You’re not someone who cares about tradition in your fiction, are you?
You’re willing to explore. You’re striving for meaning, and you want interesting experiences.
Well, that’s the second-person point of view (POV) for you: nontraditional, explorative, meaningful and interesting.
It also sounds a bit like an ad for an exaggerated travel agent or a self-help book, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that, and we’ll get to it later. But first, I have a little riddle for you…
Is this blog post written in the second-person POV?
By now, you know I use the word “you” quite a lot. In fact, many bloggers address their readers personally as “you.” Does it make our writing fit the second-person POV?
As you may have guessed, the answer is no.
True, I’m addressing you as the audience. But there’s still a protagonist to this story, and it’s me, in the first person. I’m the one “behind” this post.
How the second-person POV works
In fiction, pure second-person POV uses the perspective of a single character, the protagonist, to tell the story. This character is well-defined, with habits and traits and a unique personality. The reader is simply placed “behind” this character, seeing and experiencing the world through his eyes, body and mind.
It sounds like this:
Eventually you ascend the stairs to the street. You think of Plato’s pilgrims climbing out of the cave, from the shadow world of appearances toward things as they really are, and you wonder if it is possible to change in this life.
— Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
As you can see, there is no “I” in the second-person POV. There might be a “he” or “him,” whenever the protagonist is interacting with someone, but your principal pronouns are “you,” “your” and “yours.”
For that reason, it’s a bit hard to create a variety of sentence structure in this POV. Starting every sentence with “you” can quickly grow old.
If you try using the second-person POV, watch out for this issue. You can alternate pronouns by writing about items and other characters in your protagonist’s environment. For example, here’s an excerpt from from Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler:
Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you. Make sure the page isn’t in shadow, a clotting of black letters on a gray background, uniform as a pack of mice…
The good and evil of writing in the second person
The second-person POV casts the reader as the protagonist. That means she’s “forced” to act and think in ways that might not be authentic for her.
If you, as the writer, pull it off, this POV creates instant, complete empathy between the reader and the protagonist. It makes every thought and action her own and evokes emotional responses from her gut.
If you aren’t successful, though, reading in this POV can be a highly annoying experience for your audience.
Writing in the second person means treading a fine line. When you write in this POV, you’re very clearly attempting to manipulate the reader’s thoughts and emotions. Not all readers will take well to this strategy.
But that’s OK! All good writing manipulates a reader’s emotions; consider how we connect with characters like Holden Caulfield and Harry Potter. After watching the world through their eyes in third-person limited POV, no one can resist feeling for them — even though Holden is a fairly unlikeable character. That intimacy is emotional manipulation at its literary best.
The challenge of the second-person POV is to manipulate your reader’s thoughts and impressions without forcing feeling and emotion where it doesn’t belong. You want it to feel natural, not kick your reader out of the story by trying too hard.
How do you master this balancing act? By reading great examples of the second-person POV, testing it in your own writing and sharing your work with others for feedback and advice. A writing accountability partner or group will be invaluable in exploring this POV.
When should you choose the second-person POV?
There isn’t any perfect genre or type of work for a second-person POV story, though author Rebecca Demarest suggests that this perspective works best in short stories or “scattered chapters” of a longer manuscript.
This POV seems to work particularly well when an author is reflecting the Zeitgeist. By speaking in the second person, the author can hold a mirror to society, revealing emotions, actions and particular nuances of the times.
A prime example of this use is Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins. He captures the crash of an American dream and the economic wavering of the early 90s:
As far as you are concerned, the real fun stopped back in the eighties. Before your time. In those days, somebody in your position could earn major money. Jumbo money. You read about it, dreamed about it, all through college. How typical of your luck that when you finally arrived in a position to poach your golden eggs, the goose had a hysterectomy.
The majority of audiences can relate to these timely themes, so they’re a good bet for an exploration of character, society and empathy.
Other popular places to use the second-person POV are poetry, interactive fiction and choose-your-own-adventure stories.
Will you try writing in the second person?
Give the second-person POV a try. See what playing with this perspective can do for your writing, whether it’s in a new story or by tweaking the POV in a story you’ve already written.
It won’t be a fit for every writer or for every story, but you just might find you enjoy writing in the second person.
Have you tried writing in the second-person POV? Did you enjoy it?
Filed Under: Craft
In the past, you might have had problems getting that polished, professional feel to your essays, but you couldn’t quite figure out why. Are your ideas too underdeveloped? Is your thesis statement not good enough? Do you not have enough support for your arguments?
Sometimes the problem with your essay is simply the point of view you choose to write in. Using third-person writing can make a world of difference in giving your essay the right tone.
