part, is written as though a bunch of old guys who are researchers of ancient artifacts are writing the story, and constantly refer to the reader.

    It is quite a novelty and not offsetting at all. If you have a talent for writing as such, I think you should employ it at your own leisure.

    Also, because your sentence stated that I 'may' see it, too, if I 'saw as he,' you are effectively saying that he, particularly, sees it in a certain way.

    Which works.
     
  4. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    I don't mind reading that style of narration for the most part; though - as said previously - it can be affronting when not used properly. In short, I'm ok with being told what I see, what I should take notice of, but I don't like being told what I think or should feel.

    That being said, I do prefer the addressing to be a little more subtle than a straightforward you. I have employed the technique only once, myself, (which never went beyond a first draft with that particular narrative style). In that piece I was more telling the story of a story, and occasionally used lines like It was very important that it was x that said this, and not y. The line itself served no purpose other than re-enforce a point to the reader, but it doesn't address them personally. I had one reviewer give the following feedback:

    Which was a nice way of putting it, but I stopped using that style of narrative for the story as, by the same token, I felt it led the reader by the hand too much.
     
  5. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    I'm reading a book at the moment, Halting State by Charles Stross, which is written entirely in the 2nd person, as the reader is the main character. The other example that comes to mind is the Fighting Fantasy books, although they're a bit different.

    Anyway, I don't see any reason not to use it, its just a different perspective, and a good one to use because it hasn't been used widely before by writers. When the 1st and 3rd persons start to feel stale, where do you go?
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This approach of directly approaching and engaging the reader is perhaps best known (or perhaps most infamously known) for Charlotte Brontë's clunking line, 'Reader, I married him'.

    Whether this example is a good example of the direction is not a topic for here I don't think (though I'll debate it if you wish :)). Like all device and direction, it doesn't matter whether you use it or not, only how well you use it. If you're not confident in its application or fit within your text, perhaps omit. If you are confident and as an author think it adds to a piece, then go ahead. I would advise against its heavy use however, as, like most things, sparing use it often the most effective.

    NB: involving the audience was common in the notion of epic theatre, as practised by Bertold Brecht and Max Frisch. That goal was to ensure the audience knew they were watching a play, rather than an interpretation of reality. For more on this form of directly addressing the audience / reader, see this link as a start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_theatre
     
  7. othman
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    othman Member

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    I personally dislike the style due to the way it can remove you, rather forcefully, from your imagination. I find that it just about passes in plays as it's easier to show the speaker's emotions as something a long the lines of " 'Ever since then, dear reader, everything has been atrocious!' he said disdainfully." now I don't actually write the style thus the example obviously sucks, but you can see my point. But in a play you have expressions, voice changes and actions such as pacing and when someones speaking to you the writer can't say that it was sarcasm - it can kill the complexity of human communication.

    Plus I just plainly dislike the style probably due to bad books I have read in the past.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a deprecated style that used to be a lot more popular. Its main flaw is that it reminds the reader that he or she is on the outside looking in. A good narrative style makes the feel, however briefly, that he or she is fully integrated into the scene.
     
  9. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This only works if you think that this is a flaw. Clearly, those that practiced it for literary purpose didn't think it was a flaw. The benefits this style can bring include the creation of a further character with very little extra work, i.e. the reader. This has its own benefits (and flaws) to manage. It allows the reader to take greater participation in a text, or play, and allows rhetoric to carry extra resonance.

    The quality of looking in from the outside can be precisely what an author / playwrite wishes to acheive. In Ibsen's 'Ghosts' much is made of the windows in the scenes, portals to the outside, and the audience there is very much ostracised for effects in claustrophobia. Though, in modern texts, is it rare to wish to cast your reader to the side of the scene, to downgrade him from reader to observer, but used well it can offer this very feeling to effect, and used to a different goal to very much include him in the scene, posing direct questions for example to him.

    Like all device and style this one has to be carefully managed and is only effectively implemented for a reason above pure style or apeing of a style.
     
  10. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I don't mind it when it's used very occasionally, especially in a way that makes it seem more like a figure/manner of speech than directly addressing the reader (e. g., in one of my stories it says something like, "You would think that a graceful being like Chepi would know how to fly..." ), but as a constant narrative device, no, I don't care for it much. I prefer to keep the narrator uninvolved, for the most part.

    One big exception is in comedic works...I have a comedy story where there's a whole paragraph of the narrator talking to the reader about the plot of the story and how it relates to their life and how they're going to skip a section because it would be quite tedious if put in writing. I don't imagine this working nearly so well in a serious story.

    This is merely my personal opinion and is not any sort of blanket judgement on the matter.
     
  11. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    Thanks for your responses, guys. There were a lot of good points made that I hadn't thought of prior to this.
     
  12. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    A good example of someone who uses the technique well is jeff lindsay in the Dexter books.
     
  13. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    One my favourite books, Damage by an author with the last name of Jenkins, is written entirely in second person and I absolutely adore it. :) I have to disagree with Cogito for once; I dont feel that it reminds the reader that he is not a part of the story --I see it as quite the opposite! I feel that style allows for the reader to be put completely in the hands of the writer; as if the character really is you.

    I often write in this style as well. It seems to come more naturally to me, and I find myself much more engaged as a writer and a reader of the second person narrative.

    However, as interpreted in the OP, I dont like it if it becomes an aside, as in the writer taking the time out to is speak directly to me. I feel that does remind the reader that he is on the outside looking in, and it's as if the author has just remembered, like he's saying, "Oh, and you wouldnt know, so here's this explanation."

    Unless done with some serious style or a larger purpose, I see an aside as often the lazy way out.
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I started reading, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and the MC addressed me way to many times. I don't know if I can put up with it.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Second person is when te reader is a caracter in the story, and te narration tells the reader wat e or she does.sees.feels, etc. That's not the same as te narrator addressing tbe reader, which is what this thread is about.

    I stand by my assertion that writing fiction in second person is an abomination.

    The narrator addressing the reader is, in general, distracting. I don;t really recommend it, but it's not an automatic turn-off like second person narrative. It can work in some pieces.

    As for second person narrative, I am not a hand puppet, and I don't ever want the authors hand reaching into my - ask not!
     

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