1. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    What about second person?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jo spumoni, Mar 11, 2012.

    I'm just curious to know what you all think about the most neglected point of view in writing: second person. I ask because I wrote a story with a second person scene last year, and about half the people I showed it to really disliked it, and half the people liked it a lot. I can justify why I used it: the "you" character is a slave, and using 2nd person lets us get inside her head while showing that she is too disenfranchised to be allowed her own voice. But all this literary analysis type explanation aside, 2nd person was really more of an experiment and challenge for me, and I wanted to try it. I kept it because I liked how it sounded, but a lot of readers thought it was just plain bizarre to have a piece written in 2nd. While I kept it for my final draft (it was for school), it's one of the choices I'm not 100% sure I should have made.

    So what do you think about second person? Have you ever seen it work? Do you think it can be used effectively? Or are third and first person just much more desirable in every way?
     
  2. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    Can you post an example of second-person writing? I'm having a hard time thinking about what it would even be.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've just put up a piece of flash fiction on my blog here which is in second person.

    I love reading it, Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child mean it is something that doesn't put me off. It also reminds me of the old PC point and click style games like Myst and Broken Sword. It works particularly well for mystery or horror.

    Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon has a prologue that I am sure is written in second person, but really he created a unique narrative style for the whole book.

    Rumer Godden wrote a wonderful short story in second person

    Iain Banks' Complicity is my favourite, it has the murderer's POV in second person.

    Samuel Beckett's Company was wonderful.

    I'm sure there are others. I've used some second-person in an epistolary about a mad eighteenth century Reverend shipwrecked on an island with an equally mad Sea Captain. First, second, third and a hybrid narrative are all used depending on his state of mind as he writes the diary entry. It's a horror and works really well for some entries.

    Some people have issues with narratives, I know some who never read third person, others who find first awful. Personally, it is the last thing I notice or care about in a book unless the author has written the wrong one.
     
  4. Jeeves
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    Jeeves Member

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    It would be like being told a story about yourself. Or perhaps one character telling another a story about that character.

    You said this, you did that. etc.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Second person does work well in how-to books:

    In fiction, second person is a little like jamming your arm up inside the reader and playing ventriloquist. Most readers don't like to be told how to act and think and speak.

    Second person has been used, as was said, in the "Choose your own adventure" books, which were popular before computer gaming. They were rather atrocious to read.
     
  6. Jeeves
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    Jeeves Member

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    As writing goes, that was as unpleasant a visual as I've read in a while...
     
  7. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Italo Calvino would like to have a word with you, sir.
     
  8. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    You know, I've often wondered if choose-your-own-adventure style books might make a comeback with the advent of E-readers. You could simply click links to follow your choices, rather than flipping ridiculous numbers of pages. It also occurs to me that choose-your-own-adventure books wouldn't really need to be in third person.
     
  9. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Here's a very short excerpt from what I ended up turning in:

    You hear the mournful cry of a loon, and the imagined past shatters. You cannot know what was in their eyes, for you were not in the church when they called you a witch and sentenced you to hang. You roll your body over, but there is no comfortable position on the stone floor. Through the high, barred window, you can see the full moon and a myriad of stars and you whisper the chant your mother taught you when you were a child. As the foreign words echo off the stone, you close your eyes and feel your mother’s warm hand upon your shoulder. The sun beats down on your black skin and the salt air is heavy. Your mother sets the herbs and roots upon the ground, just as her own mother taught her in the land far across the sea, before they knew white men.

    This is about a slave accused of witchcraft in 17th century Massachusetts, just to let you know.

    I think this might be atypical of 2nd person, though, because I think I remember that in the "Choose your own adventure" stories that the "you" wasn't really a developed character; it actually was supposed to be the reader. In mine, "you" is just another character and I'm sort of forcing the audience to play along. I could have written it in 3rd, but I thought 2nd was more interesting. Wrong choice? I don't know...:confused:
     
  10. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    Interesting to say the least. I totally forgot about the Choose-Your-Adventure books until Elgaisma mentioned them. I liked these books!

