1. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Member

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    Opinions on a Book Written in the Second Person?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Justin Attas, May 23, 2020 at 3:51 PM.

    Curious to see what you all think about this. So this idea visited me a few years ago, while I was still working as a cashier. It absolutely possessed me at the time, and I found myself scribbling outline notes on the backs of flyers when the store was dead. The idea never left me, and I definitely plan on writing it once my current WIP storylines are finished.

    What do you guys think about a story written in the second person? For those unsure what I mean by this- a book's narrator speaks of I or me in first person, him or her in third person, but you, in the second person. This would make the protagonist of the book the reader. The narration would address anyone reading it as you, someone who has become trapped in the fictional world of the book brought to life in their mind's eye by reading it. Super meta, I know.

    There would be a colorful cast of other characters who are also trapped inside, who all address the reader as you, and have their own stories. Some of the biggest mysteries would be who the cryptic narrator is, why the reader is the only one who can hear them, and if you can every truly outwit it.

    The book would read like a "choose your own adventure", with cues to turn to certain pages to continue the story, depending on your choices. The reader would meet different characters, see different locations, and experience different conflicts/resolutions based on their choices. But, to unravel the whole story, they would need to tread down several main narrative tracks.

    I think this could be a truly engaging and unique read for people! It's very challenging to write in the second person (I've experimented with an intro chapter before), but it could be worth it! What do you guys think?
     
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  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This format has traction in fanfiction circles where it is typically referred to as you/reader or reader insert.

    If not already familiar with fanfiction, I would say a site like AO3 or FFN would be a good place to get an idea of the differing ways in which the format is handled, especially when the "you" is not physically in the scene.
     
  3. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    These have been done before. They've been done in Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 1980's and then more recently several video games used this format including Depression Quest and The Stanley Parable. And the fact you're doing it as a choose your own adventure format is for the best, because I'm not going to want to read a book supposedly about me and yet the character is making choices I would never make.

    I think the biggest challenge would be to build up the other characters and creating the illusion they are reacting independently based on the main character's choices. This was the main problem with the game Depression Quest. Aside from it being such a poorly written narrative to begin with, and utilizing subject matter that doesn't work real well in that choose your own adventure format (ie, mental illness, which is best presented as a character study such as with Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and The Joker), the game also didn't have all that interesting characters to boot. They were all just sort of there... They didn't do anything. They didn't seem to really interact with the main character and they were not making any choices that you as a character now had to decide how you want to react.

    So I would look at Depression Quest as a way not to do it. (It's free to play. Don't say I didn't warn you.) And look at Lone Wolf as potentially a way to do it.
     
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  4. Historical Science

    Historical Science Contributor Contributor

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    To my memory, the only book I've read that uses second person is Fight Club. It starts in first person but shifts to second person during the story and I think it's done quite brilliantly. It fits the story well and seems natural as the MC loses more and more control over his own life.

    I say go for it. If it works, it works. I guess the big question would be: Why? It's important that you believe second person is the best vehicle to tell this story and not just because you want to try something different. But if you think it's what will work best for the story, then go for it!
     
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Active Member

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    Here's an example from the 70's—one of the magazine-sized black-and-white comics, this one called Tales of the Zombie:

    [​IMG]

    I remember it being pretty neat, but at the same time pretty gimmicky.
     
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  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    I was an editor for a magazine/ezine about a decade ago. Of the hundreds of stories bought in that time (when I was an editor, and read mainly slush), only two were written in 2nd person POV, and both by the same author. That isn't to say that there weren't any other submissions in 2nd person (no where near equal to the other more common POVs). For readers, the POV character making choices the reader would not make is a problem. As an editor, always trying to look at it from our audience's perspective (those that were well-written), they just didn't seem to click well enough.

    A choose your own adventure, that has a far better chance of success.
     
