It’s safe to say that the majority of fiction is written in either first person narrative (I lit the cigarette,) or third person narrative (He/She lit the cigarette.) The second person point of view, where the protagonist is referred to by the second person pronoun, you, is the overlooked middle child of narratives.
Well, I happen to be writing my second novel in second person. I absolutely love that sad, neglected middle child, and I’d like to share why.
But first of all, why is it so uncommon?
The truth is, it’s kind of jarring. I remember the first time I picked up a book in second person. I didn’t get far before I swore off the stuff for life. Now that I’m older I understand why I found it so offensive. (Aside from the fact, that like most readers, I simply wasn’t used to it.) I couldn’t relate to the protagonist. I don’t remember the book, but I remember that everything about the character was everything I was not. So, trying to place myself in his shoes was plain uncomfortable!
As an author, this means writing a book in second person limits our audience. But we shouldn’t be writing for the masses anyway, right? (One of the few writing rules I agree with.)
And when a reader does relate to the character… watch out. A book in second person will draw them in far, far deeper than anything in first or third narrative ever could.
I have had that experience as a reader. And it’s why I want to provide it as an author.
I first read Bride Stripped Bare, the bestseller by Nikki Gemmel, when she was still writing as Anonymous. It’s written in second person, and though I found its unusual style a bit off-putting at first, it moved me deeply. When her next book With My Body was released, I didn’t hesitate. Again, it is written in second person, with a protagonist I can relate to. Well, I sobbed for days when I finished that book two years ago, and I sobbed when I finished it for the second time last night.
I’m now a faithful fan. I will buy everything she writes. I sure as hell want readers to say that of me, and I bet you do too.
So why not try the second person approach? Have a playdate with that sad, neglected middle child of narratives and see how you get along.
If you do, here’s few things to keep in mind:
- Make your character someone your reader can relate to. Second person narrative requires a strong suspension of disbelief in your reader, therefore it works best in stories that are grounded in reality. (I’m willing to be proven wrong.)
- If you are using second person point of view, stay in second person point of view. This is one of the downsides of second person. You can’t jump around as easily as you can with third person.
- Ease your reader into it. The pronoun you is shocking enough. Give them a chance to get acclimated to who “you” are before dropping danger in their path.
Second person narrative is a bit like hypnosis. We’re telling our reader exactly how we want them to feel. And when used effectively, it’s absolute magic.