1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    When to opt for second person?

    Discussion in 'Point of View, and Voice' started by deadrats, Jul 14, 2022.

    I think it can be fun to write in second person, but often it can come off kind of gimmicky. I've only used second person in short stories, but it's not something I've done a lot. Is using second person in short stories any better than in a longer work though? I feel like I'm shooting myself in the foot when opting for this POV when it comes to publishing prospects. I mean selling writing is hard enough. I'm not trying to make it any harder. Also, not interested in self publishing anything so I do care about what the market wants.

    That being said, I have read second person stories, including one in The New Yorker. It's just not something I see often and I read quite a few publications regularly. It can be done. I'm just not sure of when I pull it off verses just wrote something that's more of a cheap thrill if that.

    I'm working on a new story. I started it using second person and I felt like it was working. However, I seem to go through this cycle with everything I write where I love it then hate it then work hard to love it again. Halfway through I started to think it was a pretty good story and I didn't want to ruin in by having it in second person. So, I switched to third to see how that felt for the rest of the story. And... I'm not sure. It will probably stand out more in second, but I probably have a better chance of selling it in third.

    When, if ever, do you choose to play around with second person?
     
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I was very impressed with the use of second person in OIL! by Upton Sinclair. I just recently wrote something about it in a PM—let me paste a few things in here:

    Wow, did I have it wrong!! It isn't in 1st person at all, in fact the beginning seems to be in 2nd person! That rarest of all literary animals. Sorry, I'm writing a bit like Upton Sinclair because I've been reading him and marveling at his excellence.

    If I remember right most of the story is in a pretty normal 3rd person, except on the beginning, where many times the boy who is the main character (of that section) is addressed as 'you'. Or—sometimes it is.

    Most times the you seems to be the general you—as in 'When you see such a huge truck bearing down, you pull over as far as you can and slow down to let it pass.' It refers not to any particular person, but to anyone in such a situation.

    And yet at times the you in the story definitely does refer specifically to the boy. And Sinclair is such a good writer it doesn't feel like any kind of mistake, instead it feels dizzying with possibilities. Who knew you could DO that??!!

    * * *
    I've seen 2nd person used a few times before, but usually clumsily, with the you aimed directly at the reader, so sort of a blank personage, a non-entity intended to fit every reader. You know, You walk slowly across the courtyard, the moon shimmering like chased silver across the balustrade. She waits for you... etc.

    But here it's done very differently.

    The you is aimed not at the reader, except olbiquely, since I assume the reader is invited to imagine him-or-herself in the place of the boy, who seems to be ostensibly the POV character in these early scenes. At least some of the time. But the you is aimed at the character of Bunny. So the things said at him or to him carry meaning—he's the other half of the duo of big-business tycoon Daddy and his son who's being groomed to be a carbon copy of himself. They dress alike, the boy is learning to think and talk like the dad, and is apparently (at this point) going to inherit the business, and he wants to be just like daddy dearest. This is very different from a generic you aimed only at the reader, so it has no specificity.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2022
  3. Earp

    Earp Contributor Contributor

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    I don't like, and won't read, fiction written in second person. It seems gimmicky to me, too, and makes me feel left out, as the narrator and whoever he's writing to (not me) carry on between themselves.
     
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  4. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributor Contributor

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    I think second person works better in short stories inasmuch as it's hard to do it well, and the conceit is easier to maintain over a shorter period. I've read a few novels that incorporated second person, but in all of them it was a voice used for certain POVs rather than the whole thing. I think the one that did it best was Complicity, by Iain Banks. That used second person when in the chapters from the POV of the antagonist serial killer, and it both disguised the identity of the killer and made those scenes extremely personal.

    Come to think, I think all of the novels I've read using it have used second person to disguise the identity of someone, either the 'You' in question or the narrator. So that's a use for it.

    It's also used a lot in erotica, because in those cases the point is that the reader wants to imagine the things described happening to themselves, though I imagine that's probably not what you're writing.

    I've only used it occasionally, more as an experiment to see if I could make it work than anything else. I quite like the idea of using it for the final episode of the podcast series I'm writing at the moment, because it'll be a different POV to every other episode, making it both special and, if I get it right, increasing the implied threat. I don't know if I'll be able to make that work, though. The other episodes have all been a narrator telling stories about a set of characters, so I might end up just switching to first to get a similar effect a lot easier.
     
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  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    Coincidentally, ShaelinWrites just posted a video on YouTube on writing in the second person. Actually, it may be a repost, I think I may have seen it before.

    I'm not really fond of it. I'm not even really into present first or third person either, which seems more common now.
     
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  6. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    I often make characters veer into 2nd-P during longer internal monologues - as if they're present telling the story, but alternatively they might just have started talking to themselves in the 2nd-P. Maybe nobody else does that o_O

    I like the last line of the Cat in the Hat though: "Now what would you do, if your mother asked you?"
     
