Guest Post: ‘Second Person Viewpoint – Love it or Hate it’ by Morgen Bailey

Most writers (and readers) will know the difference between, and often write in, first person (I / we) and third person(he / she / they) but second person (you) seems to be something either not heard of, not tried, or not liked. From memory, I have only interviewed one author (Stella Deleuze) whose favourite point of view is second, as it is mine.

Editors seem not to like stories in it, although I get the impression – or am I just hoping – that it’s been growing in popularity and one came second in a Writer’s Forum magazine a while back, then judged by writing friend and interviewee Sue Moorcroft.

That said, it gets tiring after a while to write and read (I’m still working my way through Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City and it’s a 100-page novella!) so best suited to short stories. I have a second-person short story (‘The Dark Side’) available free on Smashwords if you’d like to read one in full (well, I say “full”, it’s a mere 682 words).

So how to write this viewpoint? While it’s not quite as simple as writing first or third person then changing I or he / she for you, it’s not far off. As an example ‘The Dark Side’ starts like this…

You struggle to breathe as you look down at the cot. You know he won’t be far away. It’s only a matter of time.

Your heart quickens as you hear gravel shifting. A large car – his Daimler. You’ve got it all planned, but of course there’s no guarantee. What if…? ‘It’s no good thinking what if?’ you tell yourself. You only have one chance. To escape. Be free. Alive again. You stand up straight and your hands tighten around the bundle you hold close to your chest. It’s the key to everything. This is what it’s come to, you know he’s here to kill you, take your child, his heir.

As you can see, second person is often ‘dark’ and quite intimate, almost suffocating. It can feel like the narrator is talking directly to the reader, which isn’t always a bad thing, but certainly an acquired taste. Either that or Stella and I are just weird.

The trick is to imagine that you are talking to your reader, or to your character. Where a third person point of view can feel somewhat detached, writing in second certainly does bring you closer. Also it can really only involve one person as the ‘you’. Of course you can include as many other characters as you like (within reason, especially in a short story) but they would always be a ‘he’, ‘she’ or in some cases an ‘I’. Overuse the latter though and the borders of whose story you’re telling can become somewhat fuzzy. With ‘he’ or ‘she’ there is still that detachment that you’re talking about someone over the ‘you’ character’s shoulder.

If you’ve not tried writing second person I would urge you to have a go. You may not like it but if you’re anything like Stella or me, you’ll be hooked. Whether you can sell it is another matter but being a writer should be about writing what you love (although that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills) and if it doesn’t all see the light of day then it’s still something you’ve created and hopefully enjoyed, and in doing so have practiced and perfected your craft just a little more.

The first volume of my 365-day Writer’s Block Workbook series has over 1,000 sentence starts split into three a day with a tip at the end of each week. Days two and five are second person. Feel free to use any of the following:

  • His touch was tender, yet you…
  • You wonder when things had really got so bad…
  • This wasn’t the life you’d signed up for…
  • If you could change one thing…
  • You said it could never happen again…
  • It’s a dull day and you know how it feels…

Like short stories, I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the world realises that second person is there, jumping up and down, shouting “pick me”. I’m so glad I did.

Morgen Bailey (Morgen with an E) is an author, freelance editor, tutor, reviewer, blogger, and speaker. Former Chair of three writing groups, and H.E. Bates Short Story Competition 2015 Head Judge, RONE and more recently BBC Radio 2 500-word short story competition judge. Morgen can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and many others. Her blog is http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, email address morgen@morgenbailey.com, and her latest books are ‘After Jessica’, a mystery novella, and ‘Gun’, a collaborative crime novel.



    1. Ooh, awesome article! I haven’t read many pieces of writing with 2nd person, but one I can remember is a truly terrifying horror novella, but I think I might try writing a short story in 2nd person as it will be fun, thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

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