Monday, 28 November 2016

The Second Person

I’m not talking about my mysterious alter ego here (I’ll save that for another day) – I’m talking about Point of View. I want to talk about something I’ve been experimenting with recently which is using different voices and perspectives. My Yeovil Prizewinning story, A Legend of Flight, was the result of this sort of experimentation and one of the other things I’ve been experimenting with recently is writing using the Second Person POV.

I’m sure most of my blog readers know what I’m talking about, even if they haven’t tried the second person themselves, but just in case you are scratching your head and wondering what on earth I’m blethering on about – a brief recap.

The main types of POV:

First Person (I). Becoming increasingly popular, particularly in YA. Generally lends itself to a single POV work. Multiple First Person POVs can work but you need to keep the character voices distinct.

Second Person (You). Occasionally seen in short stories or as a minor POV character in a novel.

Third Person (He/She). The most commonly used particularly for multi-character POVs.

Omniscient. The God like viewpoint. The narrator describes a scene as if looking down on it from above.

So, back to writing in the second person. It tends not to be used very much and that is for a very good reason – it’s tricky to get right, very intense, and difficult to sustain for a long time. Hard on the reader as well as the writer. As a result if you come across it at all it will be in the form of a short story or as short sections of a longer novel. For example in Complicity Ian Banks uses it very effectively to give us the murderer’s POV.

But what do you gain from using the second person? Here are a few of the benefits.

Intensity – the second person is very powerful, the reader is immediately immersed – they effectively become the character in your book.

Ambiguity – there’s a certain ambiguity to a character written in the second person. They could be male or female, young or old. They take on some of the characteristics of the reader. This makes second person an effective tool for certain types of story. For example it works well in crime when writing a scene from the killer’s POV.

Accusatory – the use of the word ‘you’ can feel very accusatory for the reader and this can, again, be utilised for good effect.

Uneasy – one of the effects of writing in second person it that it is uncomfortable for the reader. They are being forced into the head of a character they may not like or feel at ease with. Add to this the intensity, ambiguity and accusatory nature of this POV and the reader’s sense of unease is only heightened.

Not all stories lend themselves to the second person, but I do think it’s worth giving it a try, if only to expand your writing armoury. It’s not at all easy to do well. My first efforts came across as clunky and difficult to read. For a while I wrestled with it. People who read it didn’t like it. But after a while I started to get the hang of it. It no longer seems to jar. So I’ll share with you my top tip for writing in the second person:

Try to avoid the use of the word YOU as much as possible.

This applies particularly to the start of sentences. A succession starting with ‘You’ quickly becomes grating. Try turning your sentences around so that the word ‘You’ comes in the middle. The flow will be greatly improved. You words will cease to jar.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go