1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    What exactly are the different POVs?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mallory, Sep 20, 2010.

    Hi,

    I know the extreme basics...I was taught that 1st person is when you use "I" and tell the story as though you're the narrator, 2nd person is when you refer to the characters's name (instead of "I") and don't place yourself inside him/her, but you also focus solely on the viewpoint, limitations, mindset etc of that one character, and 3rd person is writing like you're God and you can see into all the characters' inner workings.

    I know there's more to it than that. Can anyone fill me in on what I'm missing? For example, what are the multiple types of 3rd person? And did I get the 2nd person part wrong? A friend told me that 2nd person is rarely used.

    Thanks!
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In a nutshell, second person uses "you" instead of "I" or "he/she/it." It's rarely used because it's hard to do successfully and seems gimmicky in most cases.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Though actually we use second person and future tense all the time in real life, though rarely in fiction. If you (lol) have the knack to make it seem like real life and to come across naturally, then you should always give it a try. It's good to mess around in second person at least once in your life. :p
     
  4. viktor
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    viktor Member

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    As an experienced Dungeons and Dragons player, I love the second person, although I realise that most people cringe at it.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I"ve done 2nd with a few short horror stories, not sure if I could pull it off for a novel quite yet. ;)

    Thanks! :)
     
  6. Zombie_Chinchilla
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    Zombie_Chinchilla Member

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    2nd person is usually used for the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, which have a special place in my heart because they were some of the first books I read by myself. I usually prefer 3rd, but for some books, it's really best to use 1st.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    2nd doesn't work well for fiction, period!... to say that everyone should 'always give it a try' makes no sense to me...
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've read some good second-person short stories, where the author utilized the POV effectively. Don't know if a whole novel would sustain my interest in that POV, though.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You have second person wrong. The description you have there of second person is really third person limited. What you described as third person is third person omniscient.

    In first person, you are limited to whatever the narrator character can sense and what's going on in his/her head. You can't suddenly say "Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, the Evil Ones were plotting in their castle ..." because the narrator isn't there and has no idea what they're doing. In first person, you also use the vocabulary and speech patterns of the narrator character.

    Third person limited is similar to first person, in that you can only write about what your POV character thinks and sees, but you can use your own vocabulary and style.

    Third person omniscient allows you to be everywhere and anywhere. You can tell the reader what the Evil Ones are doing a thousand miles away, and tell the reader what they're thinking, too. You can write about what everybody is thinking. There are no limitations.

    The less said about second person, the better. It's like a nuclear weapon - it exists, but it is NOT to be used.
     
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  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like the adventure stories too - the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew series did some as well they were fun. I like second person for some short stories as well - they have a real point and click PC game, early spectrum RPG feel to them. Maybe you have to be of just the right generation second person to work lol For me it is hours of fun.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think this is good advice for writers. You can use it. It isn't used frequently because it is hard to do well, but if you can pull it off more power to you.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're probably right. I've only read one second-person story and I HATED it, and at the time I thought the problem was that it was in second person. It might have been that it was a terrible story.

    I do remember thinking that second person just called attention to itself too much. It looks like the writer is saying "Look at me! See how clever I am! I'm writing in SECOND PERSON!" I still think that.

    Sorry for my earlier post. It should have been worded less apocalyptically.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    LOL. :D

    Well, I've seen more bad second person than good. By quite a large margin. But I have read a few good ones.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Care to give examples? I only ask because I've only read successful second person fiction, which makes sense, because why would any self-respecting publisher publish an unsuccessful work. I simply assume that there is a lot of unsuccessful second person writing because the good ones that are published are so rare.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do you know of any second person short stories I could look for that are good? I'd like to find one and (hopefully) revise my opinion.
     
  16. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Thanks for all the replies, guys! And I'd love to see some of these examples, too.
     
  17. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm not sure how well our literary tastes match, but I really liked these stories (they're mostly literary/art fiction, sorry if that's not your bag):

    Company by Samuel Beckett, How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie) by Junot Diaz, the "Hema and Kaushik" stories from Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Swim Team by Miranda July, and I'm pretty sure Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis both have stories in second person in their short story collections (Haunted and The Informers respectively).

    It's also pretty important to note that a lot of second person fiction actually uses a rhetorical device called apostrophe, where the narrator is speaking to a particular person that is not the reader, so the reader is not tied to any one character but rather acting as a disembodied observer. I find this mode really fascinating in terms of narrative possibilities, especially when you consider how it might be applied to other points of view (prose in first person where the I is not the reader, etc).

    I'm sure if you trawl the magazines and journals you can probably find some average or less-than-average ones, but I mostly stick to books and I haven't encountered a second-person story or novel that disappointed me yet.

    EDIT: Do any genre readers know if anything significant has been published in second person in scifi or fantasy or anything? Just wondering...
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks, aaron! I'll check out a couple of those.

    (BTW, I do like literary fiction, but most of what I read is older stuff - I'm in a bit of a Joseph Conrad phase right now. And I am familiar with the rhetorical device called apostrophe. I wasn't aware that it was much used as a narrative device in fiction, though.)
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    All the second person fiction I know has been pick your own adventure books :p I started out writing with stories like that. :p Well, I mean, the first *long* things I wrote instead of pointless short stories were in 2nd person. Writing in that format really helped me figure out plots because obviously I had to keep making decisions and then writing both of them. :p I was preeeetty young at the time though.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Second person narration treats the reader as the ventriloquist's dummy. Guess where the author's hand is.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    amen to that!
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Actually, as I pointed out, this isn't necessarily true. I think those damned choose your own adventure books have ruined second person's (potentially) good name...

    In Jay McInernay's Bright Lights, Big City, while the narrative is in second person, the reader is not intended to inhabit the "you". Instead, it is better understood as a psychological divide in the narrator's self, as though he is in denial about his actions, his personality. The "you" is in fact the narrator, and while the reader is invited to share the narrator's head space, if you like, they are not really the same thing, and McInernay is certainly not saying that YOU, the reader, are the protagonist of his book.

    Likewise, Miranda July's The Swim Team is an apostrophe in second person, where the "you" is the narrator's ex-boyfriend, and the short story becomes an address to him. The reader is forced into an objective distance from both narrator and subject, and from this disembodied vantage point are given an entirely new perspective on the relationship.

    Second person is loaded with narrative potential, far more than either first or third. It just takes a little more care and thought on the part of readers and writers, which I suspect is why it has been largely excluded from popular fiction.
     
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  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    What's wrong with choose your own adventure books? :) I read the Goosebumps ones when I was in the 5 - 8 age range and I loved them -- they're just meant to be simple fun reads for kids aren't they? I mean, I'm not trying to say that kids' books should be dumbed down, but the Goosebumps choose your own adventures aren't meant to be deep, reflective New York bestsellers or anything.

    I also think 2nd person could have some potential for horror stories.

    It's true though, it definitely requires some caution. I can see how it would be horribly cheesy or annoying if done wrong.
     
  24. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There's nothing inherently wrong with them, its just that because they used to be so popular with kids, now there are all these adults who only associate second person fiction with them, rather than making any effort to appreciate it in an adult context, which is a shame because it genuinely is much more interesting from a writing perspective than either first or third person.
     
  25. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    I agree, Mal. I've read a few of those books, and I liked them a lot. They're great. They always kept you moving forward into different scenarios.

    I believe 2nd person is like an undiscovered frontier. And that's because not too many people have attempted to write in it.
     

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