Three Different Points of View
If you’re not sure what the different points of view are, I’ll give you a run-down and some examples to help you see more clearly. And for an added bonus, I’ll give you a couple clips from the king of narration himself, Morgan Freeman.
When you write in first person, you use I and me. Think of yourself as the “first person”–any pronoun that indicates something you do or think is going to be first person. You see this a lot when you’re reading books from the main character’s perspective.
Typically, however, first-person writing is not very effective in writing essays. (We’ll get to why that is in a second.)
Example: I believe that third-person writing is the best point of view when writing an essay.
First-person writing or narration also uses us and we, as you’ll see in this example:
Second-person point of view uses the pronoun you. Second-person writing is the equivalent to a choose-your-own-adventure novel or a self-help book. It speaks directly to the audience.
However, the conversational tone of writing in second-person is not usually ideal for academic writing.
Example: You would do better on your essays if you wrote in third person.
It is important to note that when you aren’t writing strictly in third person, the point of view can shift from sentence to sentence.
In the next example, you’ll notice that both first-person and second-person points of view are present. The lyrics Freeman reads shift between using “you/your” and first-person singular pronouns throughout the clip.
Third-person writing uses the pronouns they, him, her, and it, as well as proper nouns. This is the type of writing you would see in a novel with an outside narrator.
Example: Teachers and students agree that third-person writing makes essays sound better.
Here’s one last video example, this one using third-person perspective, from the man with the golden voice:
Why Third-Person Writing is Important
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Essay Sound More Assertive.
If you write your essay in first person, you risk the chance of statements like “I think” or “I believe.” These kinds of statements sound more passive than just stating your facts. Notice the difference between the following sentences:
This is why I believe jazz is the first form of truly American music.
This is why jazz is the first form of truly American music.
The second sentence–the one that uses third-person–sets a more definite tone. You are presenting the sentence as a statement of fact instead of a personal belief.
Third-Person Writing Makes Your Support Sound More Credible.
On a related note, first-person writing makes your support sound like it’s coming from a non-credible source. Presenting facts or opinions with “I think” or “I believe” in front doesn’t give any validity to the statement.
Third-person writing encourages you to use other sources to validate your claims. The following two sentences will illustrate this further:
I believe that children should consume less sugar because it leads to higher risk of obesity.
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, children who consume a lot of sugar have an increased risk of obesity.
The second sentence pulls an authoritative source to support the claim instead of you, the writer. This makes the claim more credible to the reader.
Third-Person Writing Sounds Less Conversational and More Professional.
As I mentioned before, writing in the first or second person leads to a more conversational tone. While this may be good for some forms of writing (this blog post, for example), you want your academic writing to take on a more formal tone. Consider the following examples:
When writing a novel, you should think about what kind of tone you want to portray before choosing which point of view you want to use.
When writing a novel, authors should think about the kind of tone they want to portray before choosing which point of view they want to use.
The first sentence creates a more intimate and conversational tone with the reader, but the second sentence tells the reader what kind of person (authors) would benefit from reading the sentence.
It is more specific and, therefore, creates a more formal tone.
Exceptions to the Third-Person Writing Rule
I won’t ever tell you that it’s always a good idea to write one specific way. Third-person writing is usually a good idea in academic writing, but there are cases where first-person writing is a better call.
When You’re Writing A Personal Narrative.
Personal narrative essays are designed to tell the reader something that has happened in your life, so first-person writing would be the preferred choice here. Whether it be something that embarrassed you, angered you, or made you proud or happy, narrative essays are all about real-world life experiences.
When You’re Talking About Your Own Opinions.
Like narrative essays, using your own opinions in essays may sometimes require the use of the first person, especially if you are drawing on personal experiences. Usually, this will happen in persuasive essays.
It is important to note that you should still try to use third-person writing for your persuasive essays because, as I mentioned earlier, it will give a more formal tone and more credibility to your argument. However, if some personal experience is especially relevant, it would be okay to use the first person (unless your teacher says otherwise, of course).
When You’re Doing Other Informal Types of Writing.
Essays are not the only types of writing assignments you’re likely to receive. Short stories and poetry pop up in classes from time to time, and these can be written any number of ways. Short stories can take the first- or third-person perspective–they rarely use second person. Poetry can use any of the three points of view.
(For more, read When to Use First-Person Writing in Your Essays)
When you are concentrating strictly on academic essays, third-person writing is (usually) crucial. And it’s not hard to do. Just look at any references to yourself or the reader and change around the sentence to eliminate the I, me, you, we, and us pronouns. Doing so will make your writing stronger, clearer, and more professional.
If you still can’t quite get the hang of third-person writing, there’s no need to stress out over it. Just send your essay to one of the Kibin editors to help you out.
Now… go try your hand at third-person writing!
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