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  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I'm still playing with this piece. I went back to second person. Now, I'm thinking maybe it should be in first person. I don't know why I'm all over the place with choosing a POV. I think the story and the writing are pretty good. I'm just having trouble with how to present it. Has anyone else ever had a similar problem? What did you do about it? Any advice on choosing a POV when you've tried them all and still can't decide what to do?
     
  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I can't help with that, but I can say that for someone like me who's learning about POVs it's important to try writing in different ones, and even to convert short pieces from one to another. It helps you learn the differences between them and how the piece changes in different POVs.

    While that isn't a direct answer to your last question (or really to the one in the OP), it is an instance where it's appropriate to write something in 2nd person, just as a learning exercise.
     
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  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    What do you guys think are the benefits or positives that can come out of a story written in second person? I mean sometimes writers can really pull it off.
     
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    You hate it that much? I do see it as gimmicky a lot of the time like you. But when it works I'm quite impressed. Have you ever tried writing in second person yourself? I think the idea is to have the reader be completely alined with the character while going through the story. I don't think it means you as the reader are the character, but maybe it's supposed to feel that way a little.
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I hadn't thought about it being used to conceal a character's identity, but that's an interesting point. What was your experience like using second person? I see you're a little unsure about it like me.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    What did she say about writing in second person? Any good takeaways from the video that are worth sharing? I fully understand that it's not everyone's cup of tea. What turns you off about it?

    Not into present tense either? Really? What's wrong with present tense. I mostly write in present tense regardless of the POV.
     
  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    So, you switch POVs to sort of differentiate the monolog from the rest of the narrative? I think if I tried to pull something like that off, it would be a complete fail. I think I hate monologs the same way some people hate second person. At least as a writer I don't think I'm any good at writing monologs. They tend to come out like ramblings that derail from the present narrative when I go into them. But if you can pull it off and add in a POV shift, more power to you.
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    In a weird way writing in second person can feel safer than writing in first person. It can sort of remove you as the author of the story in a way. I'm not sure if that makes much sense. It's like it feels easier to take risks with the content of a piece.

    Since you seem to try out a lot of POVs or have learned a lot what is your favorite POV to write? I don't think anyone would answer that question with second person.
     
  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I really haven't tried very many, mostly just distant 3rd, objective, and 1st. I seem to do my best work (so far) in 1st, as well as preferring it. It just feels more natural to me. I also want to try out the 'continuous monologue' approach I was talking about above. I'm fascinated by it and have only written a few sentences using it, trying to fix some POV problems in one of my stories.

    I don't think I've ever tried to write in 2nd, aside from those moments in dialogue when somebody is talking to somone else and calling them you, like we do all the time in here. For instance when you asked "what is your favorite POV to write?" But that's very different from trying to use it for a story of course. I might have to play around with it sometime. And after I learn more about 3rd close I'll definitely try it out. I'm interested in discovering the differences and similarities with 1st.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2022
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  16. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Contributor Contributor

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    For me, it would be a choose your own adventure story, or text-based adventure game, or some flavour for a pen and paper RPG if I still had an interest in those.

    Otherwise my main aversion to it is how many things seem like they are being attributed to myself. Decisions are being made by 'you' and my brain says 'me,' and it feels... oppressive?

    That said, there are more than a few short stories that work divinely in second person. I think it depends on the tone.
     
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  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    It might be petty of me, but I simply refuse to read anything written in second-person. It’s so alien and sounds so ridiculous I can’t get beyond a paragraph.
     
  18. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    An epistolary novel composed of letters, diary entries, maybe love poems, and emails from one character to the other.

    "You held me in your arms. You whispered sweet nothings in my ear. You gave me diamonds and pearls, but the one thing you never gave me was the truth."

    Only hopefully not so cliched and ridiculous. :p
     
  19. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Same. If any form fits 2nd Person like a glove, it’s choose your own adventure books and role-playing games. “You” isn’t as jarring when the reader/player has agency and wants to participate in the story.

    Second so often comes across as a gimmick because the reader rebels when asked to identify with actions they’d never take or thoughts they’d never think. When I find a good 2nd Person story that isn’t adjacent to games, the author makes a clear separation between the reader and “you” at the very beginning.

    One of the most effective examples of 2nd Person I’ve ever read is Batman #20, perhaps because of how the narration is framed: Batman hearing his mother analyze him and his actions as he fights a desperate, losing battle to protect his latest protégé from Bane. Recounting the story so far helps create narrative distance, as does the way the narration straddles the line between 2nd and 1st.
     
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  20. trevorD

    trevorD Active Member

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    This is going to sound terrible, but I find first person annoying. Personal preference, however.
     
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  21. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Oh, the irony! :p
     
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  22. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Second person isn’t necessarily (and isn’t usually, in my experience) supposed to be “you” the reader as the character.
     
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