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If 1st person point of view (POV) writing isn’t appropriate to your project or style of writing, don’t worry; there are two other widely used options. In today’s WriteIT! blog, we’ll explore 2nd person POV, occasionally used in fiction, and frequently used in technical writing and instructional, do-it-yourself or how-to writing, as well as advertising, speeches, blogs, and articles. This perspective can be highly motivational, eliciting action and emotion from the reader on a personal level because it speaks directly to them, drawing them into the story actively, rather than keeping them in a passive role. One great example of 2nd person perspective is the beautiful quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” by Mahatma Gandhi. In the 2nd person narrative, someone of authority (the author, expert, narrator, or major character) who may, or may not, be directly involved in the story and may, or may not, be omniscient, tries to connect with, inspire, or maybe even rile the listener/reader through the act of storytelling.
2nd person POV (pronouns: you, your, yours) is a less common narrative where the story teller recounts events in great detail to another character in the story, or to you as the reader. Highly successful writers have employed this POV in world famous stories that appeal to readers of all ages. One beloved example is Princess Bride by William Goldman, where the reader gets drawn into the story by occasional interactions on two different levels because the narrator is speaking directly to his grandson with frequent use of the pronouns “you and me,” but also to the wider audience, who essentially becomes the grandson. Another excellent example is The Hobbit, by J.R. Tolkien, which uses the primary character as the narrator, telling his story directly to the reader. Use of the pronoun “you” draws the reader immediately into the story, as if the storyteller shares the same space and time with you, telling the story, either in real time, or by reflecting on the past. This adds energy and a personal touch that is hard to beat with other points of view.
In the same way that advertisements inspire you to want to buy something, 2nd person perspective delivers the story straight from the narrator or main character’s mouth to you, the reader, telling you what to do, think, remember, or ignore from the details they share. The narrator has complete license to deliver the story in the order and timeline that they choose, leaving out key facts until they decide the time is right, and manipulating the reader’s interest by sharing insights about characters or events which others may not be privy to. The narrator or storytelling character may, or may not be omniscient, so you as the author have a lot of room to navigate and direct your audience through the story. As with 1st person, this method provides ample opportunity to misdirect the reader, but also allows you to rearrange or reinterpret the facts known by the characters in the story, alter events to serve your own ends, and double back on scenes to reveal something not previously revealed.
Start paying more attention to POV when you read and you’ll notice some subtle differences in the approach to writing in 2nd person POV. One common feature of 1st and 2nd person POV is the use of less formal language, grammar, and style in order to impart a more casual, conversational vibe, than the more formal language, grammar, and style often associated with 3rd person POV. All three POV styles have the ability to employ casual or formal style and tone – this is mostly a facet of the writer’s personal preferences – but it may be easier to achieve a casual personal connection with the audience using 2nd person POV. You’ll also find that all three POVs use slightly different techniques to move from narration into action and dialogue. Princess Bride, transitions between two different stories occurring at the same time in the book (the grandfather’s dialogue with his grandson in the present, and the action and dialogue between all the other characters in the story he is telling, which may be in the past, present, or future) which sets the narrator apart from the main story. By contrast, The Hobbit keeps the narrator actively involved in the story, by having him essentially relive the action and dialogue through the act of storytelling, and drawing the reader into the story with him. In 3rd person POV, there may, or may not be a narrator, but the writer can impart crucial information to the reader, without informing the characters, by inserting a scene that takes place in a different location, timeline, or with a different character’s POV, setting this scene apart from the main story as an additional point of interest.
Writers of poetry and songs often employ 2nd person POV as a way to direct their emotions and words at a specific person without confrontation – think letter writing or confessional diary – to express themselves in way they cannot do face to face, either because the person is no longer present in their life, or because they cannot find the wherewithal to speak up (fear of rejection or betrayal). This type of communication can have a very cathartic effect, but has the same flaw as 1st person POV, where the reader may not always agree with the narrator’s experience or emotions, and may get catapulted from their connection to the story by interruptions from the narrator, or information that upsets them. One example of lyrics in 2nd person is the song Faithfully by Journey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj__jhmPMgI
Have you read other great stories written in 2nd person POV? Post a reply to this blog tip and share the title and author as well as your thoughts about it! I’d love to hear from you.
Next time, I’ll break down 3rd person POV and how I use it in the Storm Series to connect with my audience. Until then, happy writing and adventuring!