  7. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I like short stories written in second person but an entire novel would drive me up the wall. It creates a strange push/ pull you are the character but simultaneously not sensation. And it sometimes makes you hyper aware of the technique rather than loosing yourself in the story. I think it would be great for creating a dreamy temporary scenario but overall I would just use either a mix - one chapter an I pov, one chapter third, one chapter second and mix it up or settle on one. But then again who knows. Give a couple chapters a try and see how it goes.
     
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  8. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A few years back we had a member post a tasty little number in the erotica section that was in 2nd person. Another member went utterly ballistic at the idea that he was being "made to do and say things he would never say and do". :whistle:

    Ballistic, I say. I had to finally (and permanently) escort him out.

    It was hard for me to fathom how he'd made himself the victim in that little play. :wtf:
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2020 at 8:01 PM
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  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I said I write, didn't say good. :P Supporter Contributor

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    IDK, maybe not a standard written novel.
    Short stories and Choose Your Own adventure,
    would be your best bet for 2nd POV. :)
     
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  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Pimpin' ain't easy, but it sure is fun.... Contributor

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    I remember that! That was hilarious!

    As for second person in general, I would rather chew broken glass than read an entire novel of it. I've read a few stories that were palatable, but a full novel would not be for me.

    I remember Choose Your Own Adventure from when I was a kid in the 80s. I wasn't crazy about them... thought they were cheese by even a 10-year-old-in-1986 standards, but that's just me.
     
  11. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Nefarious Flamingo Staff Contributor

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    Agreed. I think it works really well in short form as a means to draw the reader in to the conversation as a character to bring them closer to an issue or a point, but it would just get annoying after a while.
     
  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    its also very difficult to pull off convincingly.. the only exception is that some sorts of non fiction are normally written in instructional second... first you do this, then you do that, and it is usual for guidebooks to be written in second ' as you leave xyz place you see abc on your left'
     
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  13. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    Fighting Fantasy was much better. :)
     
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  14. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Member

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    Oh yeah, the second person perspective is absolutely instrumental to the story. It's very important (I won't spoil it here) that the reader feels THEY are the protagonist in the story. Thank you for the feedback! I didn't know that about Fight Club- that's very interesting.
     
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  15. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Member

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    I really appreciate all the well-rounded feedback here. For those of you wondering, the reader is supposed to be the protagonist. The book itself is the setting, a mental prison created by the narrator the second the reader sees the words. It has physical characteristics, but it's really an imaginary construct. The whole thing is designed to make readers thing about what they're really doing when they read, and toy with the idea of who has the power. The writer- who created the images with his/her words, or the reader, who gives it life by reading it? It has an overlay of meaningful characters and mystery to demonstrate the idea, but the core theme is the power of thought.
     
  16. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    They are okay. And a red rag to types like me. They, the yous, they come across as the 'creative writing course genius moment' submissions and are transmitted 2/3 times a year by BBC R4 on wet, mid-weekday lunchtimes. 'You, you, appear transfixed in the prism, as the light bounces from your bosom, [hic] you delve, tendrils into water...'

    I always bite my knuckle, & same with David Sedaris 'homor' productions.

    ...oh, and I wrote one also...
     
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  17. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds as if you've thought this through quite thoroughly, @Justin Attas . Go for it! It will be interesting to see how it turns out.
     
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  18. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    To be honest, I've never liked Second Person. I sorta get the theory behind it, but I'm not sure I consider it a very good idea in practice.

    My main issue is that it tends to create a dissonance with me when the narrator tries to tell me who I am and how I think and feel about things. That breaks my immersion and makes it hard for me to identify with the protagonist, which is sorta the whole point of the perspective. It's counter-intuitive, is what I'm basically saying.

    I think the only way to do it right would be to never allow the narrator to inform the personality, thoughts or feelings of the protagonist: The narration should only concern itself with the situations the character finds themselves in, never how they react to it, because that's effectively a job you've bestowed on the reader. Of course, telling a traditional story that way would be rather difficult since you've pretty much rendered your central character an empty vessel for the reader to inhabit. For a writer like me, who thrives on creating interesting, distinct characters, it would practically be anathema to my style of storytelling.

