People are pretty familiar with what first person and third person types of writing are.  However, second person is a mysterious unused writing style.  So what is it?

You use the second-person point of view to address the reader, as I just did. The second person uses the pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours.” We use these three pronouns when addressing one, or more than one, person. Second person is often appropriate for e-mail messages, presentations, and business and technical writing.

Here are two examples with the second-person point of view.

 

This is a singular second-person sentence:

Grandma,

Before you go to London, remember to leave your keys under the doormat. I’ll miss you. Sincerely yours, Anna

This is a plural second-person sentence:

Class, you need to be in your seats when the principal arrives. Tom and Jerry, I’m speaking to you as well. By the way, are these comic books yours? (Regionally speaking, in the American South you might hear a teacher say, “Class, y’all need to be in your seats….” “Y’all” is a contraction of “you all.”)

 

As you can imagine, it is probably good for letters, but may not be so successful with writing a book.  Very few authors have successfully used it.

Here is another example: You’re late. Heart pounding, you race up the stairs as the train enters the station. You weave around the slow-moving people milling on the platform and dash towards the train, throwing your body through the doorway with only a moment to spare.

One way to experiment with second person is to write as if the story is a letter from the narrator to “you,” reflecting on past events and current feelings, asking questions. (It doesn’t have to be in an actual letterform; the idea of a letter is simply a way to describe the intimate tone.) This technique isn’t necessarily “pure” second person, as it pairs “you” with the narrator’s first-person point of view, but it allows you to dip a toe in the second-person perspective. At the same time, it gives readers a peek into a relationship, a memory, and a character’s emotions.

Here is an example: You told me to meet you at the bar. Things hadn’t been going well, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Did you plan to break my heart that night? We locked eyes as I walked through the entrance, and I knew things were coming to an end.

Second person stretches your skills and surprises readers.  Because it’s not often used, the second person point of view feels fresh to readers. And for writers, it means a new way of telling a story, a different way of revealing character. In this way, it offers a new perspective for writers and readers alike.

If you want to be different, you may want to try it some time.  Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, it is rarely used.  If you want to see it successfully used, try these books:  Bright Lights, Big City.  Ten. The Leftovers. Aura.

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