When it comes to choosing a point-of-view for a fiction story, most people show a preference for either first person or third person. First person point-of-view is when the narrator tells the story and is a character in a story. The narrator will refer to himself or herself as “I” and everything is seen through his or her eyes only. Here’s an example:
It’s a hot day and I hate my wife.
We’re playing Scrabble. That’s how bad it is. I’m 42 years old, it’s a blistering hot Sunday afternoon and all I can think of to do with my life is to play Scrabble.
Excerpt from “Death by Scrabble,” a short story by Charlie Fish
Third person point-of-view is when the narrative is relayed through the perspective of an all-knowing being, or a “he/she” perspective. The narrator will tell the story of others without being physically present for the action. The Harry Potter series is written in the third person point-of-view. Here’s an example:
Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as…
Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
You’re probably very familiar with first and third person points-of-view. Mark and I just debated Katniss Everdeen as a first person narrator a few weeks ago, and every month at Full Sail I find myself explaining the differences between first and third person point-of-view to a new batch of students. Being familiar with narrative mode is as important as anything else in creative writing, especially since newer writers have a tendency to want to jump back and forth between the two choices in one story, which only succeeds in giving me a headache. As I always say, consistency is key.
Have you ever heard of the second person point-of-view, though? You probably have, even if you didn’t know what it was called. I call the second person point-of-view the Choose Your Own Adventure point-of-view, because those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular when I was a kid were always written in the second person. Second person is when the narrator speaks directly to the reader—to you. It’s much less popular than first and third person, but it does have its place in the realm of creative writing. I’m personally a fan of second person when done correctly, but it can be difficult to pull off. The biggest risk with writing a story in the second person is that the reading can become tiresome if the story is too long. Also, if the reader cannot relate to the plot of the story at all, it can be difficult to keep the reader’s interest. I always provide a second person point-of-view story as supplemental reading in my creative writing class and it’s interesting to get feedback from students about their preferences.
Here are a couple of second person short stories for you to explore and think about:
“Notes to My Sixth Grade Self” by Julie Orringer (this is an audio file of the author reading the story)
I’ve written a few short stories in second person myself, but I think there’s definitely a greater challenge with making second person as readable as first and third.
What do you think of second person? Do you find it tiresome or interesting? Do you think you could ever write a story in the second person point-of-view? I suggest giving it a try. Sometimes changing tenses is all you need to get a story moving.