    See, I've always felt that was sorta the point of First Person, in the sense that you are placed inside the head of the protagonist and experience everything from their perspective. Only, unlike Second Person it doesn't make it feel like someone else is dictating my actions and reactions.

    I dunno, maybe I simply resent being told what to do or how to think, but it makes a big difference to me.

    Well, that pretty much is a Choose Your Own Adventure. There's kinda no "like a Chose Your Own Adventure" here, that's literally what you've set out to write.

    To be fair, that is the one type of story where Second Person is acceptable. I believe the format inherited the perspective from tabletop roleplaying, where it does make sense since there will be a dungeon master or similar game leader who will narrate what the players experience. Note however that in roleplaying the players still have complete control over their characters. In CYOA books, I'd say it mostly still works because the reader has some agency in the form of making choices throughout the narrative. That said I think you still want to be careful about letting the narration control the character too much.

    My brother used to collect CYOA books and while it has been a long time since I read one, I do seem to recall they tended to sorta keep their distance from the protagonist, mostly just presenting a scene and offering alternatives on how the character might act.
     
  19. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Dr John entered the mahoganied room, I don't know why I stood up.
    "It's okay, sit yourself down," he said. It's the white coat I thought, annoyed with myself, some ingrained reverence for the cotton overcoat—I'm sure he'll get to the root of this as well as all my other issues. "Time's not with us, so let's begin, I'm going to take you on a trip, you'll need your eyes open for this. But for comfort's sake you'll imagine them closed." A watch, he took out a God damn pocket watch, time was with us, from the chest pocket of that white... it was on a gold chain, he began swinging it. Weirdly, I salivated. "Your eyes are getting..." The glints, golden glints, the tick-tocking, I'm sure I could hear it—the little engineers inside all heave-hoing the sprogs. That graceful arc of a dangling swing. My eyes were... "Your eyes are getting heavy," he said.


    ^ Sorry, inspired by genius moment to slosh n Jackson Pollock a 1st 2nd 3rd paragraph masterpiece.

    Actually, there was a fellow on here, a little way back, all I can recall his name had 'spencer' in it. Might be useful @Justin Attas . He put a lot of time into doing some second person stuff. Wrote about/discussed it here too. Can't find it though? Using the search member up there. Otherwise I'd link :meh:
     
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  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Pimpin' ain't easy, but it sure is fun.... Contributor

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    That was @Spencer1990... strange that his username is coming up in link. He was all about the second person POV. Here's the story that got the most traction:

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/same-day-different-shit.150410/

    ETA: and now it is coming up in a link... I'm gonna page his ass to see if he's still breathing.
     
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  21. Xoic

    Xoic Active Member

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    Isn't that paragraph actually just in 1st person? Dialogue is often in 2nd, since the person you're talking to will be addressed as you, and when you mention another character it'll be as he or she. It seems we use 1st 2nd and 3rd in dialogue and there's just no way around it.
     
  22. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Picking at one of my Pollocks!? @Xoic

    Yeah, could’ve imagined it starting: You open your journal of that day, and read it aloud:

    That’d sort it. I think?

    Was trying to sideways in the idea of how controlling and being prescriptive 2nd would feel..akin to surrendering to a hypnotist.

    Points @Homer Potvin , thanks that was him :), became a Dad, then we saw much less of him.
     
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  23. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, I would like to reiterate for young @SethLoki and for all of our most junior writer community that the second person refers to 'you,' as in for example, 'you looking at me you mothafokker, Harry Potter, you, you wizard bastard, you.' [Rowlins]

    Thank you
     
  24. Xoic

    Xoic Active Member

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    I actually like your paragraph a lot more than Pollack. I'm weaving tangled webs these days because I'm trying to learn POV. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially when it makes me go all critical on any thread about POV.
     
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  25. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

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    Ahh (and that’s) okay and thanks, just read some of the Spencer thread... plenty of juice in there (four screenfuls).

    Mucked about myself with second for wee while, my take away was it’s alright in small doses. Couldn’t eat a bookful.
     
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