How, when and why you can use the second person point of view
But first, what is point of view, or POV?
There are three basic points of view that define the type of narration used in literature and writing.
They are the first person, second person and third person.
In the first person POV, the narrator uses the pronoun, I or sometimes, We.
The second person POV uses the pronoun, You.
In the third person, multiple person pronouns are used. They are He, She, It and They.
The Third Person
Fiction generally uses the third person, and it is often referred to as third person omniscient narration. It means that the narrator is all-knowing.
Using the same POV, you can have unreliable narrators, who might be difficult to believe because of exaggeration, lying or a sorry state of mind.
The third person narrative is commonly the author speaking. However, it can be the voice of only one character.
In the Harry Potter books, J. K. Rowling uses the third person limited POV, which means that the story is told exclusively from the perspective of Harry and the character’s thoughts.
An author can also tell a story from the view of multiple characters. A great visual example of this is The Narrator in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
He is a fictional character, apparently a criminologist, and appears regularly to introduce scenes using the third person narrative about various characters in the story.
“Emotion: Agitation or disturbance of mind; vehement or excited mental state.” It is also a powerful and irrational master. And from what Magenta and Columbia eagerly viewed on their television monitor, there seemed little doubt that Janet was indeed… its slave.”
The First Person
The first person POV is most often used in autobiographies when the author uses the pronouns I, Me, My and Mine.
It can also be used for advice in self-help books but is generally seen as a little egotistical.
However, it can be used in fiction. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a classic example.
“I have of late, — but wherefore I know not, — lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.”
The Second Person
It is quite rare for fiction to be written in the second person.
One often-cited example is the 1984 book, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. You can see by these selected first lines of the book that it is an unusual style for fiction.
“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. How did you get here? It was your friend Tad Allagash.
Your brain is rushing with Brazilian marching powder. You are talking to a girl with a shaved head. You want to meet the kind of girl who isn’t going to be here.
But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”
Then there is Margaret Atwood’s short story “Happy Endings,” which is told from both a second and a third person point of view.
The most common use for books written in the second person is for self-help and advice.
Lorrie Moore wrote a collection of short stories, Self-Help, which feature pieces written in the second person.
When you write in the second person you are addressing the reader, and seemingly in real time.
How, when and why to use the Second Person to your advantage
In fiction or a short story, the second person is considered awkward and very difficult to use.
But in non-fiction, and particularly when you are giving advice, information, or asking a reader a question, it is the perfect POV to involve your reader.
Look at these two very simple examples.
I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables because I need the vitamins.
You need to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables because your body needs the vitamins.
The change in POV makes the second sentence much more likely to connect with the reader. You can almost imagine them nodding in agreement as they read.
If you are writing articles, blog posts, content storytelling or self-help and personal development ebooks, using the second person perspective has huge benefits.
It helps you as a writer to connect with your readers’ thoughts and feelings.
The POV expert
You have probably read articles written by Neil Patel. He is a marketing guru, but he is also a very fine writer.
I took one of his articles at random, The Ultimate Guide to Writing Blog Posts That Rank in Google’s Top 10.
It is a very long piece, but what is fascinating is how often he uses the second person.
If you’re a content marketer, blogger or online business entrepreneur, you’re the CEO of your business. No matter what you actually sell – products or services – your primary responsibility is to solve your readers’ problems. Start by attracting attention with your post headlines to improve search engine rank. They have something that needs to be solved in their search query – solve it.
Better yet, you could find a web page that lists several sites or resources similar to your own blog post, but which contains broken links. That’s your opportunity to get your links there, in place of a broken one.
When you’re contacting someone for the first time, address the blogger or site owner by their name (preferably their first name). If you don’t know their names, a simple Google search will reveal their Twitter account or Facebook page. Or, you can visit the “about” page through their site content.
In the full article, he uses You 587 times!
He often uses the first person to introduce a situation or topic. But then quickly switches to the second person to engage with his readers.
In every article you read by Patel, you always feel that he is talking to you directly.
It seems like only a subtle change. But if you look at your own articles or blog posts, which voice do you use the most?
If you see that you are using the first person too often, it is not difficult for you to do a little re-writing to change the voice from I and My to You and Your.
Maybe you have written a self-help book. Is it selling well?
If your answer is well, not that great, perhaps you might want to do a quick scan read and see if POV is a potential problem.
You never know.
The power of You and Your in a title
When you craft a title for an article or non-fiction book, do you think about your POV?
Let’s say your article or ebook is about overcoming shyness.
Which title do you think would be more powerful?
How To Overcome Shyness
My Way of Overcoming Shyness
How You Can Overcome Your Shyness
Just by adding You and Your, or You’re, your titles will sound less formal and rigid.
You then have far more chance of attracting attention because you have personalised the title for the reader.
The second person is a point of view that can be used to great effect because the story is told for and about the reader.
In fiction, unless you really know what you are doing, it is probably best avoided. Stick with the third person and be safe.
But when you are writing your blog posts, content articles, advice ebooks or offering any form of written guidance or useful information, think about how you can use YOU to engage your readers in your topic.
Further reading: Similes And Metaphors And The Difference Between The Them