Second person – it’s all about “you”


Second person can make the reader feel disconnected.

When writing in second person, the pronoun used is you. Over and over. Whereas I in first person blends into the voice, you sticks out. Second person is tricky. It seems clever but is very difficult to pull off effectively. It works best in short stories, but there have been a couple of novels that have done well. I’d recommend a YA novel, Damage by A.M Jenkins, as a good example.

Here is our sample in second person, where the you is George. Second person almost demands present tense, by the way, which can make it even trickier to manage well.

You tip your wine onto the white tablecloth. The red stain looks nothing like blood. Jane has already run to the kitchen for a cloth, but Phillip leans back in his chair, a sneer on his face. “That wasn’t very clever of you, George,” he says.

You think, You’re the idiot, actually. But you keep a polite smile on your face and help Jane mop up the wine, ignoring her quick glances at you both.

Advantages – second person can create a special effect that enhances your story, but it has to be the right kind of story. An action adventure, for example, will be too slow in second person. Something more introspective might work. It does bring the reader close to the story because there is the feeling that the you might be the reader.

Disadvantages – you can become more and more conscious of it as you go on. If this happens, you probably need to change to another POV. A lot of readers don’t like this POV, so you risk alienating them.

Challenges – it’s difficult to maintain a rhythm and flow in the writing. As the writer, you have to feel confident in using this POV, which means a strong confidence in your grammar skills. Otherwise you will make mistakes that you aren’t even aware of.

Writing pointer: Try this POV just for the heck of it! It might transform a story that isn’t working, or just give you a new insight into it.

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