What Is Second-Person Point of View?

Definition & Examples of Second-Person Point of View

Young woman writing in diary.
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Second-person point of view is a form of writing that addresses the onlooker or reader directly. For instance, the text would read, "You went to school that morning."

Learn more about this uncommon type of storytelling and get examples of it.

What Is Second-Person Point of View?

The second point-of-view essentially makes the reader or viewer a character in the narrative to draw them into the story. The narrative is written from their point of view and addresses them at the same time.

How Second-Person Point of View Works

Writing with a second-person point of view is different from writing that's 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.

It's important to distinguish second-person point of view from a first-person point of view that addresses the audience. For example, "Do you enjoy pot roast as much as I do?" is a question presented by a pot-roast loving first-person narrator. On the other hand, "You love pot roast, so you should cook it tonight," is an example of the use of the second-person point of view.

Second-person writing usually requires a good deal of practice and finesse.

The second-person point of view is rarely used in fiction because it can be very difficult to do well. Many writers have found that it can be hard to develop a set of characters and a story in which the second person is appropriate. It's usually far easier to develop a fictional character and tell the story through their eyes and experiences.

Maintaining a second-person narrative in a longer piece of writing, such as a novel, as opposed to a short piece of work, such as a one-page essay, can also be more difficult. That's why it's not very common for novels to use the second-person point of view.

Examples of Second-Person Point of View

Despite its difficulty, there are some examples of successful longer works told in the second-person point of view. They include:

  • "Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney 
  • "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" by Tom Robbins
  • Many of the stories in "Self-Help" by Lorrie Moore
  • "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern
  • "Complicity" by Iain Banks
  • "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid
  • "The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty" by Vendela Vida
  • "The Fifth Season" by N.K. Jemisin
  • "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern

Another example of successful writing from the second-person point of view is the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. These books became popular with children from the late 1970s through the 1990s, with more than 250 million copies sold during that time.

The reader is the protagonist in these stories and must make choices that determine the plot and ending. For instance, a few pages in, the reader may see something like this:

Do you...

  • open the door (turn to page 10)
  • run the other way (turn to page 19)
  • ask for some advice (turn to page 7)

This continues until the reader reaches the end of the book.

Benefits of Second-Person Point of View

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. But generally, people write in the second-person to:

  • Immerse the reader in the experience of actually being the protagonist
  • Engage the reader in a rich sensory experience that can best be accomplished by forcing readers to imagine themselves as part of the experience
  • Write a particularly persuasive or engaging passage that will be most effective when written in the second person
  • Test their writing skills by using a new and different style of writing

Key Takeaways

  • The second-person point of view is a form of writing that addresses the onlooker or reader directly and usually makes them a character in the narrative.
  • It's not common for writers to use the second-person point of view, especially in longer fiction, because it can be difficult to do it well.
  • Done well, the second-person point of view can be very engaging and immersive.
  • The "Choose Your Own Adventure" series is a popular example of using second-person point of view.

Article Sources

  1. Choose Your Own Adventure. "History of CYOA." Accessed July 12, 2020.