When writing fiction, it’s more usual to use either first person, third person omniscient, or third person limited.
Second person has its drawbacks and limitations, but sometimes it’s the exact right point of view for the story, and if that’s the case, then you should go for it.
It can also be an interesting exercise to try writing your current work in progress in second person to look at it from a different angle and see it in a way you may not have been able to see it before.
It’s certainly worth exploring second-person point of view to improve your writing and perhaps find new ways to create your characters and write your books.
In this article, we’re going to look at what second-person point of view is, why you should use it, why you might avoid it, and we’ll give you some examples of writing in second person.
- What is Second-Person Point of View in Writing?
- Why Should You Use Second Person Point of View?
- 7 Second-Person Point of View Examples
- Why Do Writers Often Avoid Second-Person Point of View?
What is Second-Person Point of View in Writing?
If you’ve ever written any non-fiction, including blog posts and marketing copy, you’ll be familiar with second person.
It’s used to talk directly to people and draw them into what you’re saying. Instead of using the more distancing third person, writers often create how-to guides, instructions, and other non-fiction using second person because it makes the reader feel like they are being spoken to directly and involved in the subject.
If you’ve ever used “you,” “your,” and “yours” when writing, then you’ve used second person. In fact, you’re reading it right now.
In fiction, second person can create a whole different feel to your work, and just as with non-fiction, it can be a way to really draw your readers in and involve them in your story.
However, it does need to be done well and used when appropriate for your story. Not every story will work in second person, particularly if you have many characters to keep track of.
You also need to watch that your writing doesn’t start to sound like a how-to manual and that you keep an eye on your pronouns. Especially if you’re not used to writing in second person, it’s all too easy to slip back into using “he,” “she,” and “they.”
If you’re going to use second person, then a good edit and a round of proofreading is definitely your friend!
Why Should You Use Second Person Point of View?
If you really want to drag your reader into the story and keep them there, then there’s nothing quite like second person. It makes the story immediate, intense, and powerful for the reader, making them feel as if they are more a part of the story than simply reading it.
This can be comfortable for the reader or very uncomfortable for them, depending on the character you are assigning to them and the circumstances you are describing. Using second person, you are telling them who they are, what they think, and what they are doing.
It’s highly intimate, and if they can relate to the character, they’ll very much start to empathize and become absorbed in the story. However, it can be equally powerful if it’s a character or circumstances they don’t like, like a villain or a sleazy character committing a murder.
You can use this to deliberately make the reader feel unnerved and uneasy.
Imagine how powerful second person could be if you used it for a horror tale or a fast-paced, pulse-pounding thriller, with the reader as one of the characters in danger.
You may even find it can be powerful for steamy romance, showing what happens beyond the bedroom door and letting the reader get close to that and feel part of it.
Here are a few more reasons to give second person point of view a try:
- You can make the reader think and challenge their own ideas and thoughts. By using “you” to address them, you could tell them, for example, that their character is less than honest or has unpleasant ideas about certain things or people. Because you’re using “you,” you’ll have your reader thinking about that really hard and wondering if there’s any truth in that. Not to be used lightly or without a lot of thought, but it can be a powerful reason to use second person.
- You can address the reader directly and bring their attention to what you want them to see and get out of your story. This can emphasize the theme and the ideas in the story.
- For you as a writer, it’s a challenge; there’s no doubt. It takes far more thought to write in second person, and it’s always good to stretch yourself as a writer.
- You can find greater empathy with your own characters if you write about them in second person because it gives you a new way of looking at them from an outside perspective. You can also benefit from seeing how your reader experiences your story.
7 Second-Person Point of View Examples
In this section, we’re sharing seven examples of writing in second person. Take a look and see whether you agree with that choice or if you would have done something different.
Use the examples to get some inspiration and ideas of your own for writing in second person.
1. Choose Your Own Adventure books
If you were a kid in the 1980s, you probably read your fill of these. They are written in second person to bring you into the story and include you as one of the characters having the adventure. And you even get to choose from several options where the story goes next.
Here is an excerpt from The Cave of Time by Edward Packard:
“You are hiking in Snake Canyon when you find yourself lost in the strange, dimly lit Cave of Time. Gradually you can make out two passageways. One curves downward to the right; the other leads upward to the left. It occurs to you that the one leading down may go to the past and the one leading up may go to the future. Which way will you choose?
If you take the left branch, turn to page 20. If you take the right branch, turn to page 61. If you walk outside the cave, turn to page 21. Be careful! In the Cave of Time you might meet up with a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, or be lured aboard an alien spaceship!
What happens next in the story? It all depends on the choices you make. How does the story end? Only you can find out! And the best part is that you can keep reading and rereading until you’ve had not one but many incredibly daring experiences!”
2. To Be or Not to Be by Ryan North
Sticking with “Choose your own adventure” tales, you can still find these as an adult. Here’s a hilarious excerpt from To Be or Not to Be by Ryan North, where you can follow the story as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet Senior.
Second person here is definitely for the humor. It surprises the reader and deliberately pulls them out of the story at times, but you also want to keep reading just to see what the author comes up with next:
“’How have you been, gentlemen?’ you say. ‘I’ve been okay,
except for, you know, the nightmares. Anyway! What brings you
They look at each other. ‘What — um, what do you mean
what brings us here? Uh, why don’t we instead talk about your,
um…plans and motivations?’ Rosencrantz says. Your face falls.
Man, you knew it! Claudius sent for them! They’re here to spy on
‘Aw, really? Come on, guys. Were you sent here to spy on me?’
‘Well, um…yeah,’ Rosencrantz replies. ‘Kinda?’
