Pity the poor Second Person. The name alone is enough to puncture its self-esteem. Second fiddle, second best, second rate.
No wonder this voice in literature gets no respect. Actually, it gets less than respect. It is reviled! “I won’t read anything written in second person.” “It’s fingernails on a blackboard to me.” “The writing was good but I couldn’t stand the POV.” So say ordinarily easygoing readers and critics.
But hey—it’s just a voice, like any other. And I think we can all agree that in these times we shouldn’t be in the business of shutting voices down. So let’s ask the much-maligned Second Person to speak, to give us a little insight into its utility. Then maybe the you-haters out there can open their minds enough to listen.
I’ll turn it over to You. But first, a word from our sponsor. (Note: Diaz”s reading is rated R for profanity and references to naked body parts.)
Hello, I’m You. Wait—that came out wrong. I mean, I’m am Second-Person Voice, the one that seems to point a finger at the reader, to call out from the page, making its presence known. I know there’s a contingency of readers who prefer that language fade into complete transparency, leaving on the page only a doorway to emotion. I’m for emotion as much as the next Person, but sheesh, can’t we have a little fun getting there?
Maybe it’s the artifice that makes people hate me. I get it: having a non-existent thing (a Voice) draw attention to itself while you’re trying to read a story is annoying. But what if you open that crack in the side of your head where ideas get in just a little wider and let me in, too, so I’m no longer separate, no longer stuck outside here on the page? Instead, I’m a Voice inside you. Ah—too frightening. You’ve been raised in a culture in which Voices in Your Head=Bad.
You see what I’m doing here, don’t you? I’m using myself to address you! Am I really so dreadful? I would argue that the style of essay you are reading right now calls for an odd and playful Voice. I mean, when your narrator is Second Person, you practically have to let me speak in my eponymous voice.
Skilled writers use me in all sorts of delightful ways that make readers laugh or cry without grating on their ears. It’s a matter of being appropriate. You wouldn’t wear a ballgown to tennis practice and you wouldn’t wear tennis whites to a ball. So don’t use You (me) in a long work of plot-driven fiction, or in a fairy tale, a biography, or a research paper—unless you’re Being Experimental, which is fine but always a bit dangerous. I have my place, just like my cousins First Person and Third.
My message to you this evening is that we all have a place in this world. (The same goes for my much-maligned little punctuation friend, the semicolon.) So remember, people: Appropriateness, moderation, inclusiveness. I think we can all agree that these are words to live by today. And if I can be of any assistance in the Voice department, I am more than happy to help out.
Thank you. Or do I mean “thank me?”
Opinions about the use of second-person POV
- Why Should a Serious Fiction Writer Use Second Person Narration? (Editor’s Opinion Blog)
- Is Second Person POV a Smart Choice for a Novel? (Novel Writing Help)
- When to use the second-person POV in fiction (The Writer)
What’s your opinion on second person? Love, hate, or don’t care as long as it works?