Fiction writers tend to depend on first person or third person point of view—you’ve been there, done that. But what about writing in second person? It may seem strange, unconventional, or confining, but playing with point of view is one way to transform a story.
Point of view affects a story in that it offers readers a very specific perspective of the story events. Second person narration is no different. In this post, let's define second person point of view and then talk about three reasons why you should try writing in second person.
What is second person point of view?
Second person point of view is when you tell the story from the perspective of someone else– the reader. It's like being a fly on the wall as someone else experiences something. You're not in their head, but rather observing and narrating their actions and feelings from outside of them.
It can be a bit tricky to write in because it requires that you take on a different narrative voice and be conscious of the words that you use. It assumes a sense of intimacy as you direct the reader.
Questions about point of view? Check out our full guide here.
How do you know something is written in second person POV?
It will use second person pronouns to capture the action: you, your, yours. It projects the action and thoughts of the reader in an immersive experience.
Here's an fiction example from Margaret Atwood's short story “Bread”:
Imagine a piece of bread. You don't have to imagine it, it's right here in the kitchen, on the breadboard, in its plastic bag, lying beside the bread knife. The bread knife is an old one you picked up at an auction; it has the word BREAD carved into the wooden handle. You open the bag, pull back the wrapper, cut yourself a slice.
Notice how the Atwood tells you the reader what you see and how you're acting. She puts you inside the story.
Why try writing in second person?
Here are three reasons:
1. Second person pulls the reader into the action.
Especially if you write in the present tense, second person allows the reader to experience the story as if it’s their own. To avoid a “choose your own adventure story” feel or an aggressive tone, mix up sentence structure and add in description and dialogue. Using the second person pronoun “you” and describing action as it happens supplies a personal sense of urgency, propelling the story—and the reader—forward.
Example: You’re late. Heart pounding, you race up the stairs as the train enters the station. With a deep breath, 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.
Notice how the sensory experience is heightened here for the reader because the narrative perspective projects the action on you.
2. Second person gets personal.
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 letter form; 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.
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 on breaking my heart that night? We locked eyes as I walked through the entrance, and I knew things were coming to an end.
3. Second person stretches your skills and surprises readers.
Because it’s not often used, the second person point of view can feel 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.
Second person might not be the right fit for every story. (And there are always readers who don't love second person for fiction writing!) But it's worth the time to play with the voice and urgency that second person narratives require, if for no other reason than to expand your writing prowess.
Have you written a story in the second person point of view? Tell us how it went in the comments.
Write for fifteen minutes in the second person point of view.
When you’re finished, please share your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here. And if you post, please respond to some of the other comments too!