‘Frig man, I knew it,’ you say. ‘Look, I’ll make it easy on you.
I know I’ve been all emo lately and mopey and even though we
don’t have the words for it yet, I’m pretty sure I’m what you’d call
‘CLINICALLY DEPRESSED.’ That’s all.’
You sigh, and then look at them with a small smile.
‘I guess I’m quite the piece of work, huh?’ you say.
‘Would you care to explain that in more detail?’ Rosencrantz says.
As a matter of fact I would. Turn to page 100
No, man. Didn’t you hear? I’m clinically depressed. Turn to page 118.”
3. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
In this story, we have both first-person and second-person point of view. The main character is in the dock, accused of murder, and we have no idea whether she did it or not. We get right inside her head because of the points of view used and wonder with her how she got here:
4. Bread by Margaret Atwood
This is one of those stories you need to experience rather than have someone’s comment on it, so all we’ll say is enjoy the switch of place when it comes. It’s incredibly vivid, and the second-person point of view draws you in:
“This bread happens to be brown, but there is also white bread, in the refrigerator, and a heel of rye you got last week, round as a full stomach then, now going moldy. Occasionally you make bread. You think of it as something relaxing to do with your hands.
Imagine a famine. Now imagine a piece of bread. Both of these things are real but you happen to be in the same room with only one of them. Put yourself into a different room, that’s what the mind is for. You are now lying on a thin mattress in a hot room. The walls are made of dried earth, and your sister, who is younger than you, is in the room with you. She is starving, her belly is bloated, flies land on her eyes; you brush them off with your hand. You have a cloth too, filthy but damp, and you press it to her lips and forehead. The piece of bread is the bread you’ve been saving, for days it seems. You are as hungry as she is, but not yet as weak. How long does this take? When will someone come with more bread? You think of going out to see if you might find something that could be eaten, but outside the streets are infested with scavengers and the stink of corpses is everywhere.”
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5. Complicity by Iain Banks
In this story, there are two points of view. One of a murderer inspired to commit crimes by a journalist, and the point of view of the journalist, the “you” in the story. Second person works beautifully here, and brings the reader in, making them feel “complicit,” as the journalist does, in the murderer’s crimes:
“You hear the car after an hour and a half. During that time you’ve been here in the darkness, sitting on the small telephone seat near the front door, waiting. You only moved once, after half an hour, when you went back through to the kitchen to check on the maid. She was still there, eyes white in the half-darkness. There was a strange, sharp smell in the air and you thought of cats, though you know he doesn’t have cats. Then you realised the maid had pissed herself. You felt a moment of disgust, and then a little guilt.”
6. Coming, Ready or Not by Liv Honeywell
We talked earlier about how effective second person could be for steamy, bedroom-door-open romance, and here’s a short excerpt showing both first person from the narrator and second person as she talks to her lover about what’s happening, how she feels, and what he’s doing to provoke these reactions:
“I swallow hard as anticipation and imagination take flight, providing me with more thoughts than I wish for of what you might be about to do, though I know I will find out soon enough.
I jump as you put something down on the bedside cabinet.
You sit next to me and take my hand, stroking my palm gently with the tip of your thumb. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?”
I look up at you and open my mouth to speak but no sound comes out.
You smile, watching me. “Well?” Your hand drifts across the curve of my hip.
I moisten my lips and manage, “No.”
“Would you like me to tell you?”
7. You by Caroline Kepnes
This is another story written with both first and second points of view, and it works beautifully. This mix allows the reader to get to know both Joe, the psychopath stalker turned boyfriend, and Beck, his prey, and it suits the story very well.
The limited second-person point of view builds tension and also makes the reader feel like a stalker to an extent, along with Joe:
“You are classic and compact, my own little Natalie Portman circa the end of the movie Closer, when she’s fresh-faced and done with the bad British guys and going home to America. You’ve come home to me, delivered at last, on a Tuesday, 10:06 A.M. Every day I commute to this shop on the Lower East Side from my place in Bed-Stuy. Every day I close up without finding anyone like you. Look at you, born into my world today. I’m shaking and I’d pop an Ativan but they’re downstairs and I don’t want to pop an Ativan. I don’t want to come down. I want to be here, fully, watching you bite your unpainted nails and turn your head to the left, no, bite that pinky, widen those eyes, to the right, no, reject biographies, self-help (thank God), and slow down when you make it to fiction. Yes.”
Why Do Writers Often Avoid Second-Person Point of View?
As we said earlier, second person is far rarer in fiction, and at least part of the reason for that may be that writers are readers too. If they’re not used to seeing it done, it may not have entered their head as an option.
Additionally, for writers:
- It is a challenge to write in second person, and some writers may not feel confident enough in their abilities to tackle it.
- Second person suits only certain stories, and you really do need a reason why it must be second person. It’s not so easy to see if it will work and to think about why second person might be the best choice over the more popular options.
- Second person can be confusing for the reader when trying to keep up with who is who.
- Second person is a limiting point of view, which may not get the story across in the best way.
From the readers’ point of view, second person can feel like too much, and the reader can feel overwhelmed. Conversely, it’s also possible for the reader to feel too distanced by the point of view to engage with the story. It’s also true that some readers simply don’t like second-person point of view at all.
Finally, if you want to get a traditional publishing contract, it’s far better to stick with the tried-and-true points of view. You don’t want to give potential publishers an extra reason to turn your story down.
Writing in second-person point of view isn’t the easiest of choices, but it can be done, and it can be highly effective.
Take your time and think about whether it’s the best choice for your story, but why not experiment and try it. See what happens. At the very least, you’ll learn something more about yourself as an author and about your writing.