Writers have three choices when it comes to point of view (the perspective from which a story is told). The vast majority of stories are told in the first person or the third person, and as we’ll see in future videos, these options come with multiple complexities, variations, and pitfalls. But in this video we take a look at the rarest option: the second person.
Video transcript follows below
Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story is told, and there are three main options. You’ve got the first person, in which a character in the story also narrates the story: I am sitting on a chair, pleased to be addressing my beautiful viewers. There’s the third person in which an authorial voice describes the action from beyond the narrative: He sits on the chair and feels happy to address his beautiful viewers. And then there is the second person: you sit on the chair and feel happy to address your beautiful viewers.
The vast majority of stories are told in either the first person or the third person, and in the videos to come we’ll look at the complexities and pitfalls of those viewpoints. But before we move on, I want to mention the second person, because the reason it looks sad is that people tend to forget about it.
A second person narrative is not the same as a second person address. Many narratives address the reader directly, without departing from first or third person viewpoint – Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is still a first person narrative, despite ‘Reader, I married him’ and ‘you have not quite forgotten little Adele, have you, reader?’
But a small number of books and stories are narrated entirely in the second person. An example is David Foster Wallace’s story ‘Forever Overhead’ which begins:
Happy Birthday. Your thirteenth is important. Maybe your first really public day. Your thirteenth is the chance for people to recognize that important things are happening to you.
Things have been happening to you for the past half year. You have seven hairs in your left armpit now. Twelve in your right. Hard dangerous spirals of brittle black hair. Crunchy, animal hair. There are now more of the hard curled hairs around your privates than you can count without losing track. Other things. Your voice is rich and scratchy and moves between octaves without any warning. Your face has begun to get shiny when you don’t wash it. And two weeks of a deep and frightening ache this past spring left you with something dropped down from inside: your sack is now full and vulnerable, a commodity to be protected. Hefted and strapped in tight supporters that stripe your buttocks red. You have grown into a new fragility….
Tom Bailey notes that
‘Second person can be a powerful, fresh and inclusive, universalized POV, able to create a felt empathetic effect,’
but he raises the following ‘flag of caution’:
‘We are somehow more aware that we’re in second person than first or third, which have the curious ability to “disappear”, leaving us more completely – more believably – inside the dream of the narrative.’
Second person is very rare, and we’re not planning to talk about it anymore. But don’t forget about it, or it will be sad.
Thanks for watching, and good luck with your writing.