Point of view is important to understand. Whether you’re writing an email, a nonfiction book, or an epic novel, you’ll be using a certain point of view (POV). In some cases, you may use more than one.
Second person POV is one you come across every day — but usually not in fiction. This is a common point of view used for many types of communication. So read on to explore second person point of view!
- What second person POV is
- Second person POV in action
- Benefits and drawbacks of using it in fiction
- Tips to help you write in second person POV
Table of contents
- What is Second Person POV?
- Examples of Second Person POV
- Pros and Cons of Using Second Person POV in Fiction
- Pro: It Can Create Intimacy
- Pro: It Can Make Your Story Stand Apart
- Pro: It Can Create Excitement
- Pro: It Can Create a Strong Narrative Voice
- Con: Readers Aren't Used to It
- Con: It Can Be Repetitious
- Con: It Can Be Difficult to Write
- Con: It Requires Consistent Suspension of Disbelief
- Con: Agents and Editors Aren't Used to It
- Tips for Writing in Second Person POV
What is Second Person POV?
Also called second person perspective, second person POV is characterized by the use of the word “you.” It’s the narrator talking directly to the reader and addressing them with that second-person pronoun. This narrative point of view is most often used in nonfiction writing (like this blog post), Ad copy, certain types of video games, blog posts, song lyrics, and self-help books often employ second person POV to great effect.
It’s less common in fiction, but there are some famous examples of short stories and novels written from this point of view. And before we get into whether you should use this POV for your book, let’s look at some examples.
Examples of Second Person POV
Here are some different examples of second person POV. Some you’ll be familiar with, while others may seem a little strange. First, some quick examples.
- “You got up this morning and ate breakfast. Then you got into the car to go to work.”
- “You’re an assassin. And you’re getting old. One last job, and you’re done. You don’t care what the Agency says. You’re done.”
- “Everywhere you want to be” – Visa slogan.
- “Whether you’re writing an email, a nonfiction book, or an epic novel, you’ll be using a certain point of view.” -From the beginning of this article.
Now, let's look at some examples of fiction works that use the second person perspective.
Famous Examples from Fiction
“‘This is the worst day of my life,' you say, as you drop a salted peanut into your double martini—on better days, you drink white wine—and watch it sink. It spirals downward more slowly, more gracefully, than your own plunging fortunes, the pretty little gin bubbles that gather around the peanut a marked contrast to the lumps and burrs and stinging things that are attaching themselves to your heart.”-Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, by Tom Robbins
“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge.”–Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Both of these novels use only second person narration. They never switch to a different point of view. However, that doesn't mean it can't be done!
Switching Between POVs
I mentioned earlier that this blog post is written in second person POV. But as you can probably tell from the sentence you just read, this isn’t strictly true. In fact, I switch between second person and first person point of view. (You can tell by the use of the words “I” and “Let’s.”) This is common enough in blog posts and other types of nonfiction writing because this is how we talk to each other in real life. It creates a certain amount of intimacy, and (hopefully) makes the writing easier for you to read.
That said, switching between different POVs is not something to do without good reason in fiction. And when writing nonfiction, sticking to first and second person POVs is usually a good idea.
But there are some examples of novels that expertly switch between POVs. N. K. Jemisin’s book The Fifth Season is a recent example of this. The book is told from the perspective of three different women. And one of those perspectives is written in the second person. The first chapter of the award-winning fantasy novel starts like this:
“You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead. You’re an orogene who’s been living in the little nothing town of Tirimo for ten years. Only three people here know what you are, and two of them you gave birth to.”–The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
Keep in mind she doesn’t stick to the second person POV for the whole. Other chapters are written in third person point of view. Still, this is one example of second person POV used to strengthen the narrative while making for a compelling read.
Pros and Cons of Using Second Person POV in Fiction
Most editors in the writing world will tell you not to use second person point of view for fiction. But what are the reasons for that? We all know that the traditional publishing world is slow to change and set in its ways. Some “rules” are certainly made to be broken. But is this one of them? Let's look at the pros and cons of using 2nd person POV in fiction to find out.
Pro: It Can Create Intimacy
Copywriters and bloggers use second person POV for a reason: it can create intimacy. When you read a fiction novel written in this point of view, you're being thrust into the character's shoes. The use of “you” gives it immediacy and immersion. And if you're able to get into it, it can make for a great reading experience.
