In a previous post, we began talking about point of view, also known as “person.” We began by discussing first person, identifiable by the use of the pronouns “I” or “we:”
I stepped to the side of the door and pulled my gun from its holster.
I waited in the car an hour before Lucas finally arrived home.
Today, we’ll talk about second person. Even seasoned writers occasionally trip over this one, usually because it simply isn’t used very often in fiction. Second person, which uses the pronoun “you” in both the singular and plural forms, is appropriate when the writer is addressing the reader.
If you think about it, you’ll find that you use it all the time – in emails, instructions, advice, and speeches. You leave a note to your son on the refrigerator: “There’s meatloaf in the oven, you can heat it up when you get hungry.” What about that email to your sister? “You should really think about it before you quit your job, especially in this economy.”
In both sentences, the writer is talking to the reader, almost like an actor looking directly at the camera to deliver his lines.
So why isn’t it used in fiction? Because of the actor/camera example cited above. There simply aren’t many instances when the narrator of a story addresses the reader directly. As with most things in life, there are exceptions, though. Take Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City:
Eventually you ascend the stairs to the street. You think of Plato’s pilgrims climbing out of the cave, from the shadow world of appearances toward things as they really are, and you wonder if it is possible to change in this life. Being with a philosopher makes you think.
Is McInerney addressing the reader directly, implying that it’s the reader’s story? No; in this case, he’s using second person to create a feeling of detachment in the narrator. Essentially, this is a first person story being told in second person, with the narrator “stepping outside himself” and viewing his life as an observer.
As mentioned above, the second person also has a plural form, but the pronoun “you” is used for both.
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