POV Breakdown: Second Person

Almost all writing teachers tell their students to stay away from second person. The YOU voice or POV is considered the most difficult to sustain. Why?
Writing Tip for Today: Second person POV uses the pronoun “you.” And that’s where the problem lies. “You” could be any number of individuals or whomever is reading your story. Although using a second-person POV exclusively is discouraged, there are a few exceptions.

  • The Brief You. Now and then a writer can get away with a sentence or two in a you voice from an already established character’s first person POV. So the reader is cemented in the “I” voice before this character turns to the audience and relates a common condition or info that many people might also experience. One of the most fascinating uses of second person POV is in Lorrie Moore’s short story, “How to Become a Writer.” Grammar rules say in the case of second person, the subject (you) is omitted and the sentences begins with a verb. In the case of Moore’s story, writers relate to her story’s first line: “First, try to be something, anything else.” The you is implied. You go to your room becomes: Go to your room.
  • You’re Not the Boss of Me. The command to do anything, including “go to your room,” doesn’t sit well with readers in general. We resent others telling us what to do.
  • Rare Birds. Of course, some writers can pull off what the rest of us dare not attempt. Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is a novel written entirely in second person POV. This writer succeeds mainly because of his high skill level. If you want, write in second person as an exercise. Only you and an editor can say if your attempt is publishable.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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