31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 12 – What Is Second Person Point of View?

Hello again, and welcome to Day 12 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”, where we’re learning all about how to write a novel! Today’s topic is Second Person Point of View, which is the third installment of this three-parter, so if you haven’t read the other two posts in this trilogy of learning and/or if you haven’t read any of the other posts in this NaNoWriMo Prep series, you can check them out here. You can also check out the corresponding YouTube videos here.

I think most people would agree that second person POV is the weirdest and most confusing of all the points of view one could choose from. That’s not to say that it’s the worst, or that it’s even bad. It’s just… rare. It’s also super interesting when used in a unique way. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I should probably explain what second person POV is, since, if there were any point of view you might be unfamiliar with, it would be this one. Second person POV is where the reader is inserted as a character into the story, directed on their journey by an unknown outside narrator. Technically, this is an offshoot of third person POV, which is why I had to teach you about third before I could move on to second. A second person narrator is sort of like a limited POV narrator, where they only know what the character knows and see what the character sees, but in this instance, they know and see these things before the character does, since they’re the one telling the character–the reader–what they are seeing and experiencing. It’s weird and very hard to put into words, but I’m trying my best, okay?

A second person narrator will use the pronouns “You,” “Your,” and “Yours” most of the time, since they’re addressing the reader as an actual character. They’ll also use the pronouns “He,” “She,” and “They” when talking about other characters that the reader meets. They usually won’t use the pronouns “I,” “Me,” or “Mine,” but… Well, who am I to tell you to not experiment with first person in a second person novel? It may be really cool! (It also may have been done before. I wouldn’t know, since I’m not very familiar with second person in general.)

Speaking of not being very familiar with second person, I don’t actually have a list of popular second person novels for you this time around. I know, I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. Trust me, I Googled for at least half an hour, trying to find something, but none of the titles of any books were even remotely familiar to me and I didn’t want to recommend books if I wasn’t sure they were quality. I recommend that, if you’re interested in writing in second person, you do some of your own research and find some quality second person novels to read and learn from. The one thing I can say is that most second person novels are “choose your own adventure” novels. That doesn’t mean that’s what you need to write if you choose second person, it’s just a majority of that particular market.

Before we move on to the pros and cons of second person POV, I want to reiterate one last time that no one point of view is better than another. Second person has qualities that I think could make it a really interesting choice. So, without further ado, the pros:

The first is that it’s unique. Standing out from the crowd is hard in this over-saturated literature market. A well-written second person novel may be exactly what’s needed to shake things up.

Second, it gets the reader actively involved in the story. Most readers love to imagine that they’re the main character in a novel, and so actually making them the main character could be a dream come true for some readers. I remember a time when there were these customizable romantic novels going around where you could fill in your own name and information in order to insert yourself into the story. To me, seeing my own name in a novel (I only did a preview of the novel, don’t worry, I didn’t actually buy the thing) was weird, but to be assigned a completely new identity and inserted into a new life would probably be really neat.

Now for the dreaded cons. First off is that there could be an issue with suspension of disbelief. You know how, when watching a horror movie or a thriller, you tend to scream at the characters for making stupid decisions that you would never make? Imagine reading a novel where it’s supposed to be you making these stupid decisions that you would never make. I think that’s why most second person novels are “choose your own adventure.” That way, the reader has the chance to take the route they themselves would be more likely to take in real life. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to write a “choose your own adventure” novel. I’m just saying that it could, possibly, lead to some issues.

Second, even though unique can be good, it can also be off-putting. I know it’s frustrating, but the fact of the matter is that most readers like things to stay the same. They don’t tend to lean toward the experimental very often. I mean, how many Twilight knockoffs have been flourishing over the past few years? People find something they like (i.e. Vampire/Human romance) and they stick with it. It can be the same with point of view. Readers discover a first person novel that they really like, and then they refuse to read anything but first person. Yes, it’s a little stupid, but unfortunately that’s the way things are. And, hey, who knows? Maybe your novel could be the one that makes someone fall in love with second person, and then they only ever read second person novels for the rest of their life. Just keep in mind that the niche for second person novels is small, which means you may not sell as many copies of your novel as you would if you wrote it in a different point of view. I can say with some certainty that you’ll at least have a hard time finding an agent or publishing company to represent your work.

“Well, Leighton, it seems like you made a pretty strong argument for not writing a novel in second person,” you mutter, sulking. To that I say, I literally use second person all the time. I just did it. It isn’t a bad point of view. It can be effective. I just haven’t experimented with it in my novels, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, and if you really, truly feel that the best and only way for you to tell your story is in second person, then go for it. Not everything is easy. Not every story you write is going to make you a million dollars. But the point of writing isn’t for the money or sales (or, at least, it shouldn’t be). The point is to get your stories out into the world. And if a million people love it or if only a few people love it, at least you know that you’ve put your novel out there for somebody to love. That’s all that should matter, in the end.

And remember, whatever point of view you choose now for the first draft of your novel this November, you’re not stuck with it forever. Like I’ve mentioned before, my (not yet published) novel The Forbidden Prophecy, which is the first novel in my series The Caspian Chronicles, started in third person and eventually switched to first. It isn’t that I made a mistake writing it in third person the first time, necessarily. It’s just that the story changed so much from that first draft that the most effective point of view to tell it in changed, too.

So, I hope this point of view trilogy helped you understand first, second, and third person POV better, and that you’ll have an easier time deciding what point of view you plan to write your novel in this November. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow, because Day 13 is all about how to write a kick ass first page and first chapter. It’s something you definitely won’t want to miss.

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