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The Challenges of Writing Second Person Point of View

Using second person point of view isn’t exactly common when it comes to literature. It often brings to mind "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories, but not likely much else. Novels often seek to put the reader into the protagonist’s shoes so to speak, which second person point of view literally does, so what accounts for its limited use? Examine what puts this type of narrative at a disadvantage compared to the more popular first-person and third-person points of view in novels. What are some examples that make good use of second person point of view and how they successfully navigate its pitfalls and/or subvert its expectations?

  • The first example that comes to mind is Tolstoy's "Sevastopol in December," but you're correct to note its rarity. Epistolary novels can also, to a certain extent, be seen as utilizing second-person narration, since authors of letters are directly addressing an implied reader with a unique identity; this, however, becomes complicated by the commingling of the first-person "I" of the letter-writer and the second-person "you" of the recipient, thus reducing the formal purity of a single focalizing voice. It's interesting that you should bring up interactive narratives, since another possible example in that vein are so-called "first-person" video games. These may be better interpreted as actually being second-person, since the avatar through which the player experiences the game is less of a narrator than a participant à la "Choose Your Own Adventure." The true narrator in such cases is the text which appears on screen to provide instruction to the "you" who experiences the ludonarrative. – ProtoCanon 3 months ago
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  • Here's a recent one--Jemisin's "Broken Earth" series. Of course, it's phrased as being told by someone to someone else, but that's just the frame of it. It never leaves "you," and knows everything. – IndiLeigh 3 months ago
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  • This is something I'd really love to explore. I think often times in writing or English classes we are told not to bother with second person point of view because it's so rarely used and thus, we don't get to learn about it or appreciate it like other view points. – ReidaBookman 3 months ago
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