    Anyway, can't say I'd be a big fan of 2nd person if used in a context other than the-reader-is-the-character because I think it'd be a bit confusing. It uses 'you' but it's not literary YOU! you know what I mean?

    The piece you've posted seems nice enough but I still couldn't help but feel that you were talking to ME!
     
  11. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Nice piece, I was just starting to get hooked then when it ended :(

    But all the way through I did have this nagging voice in my head saying 'this would sound SO much better in 3rd person...'

    I agree with Phoenix - if the 2nd person is not meant to address the reader, but another character in the story, then it is confusing. It's as if the narrator (author) is having a direct conversation with their character, and then the reader is almost made to feel like they're eavesdropping. It kind of excludes the reader from the story in a way that third person doesn't.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I seem to remember a discussion about this over my Reverend story that if the you is another character and not the reader/MC then it is actually a variation on first person and not second person. (Some of my entries the you is God and not himself - the narrative from feedback seems to work, but encompasses variations on first and third as well as second)
     
  13. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I think I know what you mean. That always did confuse me a bit, where someone is speaking in 1st person but addressing the audience, like in Catcher in the Rye when Holden says things like "You'd like her; you really would." That's not quite what's going on with my piece, however. Mine, I'm just kind of taking something that might otherwise be in third person but replacing the s/he with "you." I guess that throws a lot of people off...
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I put my most recent second person attempt on the blog here.

    Yes it does throw people off, but so does writing in first or third. There are readers who cannot adjust to a narrative they are not used to. I know readers who won't read first and those that will only read first. Second isn't written as often so there are less opportunities for readers to adjust to it. Done well it has real advantages in certain stories.

    Lewis Grassic Gibbon in Sunset Song pretty well invented his own narrative style. He uses some second and some third person, but it has definite first person influences and he writes in an almost stream of conscious style with unusual punctuation. (basically insanely long sentences). It is considered by some to be THE Scots work of literature, more so than Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His sequels were less well received but I enjoyed them just as much.

    Iain Banks Complicity is fantastic the antagonist written in second person is deliciously creepy. Something that has been brought up on this thread that second person is really good at.

    If you want your reader to feel uneasy, uncomfortable etc it is a great choice.
     
  15. LTC
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    People tend to become confused if exposed to excessive amounts of second-person for an extended amount of time, for whatever reason! Second-person works best in brief, experimental artistic works, like poetry, songwriting, the occasional short story, and immersive and interactive things like Choose-Your-Own Adventures and webcomics. It will turn off the reader to a full-length fiction novel. I've asked people why this is, and these are their answers:

    1. It feels like the reader is a character, being controlled or told what to do and think. This came as a shock to me because I never considered second-person this way. I always assumed the narrator was talking to someone else, and I was just overhearing the conversation! Or even if I was a character, I was in an alternate universe or in one of those what if? scenarios. Oddly enough, people don't get this feeling when listening to music, even though most songs are written with a remarkable amount of second-person pronouns.

    2. The constant "you" sounds repetitive. This always came across as a bit silly to me. The only reason the word "I" in third person doesn't sound off is because we're desensitized to it. If we used second person more often, I daresay we'd be as familiar with the pronoun "you". Although on the other hand first person does allow for more variation; I, me, my, us, we, etc.

    Like Elgaisma said, it really depends on how you want your reader to feel. I aim to make my readers uncomfortable by having them think outside of societal norms, so I experiment a lot with jarring elements like second person. If you want something more casual or friendly, you may want to avoid it.
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jo,

    I've read other things by you so I know you're a good writer. This excerpt, however, sounds awful to me. The 2nd person just makes it come off as obnoxious and jarring.

    I have recently seen 2nd person work in another writing forum. It was a story about a haunted house. Somehow that person really managed to pull it off.
     
