1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    The 2nd Person Tale

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Killer300, May 18, 2011.

    Okay, this has been done before fully, but it's rare. This, to me, is a shame because 2nd person presents some very interesting possibilities in writing to say the least. For one thing, if one were to write a plot for a video game, writing it in 2nd person would enhance immersion to a level unseen before. In normal books, it would allow for plot concepts not really possible before, or at least drastically different ways of telling the same plot, which is a lot of what modern writing is, as Cognito has stated.

    So, why the lack of it? Is it because it's difficult to write? The perspective so rare that it would scare away most readers? Well, the latter has been proven somewhat wrong judging by a book that did rather well recently which involved backwards upside down text that required the reader to read it using a mirror. That book had a fair amount of other literary tricks to it too. I'm guessing the former for that reason, which itself is probably at least partially because it's so rarely done.
     
  2. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    It's REALLY annoying to read. Do you have an Aunt that always emails you in all caps? Yeah, more annoying than that.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I find it annoying. Being steered through the story makes me want to resist, and that intrudes on the flow of the story.

    It's like being the ventriloquist's dummy, and you do NOT know me well enough for your hand to be - THERE!

    Second person has been used in the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular just before technology made video games popular. In a literary sense they were disastrous.

    The one place second person works is in How-To books, in which you really are walking the reader through a procedure.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've read some good second person stories. I don't mind the POV, but it is hard to do it well. The reason most people stay away from it is that if you don't do it well, you end up with some really bad results. More so than a mishandled first or third person POV.
     
  5. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, I get it. Okay, yeah, it's as I thought, way too hard to do well. That would explain also why I've read it can be recommended as a writing exercise, but that's about it(the context I read that in called it almost useless.)
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    But it has been done well. Despite what you often hear in terms of advice, it can be effective. So don't discount it entirely :)
     
  7. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    I know, but for some reason I get the feeling you would have to be some god of writing who could write on a bad day well enough to cause us to faint.:) Okay, I exaggerate, but the point is that it's very difficult to write, and would also probably appear very jarring to the average reader who is used to third person limited. 1st person, and third person omniscent are still okay because they appear often enough, however 2nd person would probably confuse many readers, if they weren't warned of it somehow.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Why it's not used is that second person isn't needed to "enhance immersion to a level unseen before" as immersion and empathy are far more dependent on things other than whether a story is first, second or third person.

    You're working on false, but common, assumptions that second person is somehow more immersing than first or third, when in reality it's not from a technical standpoint, and from a reader's standpoint, second person is so rare that it's actually disconcerting and pulls many readers out of the story; the opposite of immersing them.


    I'll also mention I've read things that were in second person and quite successful, though little had to do with the fact it was in second person, as that's really just a style choice and honestly doesn't make that much of a difference from a craft standpoint.
     
  9. Velox
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    Velox Senior Member

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    Yeah, I find it rather annoying. The rarity of second person is rivaled only by finding a well-written second person narrative.

    I've also heard that it's hard to write, and I know it is for me.

    But be that as it may, I don't think I would like to read a whole book with it. A short story may be good [if written well, of course], but even if a book were well-written with second person I wouldn't like it.
     
  10. Knight's Move
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    Knight's Move Member

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    One of the best second-person short stories I've ever encountered is called "An Old Mate of Your Father's" by Henry Lawson. The reason it works is that it is specific enough to be interesting, but vague enough to be applied to just about anyone in the time and place of the setting, thereby drawing you in.

    It's difficult to explain, but in this story the second person POV is somehow engaging instead of annoying.
     
  11. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    What was the book that has Mirror text?
     
  12. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    I remember R. L. Stine did a series of second person Goosebumps books. I read a few and promptly stopped taking R. L. Stine seriously. The second person POV simply falls flat even when done "well". It doesn't draw the reader in like first and third person can. The reader is always reminded that they're being told a story, they can "hear" the author behind the words.
     
  13. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Interesting. Well, I find it an interesting concept, and one could say that perhaps the Zombie Survival Guide is an example of it done right. What plot I've thought of with it involves the reader being an assassin being told a mission by someone, however that had its own issues, although it might make an interesting short story.
    But yeah, except for mockumentaries and short stories, this concept doesn't really work.
     
  14. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I don't know what book he's talking about, but I also don't see why that's so great either. Take any book, hold it upside down in front of a mirror and read the image reflected back at you. It's the same thing. It'll look weird for a second, but the hardest part is orienting which direction to read from, lol. I don't see what the big deal is, personally.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The alternate argument being that third person the reader is always reminded they're being told a story and can hear the author behind the words... err, wait, that's the exact same argument, do'oh.

    Point being, it's not the POV alone that does anything in fiction, but the multitude of other things a writer does that can help create and keep an empathetic connection.

    Your personal perspectives as a reader of course matters, but you personally not liking second person stories, or even the publishing industry as a whole not usually supporting such stories, doesn't mean the techniques and craft involved can't work and doesn't mean a second person story can't be just as connecting and empathetic as any other pov employed. Reader expectations and tastes can stand in the way, but let's not mistake that for some fundamental flaw in second person pov, as has been implied. The fact is, it's an uphill battle, but second person stories can do just as much as any other.

    I won't get into my doubts about R.L. Stine doing anything 'well' as it's all subjective anyway.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry to have to disagree, but that story is not told in second person... it's a story that's being told in third, by a first person narrator, so there's an occasional 'we' in there...

    the only time 'you' is used is in the first sentence... and even then, it's used only in a 'remember when' kind of way...

    http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/12022/

    i don't think you'll find any great literature written in true second pov, nor even any really 'good' fiction written that way...
     