Pro: It Can Make Your Story Stand Apart
To be sure, most fiction writers stay away from using second person POV. So if you do use it, your writing will undoubtedly be unique. However, this can be a con, too. It depends on execution and whether readers respond well to it!
Pro: It Can Create Excitement
If you've ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you'll know that the second person narrative can be exciting to read. When you are the character, it gives a little more weight to danger or conflict within the story. This is the same reason some video games use this narrative point of view to guide the players along.
Pro: It Can Create a Strong Narrative Voice
When you give the character a unique personality and character arc, second person point of view can help solidify and strengthen the narrative voice. It can be humorous, cringe-worthy, scary, intense, or all of the above at different parts of the story.
Con: Readers Aren't Used to It
If you write using second person narrative, you're moving against the current. The simple fact that most books use either first person or third person POV (including third person limited and omniscient) means that readers aren't used to second person. This can be a barrier to new readers that most new indie authors can't afford to put up.
Con: It Can Be Repetitious
Second person is better suited to shorter works. Using it for an entire novel can be hard on the reader. It gets repetitive using only the second person pronoun “you” over and again. Of course, you'll likely also use “your” and “yours” throughout the story, but it's still not enough of a change for most readers.
Con: It Can Be Difficult to Write
Unless you're practiced at it, writing fiction in second person can be difficult. It becomes easy to slip out of the character's mindset and slip into your own. When this happens, the strong narrative voice becomes muddled or inconsistent, neither of which you want!
Con: It Requires Consistent Suspension of Disbelief
When asking the reader to jump into a character's shoes, it requires constant suspension of disbelief. In other points of view, readers find it easier to accept the narrator or POV character as a real person. Although they may be deeply invested in the character, they're still one step back from them, making suspension of disbelief easier. But when they have to keep imagining themselves as an entirely different person throughout the novel, some readers may find it difficult to maintain. This will take them out of the story, which is the last thing any author wants.
Con: Agents and Editors Aren't Used to It
If you're looking for representation in the traditional publishing world, a second-person novel will make things that much more difficult. Most editors and agents agree that these types of novels are hard to get right, which makes them hard to sell. So even if they may like the story itself, selling the book to a publisher could prove difficult.
Tips for Writing in Second Person POV
When it comes to fiction writing, you'll have to decide whether a second person narrator is right for your story. While it's ultimately your decision as the writer, these tips may help you decide.
Familiarize Yourself With Other POVs
A thorough understanding of the different POVs at your disposal is key to deciding on the right one. These include:
- First Person (First person pronouns include “I,” “my,” “me,” and “we.”)
- Third Person (Third person pronouns include “he,” “she,” “they,” and proper nouns like names.)
- Fourth Person
Most books are written in the POVs above. But reading them as a reader and studying them as a writer are different. Take one of your favorite books and write a few paragraphs in second person. Whether you choose Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, this is a good exercise in understanding POV. You can see how different the story becomes in second person POV.
For a closer look at each of these POVs, check out our article here.
Try Writing a Chapter With Different POVs
Write a chapter in second person and one in third person. Pay attention to the flow and mechanics of the prose. And also how each one affects your storytelling abilities. Think of your main character, and try to envision writing the entire book in each POV. Which one will work best for your story?
Write a Short Story in Second Person POV
Getting used to second person writing can be a little tricky. But writing is all about practice. So if you think second person is right for your story, try writing a short story or two in the POV. A short story with a distinct main character, supporting characters, and three acts can help you get into the flow. If you have trusted readers who will give you honest feedback, have them read the story and see what they think!
Read Books Written in Second Person
If you've never read a novel in second person, that should definitely be the first step in deciding. Reading is a key part of the writing process. And before tackling an entire novel in what is considered a kind of “taboo” POV, it's good to see how those before have done it.
Second person point of view is common in personal communications and certain types of “how-to” nonfiction writing. But when it comes to fiction, it's pretty rare. The stories it works well with are those that require its use because they won't work with any other POV.
Asking a reader to put themselves into a character's shoes can be engaging, intimate, and entertaining when done well. But in full-length novels, it tends to wear on readers — especially because most people aren't used to reading stories written in second person. Still, it is one of the tools in your writing toolbox. It's up to you to use it when necessary and store it in the box when you don't need it.