  17. BlizzardHarlequin
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    BlizzardHarlequin Senior Member

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    In my opinion, 2nd person is my least favorite form of writing. I love to pretend to be other people whether in 1st or 3rd.

    That being said, I was so interested in the Give-Yourself-Goosebumps books when I was younger.
    As you grow older though you'd rather make your own decisions and not be pushed around into doing things you yourself would never do.
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it worked in Charles Stross's Halting State, because that was set in a world of video games. It was still hard work, but I persevered because I could see the point in it and ended up really enjoying the book. Basically, second person makes it a lot harder for the reader to suspend disbelief, so they need to be given something big in exchange.
     
  19. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    Fair enough, I guess, although I wish you'd elaborate a little bit. I can see how it would be jarring, even awful, but I confess I'm a bit surprised by "obnoxious." And could you provide a few more specifics on the other story you mention? Any way I could have a look at it, or you could tell me what it does differently that seems to work? I don't want to challenge you. I'm just curious.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, of course. I find 2nd person inherently obnoxious for the reasons posted above by others. 2ND person generally makes me feel like someone is telling me what to do and who I am. Naturally the nature of the story will dictate to what extent 2nd person is obnoxious. For instance, in the case of this story, you go so far as to tell me who my own mother is. On a subconscious level, I cannot help but take offense, and therefore it comes off as obnoxious to me.

    I am sending you the link to the story in question. I suspect why it works well there is he starts the story with a general premise: all those who set eyes upon this house experience this specific fate. Then, the narrator proceeds to describe how the house enchants and ensnares you. Actually, after explaining it like this I'd almost say 2nd person works to that stories advantage, because you feel like the house is sucking you in. You're still you, just experiencing something paranormal.

    In your story, you're trying to make me see things as though I were another individual, and I think for that you need god like skills of persuasion which might not even exist :)
     
  21. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Stories that are written in second person can be good in spite of being written from that perspective, not because of it. I get what it's supposed to do, but it doesn't do it for me. At all. I know there are some successful stories that pulled it off -- a few -- but I don't like it, personally. It's unnecessary. It's gimmicky. It's intrusive.

    I started reading a book like this the other day: pieces of chapters are written in second person. Suddenly, I am the pilot of a plane. Then I'm watching the pilot, then I'm him again. Can't imagine why it got past the editors, honestly. Totally unnecessary.

    And the whole time I'm thinking, No. Stop saying 'you.' I would never be a white guy named Chip living in New Hampshire.
     
  22. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Amusing thread. I suggest all the nonbelievers google Videotape by Don DeLillo. Read and see the light.
     
  23. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    I actually found a story that I think uses 2nd person to its advantage, and I think when I explain, it will make sense why: the story is very short, only about a paragraph, and it's told in the form of a mother telling her daughter what to do. It's very natural in that circumstance because it's someone talking to someone else, and in this way, it reveals the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter. I'll admit that with what I've posted here, 2nd person may not have been the right choice, but I think there are probably circumstances when it is advantageous to use 2nd person, just as there are situations when third person is preferable to first person and so on. My story just may not have been one of them.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to use it in stories were the character is experiencing an element of compulsion. They are being forced against their will to be or do something out of character.

    For me reading it isn't much different to writing. I'm a middle aged, British, Mum of three. I have yet to write a middle aged, British mother. I've been in the course of my writing a seventeen year old boy, a Carribean Granny, a 70 year old wizard, a 7 year old boy, two middle aged male gay detectives, a mad eighteenth century Reverend, a male beauty pageant winner, a 120 year old man from another planet - a dog and a few others lol

    I think reading second person does require more input from the reader, more imagination, more empathy etc Usually writers create and readers recreate, reading second person is almost like being a co-creator which is why it was great for the Choose Your Own Adventures.
     
  25. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Guys, you realize that half of you are basing your opinions of second-person on Choose Your Own Adventure books, aka shitty mass-market children's fiction. The relevant book here is If On A Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. If you think second-person is inherently bad without having read this book, you don't really have a basis to speak from.
     

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