What Is Second-Person Point of View in Fiction?

Young woman writing in diary.
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Second-person point of view is a form of writing in which the point of view of a narrative work is told in the voice of the onlooker, which is you, the reader. For instance, the text would read, "You went to school that morning."

The second-person point of view is rarely used in fiction because of its difficulty level. It is hard to develop a set of characters and a story in which the second person is appropriate. Additionally, it is not easy to maintain a second-person narrative in a longer piece of writing, as opposed to a short piece of work such as a one-page essay. It is far easier to develop a fictional character and tell the story through their eyes and experiences.

Despite its difficulty, there are a few examples of works told in the second-person point of view. Tom Robbins' "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" is an example of a novel told in second-person. Many of the stories in Lorrie Moore's book "Self-Help" are also written in second-person.

Distinguishing From Other Devices

Don't confuse second-person point of view writing with a writer who is simply addressing the reader. Many major authors, including classic writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, actually speak directly to the reader, expressing their commentary regarding the plot or characters. Contemporary writers of blogs and non-fiction will also address "you" (the reader) when offering advice or insights.

Another point of confusion is distinguishing second-person point of view from a third-person point of view, which can be limited or omniscient. When a writer addresses a question to the reader, the writer is writing from the third-person point of view. For example, "Do you enjoy pot roast as much as I do?" It is a question presented by a pot-roast loving third-person narrator. On the other hand, "You love pot roast, so you plan to cook it tonight," is an example of the use of the second-person point of view.

Why Choose Second-Person Point of View?

It is a legitimate question. Most people naturally write in first-person or third-person because it takes a great deal of effort and intention to write in the second-person. Generally, people write in the second-person because:

  • They want to immerse the reader in the experience of actually "being" the protagonist
  • They want to engage the reader in an extremely rich sensory experience that can best be accomplished by forcing the reader to imagine himself or herself as part of the experience
  • They want to write a particularly persuasive or engaging passage that will be most effective when written in the second-person
  • They want to test their writing skills by using a new and different style of writing

While there is certainly nothing wrong with experimenting with any type of writing, second-person writing requires a good deal of practice and finesse. Don't be surprised if your first efforts end with readers being confused or frustrated. Only by refining your technique will you become an accomplished writer in this difficult form.