Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Love for 2nd-person

I know the blog has been a bit...inactive lately. Doubtful anyone missed it, tho. :P

So about 2nd-person... Why does it seem to be disliked so much? Yes, I had received a rejection that told me the 2nd-person detracted rather than enhanced the story. But you rarely hear people say 3rd-person or 1st-person (although I know some folks equally dislike 1st-person) say those PoVs* detract.

My theory is that folks just aren't use to 2nd-person, making it unfamiliar and downright awkward for them to read. I've actually seen this as an issue when writing in limited 3rd-person; some people aren't use to reading 3rd-person in a tight, almost 1st-person, format.

Just because you're unfamiliar with it doesn't mean it's bad, but yet, people still have these knee-jerk reactions whenever they come across it. I had done a little experiment with the Shock Totem's bi-monthly flash fiction contest, and wrote a submission in 2nd-person, curious to see the reaction.The number piece of criticism I received: change the PoV. 

Yeah, no. PoV doesn't work that way. I've never come across a story that I thought would've been better if it'd been written in a different PoV. Why? Because the story is built around that PoV. Not to mention, when you choose 2nd-person, or any PoV for that matter, it's because you're going for a certain effect in the writing.


I left the door open like a stupid twit, and all the monsters came in, and now the dogs are looking at me like lunch.
You left the door open, you stupid twit, and all the monsters came in, and now the dogs are looking at you like lunch.
He left the door open, the stupid twit, and all the monsters came in, and now the dogs are looking at him like lunch.

Now each sentence ought to read differently; they're each going for a different effect. With the 2nd-person, it has a self-berating feel that 3rd and 1st kind of lack. Also, how many times have you (or overheard someone) scold themselves in 2nd-person for doing something stupid? Oddly enough, 2nd-person isn't as uncommon as we think it is. Think about it: this blog post has used a lot of 2nd-person, did you notice? 

And to make one thing clear about 2nd-person, it does not always refer to you, the reader. The you is usually referring to the character (i.e. he/she is talking to him/herself). So if you're one of those people who reads a sentence like: You're dancing at the nightclub with all the guys. And you think: I'm not dancing at a nightclub, I'm here at home reading this story. You need to jump off the nearest cliff--okay no, but you need to stop taking the you literally. It's not all about you! 

Yes, there are times when 2nd-person can be poorly done, but that's the same for any PoV. Poor writing is poor writing. But that has nothing to do with PoV--of course, if you're unfamiliar with using a certain PoV, it can come off as amateurish. The important thing is to not give up on a PoV just because certain curmudgeons don't "get" it. Because really, 2nd-person is a perfectly good PoV, and could use some lovin'.

*PoV = point view (for those who are not writerly inclined)


  1. Second-person has an accusatory feel (kind of like the author pointing a finger at you or someone in a play addressing the audience) that puts people on edge. We're used to watching other people in stories, although the popularity of role-playing-games suggests people like involvement. If you want the sense of the character talking to himself, you could use a third-person frame to ease the reader into the POV.

    1. I think the "accusatory feel" comes from people thinking the you in 2nd-person is literally referring to them. And either people learn to overcome it, or not.

      I do use 2nd-person quite a bit for a conversational tone in either 1st or 3rd person, but it doesn't have that same "Arg! You idiot!" effect that straight-up 2nd-perons PoV would've had.

  2. Honestly, I find 2nd-person refreshing whenever I read it -- and when it's done well -- since we hardly get a chance to enjoy it in most publications. That being said, do I write in 2nd-person? Not often, and I think I've had only one story published with that POV.

    1. I find 2nd-person refreshing too when it's properly done--but that can be said about any PoV. It's a pity that more editors aren't accepting of 2nd-person; I'd write more of it if it was.

  3. FYI first and third would carry over the stupid twit part since it's a simile. Having a third person narrator berating a character is weird. Second person suffers because it sounds like it's addressing the reader. That's English's problem, not the writer's. It can be done well, but it rarely ever is. I recommend writer's leave it for when they've mastered the other perspectives on a professional level and get bored.

    1. FYI only the 1st-person example used a simile, but "like a stupid twit" is not that same as "you stupid twit." One compares, the other berates.

      And how exactly do you know when you've "mastered" the other PoVs?

  4. Those old 'Choose Your Own Adventure' and 'Which Way' books were written entirely from 2nd person perspective; I enjoyed them quite a bit.