  17. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've been trying to keep out of this discussion because it's the kind of thing that just irritates me (the argument against second person, not second person itself), but there most certainly is and will continue to be some incredible fiction written in the second person.

    I'm pretty sure I've made this list at least twice in similar threads in the past, but since the people who are anti-innovation get to keep restating their case, I guess there's no harm in re-listing some of my favourite works in second person, works that will hopefully go some way in showing that it is in fact possible to write a compelling, immersive story in second person:

    Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller
    Beckett's Company
    McInernay's Bright Lights, Big City
    Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
    Palahniuk's Diary
    plus a whole heap of short stories, which are probably the preferred form for second person narratives

    So please don't dismiss second person out of hand. Some people may not enjoy it, but it can, has, and will continue to be used to great effect.
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the writer tells me what I did, all my instincts say "No, I didn't!" Second person makes suspension of disbelief a lot harder. The things I've read that have worked in second person seem to be to have done so in spite of the voice, not because of it.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is nonsense. If done well, it can be just as engaging and draw the reader in just as well. I wouldn't cite Goosebumps as representative literature when it comes to second person. You should probably look into something a little more advanced to find good examples.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. There is some really good second person writing out there. I think people sometimes feel that if they haven't seen something, it must not exist.
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't mean to condescend, but it seems that it's your way of reading second person that is stopping you enjoying second person, rather than the text itself. You're reading it as though it creates characters in a different way to first or third person, which, in the good second person fiction I've read, is not the case.

    In those choose your own adventure books, yes, the protagonist is you, the reader. But in most serious fiction that uses the second person, the "you" is an evoked character, in the same way that the "I" in first person fiction is a character, or the "he" in third person. The reader is often not being addressed, but witnessing a narrating figure addressing another character.

    If you're reading second person fiction and trying to force the "you" and the reader to be the same thing, then obviously it's not going to be enjoyable, in the same way that first person wouldn't be as effective if you associated the "I" with the reader.
     
  22. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    But what about first person stories that aren't in the 'let me tell you a story' fashion but in the style where the story is simply unfolding as if you were the "I". Again, it's a reader-perception thing, which of course matters, but isn't a problem with the pov itself. Meaning second person doesn't make suspension of disbelief harder, but people make second person harder. If people were more used to it, and not third person, we'd be having the same discussion with people claiming third person had these issues, when really the issue is with the reader, not the pov.
     
  23. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I both agree and disagree. It's a matter of directions. A choose your own adventure book is reaching out to you, the reader, and actively engaging you in the story. Fiction that is written in an empathetic style, regardless of first, second or third person, is inviting you in to see through the character's eyes.

    Where all fiction can fail is by not inviting you in, or by inviting you in and then pushing you out and back and forth. The thing is we're just more forgiving of a third person, because instead of thinking 'the writer just killed my suspension of disbelief' we justify it, essentially, by saying 'well, it's just a story about a character' before we hope to be pulled back in again.

    In first person, it's harder to maintain that connection and make it so a reader can comfortably step into the main character's shoes; not adopting themselves as the 'I' but basically, as in third person that is empathetically written, being willing to almost allow the character to be a host for us (which is kind of what I think you were talking about).

    Second person, though, is even harder due to unfamiliarity and the suspension of disbelief bubble is a bit more fragile, so when a writer does make a gaff it's negative effects are worse. We can't just excuse it so easily as the writer then just getting clumsy with a narrator referring to a third-person character, because the gaff feels like the writer is then referring to US directly.

    Of course, all this depends on the level and success of empathetic writing. Third person stories can still be done well without an empathetic style (we'll accept just 'watching' instead of 'experiencing' if the story is interesting or compelling enough). Less so in first person, though it's still possible as we're used to it and the watching a character who is "I" but not us is slightly awkward, but can still work, just a bit more tentatively. Good luck trying to employ a style and technique that isn't built for empathy with a second tense story. A distant narration in the second tense is revolting to most readers and they won't stand for it. Tight, controlled empathetic story telling in second person can work just like it can in first and third, though, of course.

    The key being the level of empathy the author is trying to create. Effectively the 'distance' of a POV that many novice writers (and honestly not-so-novice writers too) neglect to take into account. Third person is the easiest to see this distance, as a distant story is just 'about' characters we 'watch' whereas a close third person is then 'experience' through that character. The thing people don't realize is first person often fails because it's hard to pull too far back (though people try!) without it becoming disjointed. In second person, it's impossible to get away with even the middle-distance that can be had in first person, and the second you make even one slip-up the spell is not only broken, but the reader is probably put off (for a variety of reasons already discussed in the thread).

    So, I guess the key is looking at distance too. Third person has a lot more leeway given to it, so when a writer slips up and pulls out to a more distant POV, it's excusable. Whereas second person is on the other spectrum, and there's really just no leeway, so every note has to be perfect, which of course is hard to do, and rare, and why so few second person stories are out there. It's just not worth the risks.
     
  24. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write short stories in second person but I'm not a huge fan of reading it: haven't found anyone yet who writes it in a style I like, hence what prompted me to start in the first place. I feel I do it well. Stories I've written in second person have received stronger response than those I've written in first and third person, with people directly that commenting that the "unusual" POV had made it feel "even more interesting" and "more intriguing".
     
  25. Ramivacation
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    Ramivacation Member

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    Second person has been done in video games a few times. The Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 (Not the crappy Dark Alliance games) do that masterfully. The difference between writing and a video game is when someone tells you what -you're- doing, it's because -you- ordered your character to do it.
     

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