10 July 2007

Second person

I'm just musing today about a comment a friend made on an email about second-person, and how hard it is to write. I've written one story in second person that's been published. (I'm trying to think if I've done any more -- I have a vague feeling that I have, but I can't remember. That's a worry! lol) I didn't find that story at all hard to write. Admittedly, it is more experimental than most of my work. Usually, I write stuff that (I think) is strongly plotted, but every now and then I like to have a play around with something that isn't, or that is different in some way.

I think readers either love or hate second person. Not many are ambivalent about it. I love it. When I'm reading in second person, I am the "you" in the story. It doesn't matter if it's a male character who's an alcoholic, has bunions, six girlfriends and onion breath. I am that person. Because I am the main character, I find this the closest point of view of all, but I've heard many say it's distant. My theory is that those who hate it or who find it distant (and I suspect they're the same people) aren't able to make that transition.

Conversely, what I hate is the occasional use of second person -- when someone is writing in first or third person, and every now and then they pop in an occasional "you". For example: "I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when I saw a large crane -- you know the type..." I'm left thinking, who? Me? I think it's meant to be a generic kind of thing, but because I start considering who the writer is talking to, I am ripped right out of the story. I really, really, really can't tell you how much I hate this. I hate being reminded that I am reading. I want to be in the story, to experience it, live and breathe and smell and feel it. I can't do that if the writer is constantly reminding me that I'm reading a story. Writers do this with authorial intrusions, and with that occasional use of "you". If it's set up from the beginning -- in the first para or two, then I'll swallow it, but still as something distasteful that I'd rather not sample. Maybe it's just me. I'm interested in what others think. Does it bother you? (Yes, as in you the reader!) Or don't you even notice it?


Sherryl said...

OK, I'll take out the 'You's' in my current novel! (grumble)
I have discovered I like second person in poems. It somehow keeps it close, but distances the poem from the constant "I" that you get a lot in personal stuff.
But it doesn't work all the time. You still have to judge the POV on whether it enhances the work or detracts from it.

Tracey said...

I love second person in poems -- oh, I just love second person most times. I don't ever find it distancing. For me it is closer than first person because I am the character. Can't get much closer than that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the discussion on using second person POV. I'm in the process of writing a short story and it is telling me to write second person. In view of the many admonitions against this POV I was thinking of ways to change it to third but (in my head) it seemed to lose its impact. I also appreciate the comments from people who like it. Just hope the judges do also. Blessings,
Janice C.

Tracey said...

Thanks for your comment, Janice, and good luck with the story! I think if you feel the story *needs* to be in second person, and it feels like it's losing impact in third, then you absolutely should go with it. You can never second guess what a judge may or may not like -- they're all individuals. All you can control is how well crafted your story is, so write the best story that you can, and use the POV that seems most effective. Hope you knock those judges over!

SimulationBrain said...

I find this post very insightful. I have always wondered why people don't write more second person, but I am also someone who deeply inhabits the main character in fiction. Suddenly I think that most people are reading differently than I am - they're not becoming the character they're reading about.

I want to write second person, but now it's clear that you'll miss a lot of audience. But on the other hand, the audience you still have is probably the best part- those most deeply invested in their reading!

Tracey said...

Hi, and thanks for your comments. I think you make a great point about everybody reading differently -- one that we don't always think about as writers. You know, though, in the end it's that thing about not being able to please all the people all the time, so write what pleases you!

I do think that you have to keep your audience in mind, but that's something for a second draft. First write what you want to write. And, yes, choosing second person may alienate some readers, but you take a calculated risk.

Like you, I invest deeply in the character I'm reading about, but some of my other friends do do this when they're reading first person, but not so much when they're reading second person accounts. It's an interesting phenomenon.

Anyway, good luck with your story! Hope it rocks.