2nd Person POV: You Are the Great White Whale of Perspective

Your name is Ahab but you ask the crowd to call you Ishmael. You are the outcast. A man with a singular determination that will destroy your life one league at a time. One sharp harpoon, rusty tipped after another; giant nails in the coffin of your sanity. You spend your life in pursuit of an enemy, who stole your leg, the ghost of which pains you every night, mocks you, like the monster’s great white smile…

I’ve talked about perspective before but today, I wanted to get more into the elusive and cagey fellow that lies between the literary popular 1st, and the genre popular 3rd. This is the perspective one rarely writes a novel in (though it has been done) but can pack a powerful punch when building emotional investment in your reader.

Let’s talk about “you“. That is…the 2nd Person POV.

What you may not know is 2nd person POV is often used as a more intimate alternative to 1st person. It almost feels like a narrator is putting the reader in the middle of the action and making them the lead while they hold their hand through the journey.

But why is it so treacherous?

Well, the grammar alone can be strange, and redundant. On top of that, it is easy to fall into heavy and long-winded monologuing from this perspective and forget that your novel/book/story, must also contain those vial elements of setting, other characters, dialogue, and plotline

(If you ever want to see how it’s done right, I encourage you to check out Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney: link)

So why do we bother using it? Well, like anything good and worthwhile in life, storytelling should evolve, it should test boundaries and experiment with ways to bring readers into our little worlds. In addition to that, 2nd person POV is a beautiful way to break up a scene by adding suspense, asking bigger picture questions, and engaging our readers on a more personal level.

It is an effective tool for removing a reader from a difficult situation while still keeping them interested. If your subject matter is ethically challenging (drug abuse, violence, non-conforming ideals) putting the scene or story in 2nd allows for the author and the reader to put you in the shoes of the person going through the questionable behavior. It’s a way to show the humanity behind bad decisions or the person in the crime, rather than being removed and judgmental towards the material presented.

If we see, third-hand, a man using cocaine in a bathroom we will make all kinds of judgements, but when the writer says something like,

“You promised yourself this would be the last hit, the one-way ticket to get you back to where you needed to be in your circle of friends. After all, those friends are the only family you have. What’s one little white line? They are cheering you on from behind and it feels like being on top of the world for that one brief inhale.”

2nd person POV is a beautiful way to get inside the characters head and making you the character at the same time.

2nd person is also great for allowing the writer to break a bit of the fourth wall and talk to a reader directly. Which can be fun, and strange but like I said, experimenting brings us to new ideas about how writing can affect us and our readers.

One of my favorite ways to use 2nd person POV is in a broader sense of humanity. I utilize it occasionally in poetry when dealing with universal ideas of loss, scarcity, war, hardship, joy, birth and death. Authors can tell the story we all are a part of and bring clarity and consciousness to larger metaphysical concepts and philosophy.

This method is often employed in passages scattered throughout a 3rd or 1st person POV novel, as a character telling a larger-picture story or asking a question that begs for more introspection.

If you’d like to give it a try remember: Avoid long monologues, stick to the action (just like any good writing), and don’t forget to do the work of writing (dialogue, scenes, sensory info). Also, start small, poetry, flash, short stories are a great venue for experimenting.

Converting current WIP (works in progress) or parts of them into 2nd can help you suds out the emotion you’re trying to hook the reader with as well as give you a fresh perspective on a character or scene that is simply not working.

Good luck out there.

Remember this Saturday (7/30), Episode 5 (“The Rainstorm”) of Westbury Falls will be available on Kindle Vella (link)

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #5: Point of View

Thank you to the beautiful people at Grammarly for this awesome little image of Point of View.

Whilst (I love using that word) typing up the title today I realized, that all of these blogs on novel writing can also be used in other aspects of your writing. Short stories, flash fiction, non fiction, and even poetry all contain aspects of plot, character, and point of view. In a novel, however, consistency of your point of view is crucial for keeping your reader snuggly in your world. Shifts in POV can cause confusion or jar them out of the story.

So today, we’re going to briefly discuss the typical types of POV as well as which ones are most effective to use.

For the budding writer, I’ll lay down some foundation.

Point of View is basically who is telling the story.

In First-Person POV, then the action is happening to the person telling the story (the narrator is the main character). Here, a writer uses “I/We” mostly while only using “he/she/they” as outward observations. They can tell you what they see, feel, hear, know, etc, but they can’t tell you what anyone else sees, feels, hears, or knows. The best way to show those things are through action and dialogue AND by having faith in the reader to understand by your clues the general idea.

Second-Person is the red-headed step child of writing POV. I’m sorry. I said it. Second person uses “you” and “your” and they narrator speaks directly to the reader. “You were amazed. You’d never seen a chicken with five legs.” They make you part of the story. I suppose some of my blogs have been in 2nd person, non-fiction informative may utilize this POV. I’ve never used this in a short story or my fiction but occasionally it creeps into my poetry. In fiction, it’s very difficult to do well. (“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerey, “The Sweetheart” by Angelina Mirabella, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern)

Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story from a distance (she/he/they). When it gets closer in (think into the characters’ heads) it’s called third-person omniscient. Third-person is popular with light fiction, serial romance, cozies, beach reads, sci-fi, fantasy etc. The tricky part of this POV is being able to stay focused on one character at a time. If the story dictates it (two or three main characters) I will switch POV in Third by chapter, possibly by section, but never by paragraph or within the same scene.

We discussed each typical type, but how do you know which one is best for you? Well, part of this comes down to your writing style. When you write, are you the character? Are you in their mind, in the arena, in the pilot’s seat? Or are you observing them, building the world around them and telling them what you see from above? Are you walking them through the story, a sort-of inward conscience to their journey? Which genre is your story? What’s the purpose of the story?

All of these factors can make writing in the right POV harrier than my old math teacher at the swimming pool (Hey! Take the sweater off before you get in–oh…wait…sorry!) Some genres are more lenient as to how much you can change or shift the point of view. Some genres really do best when one specific POV is used.

Take memoir for example. This type of storytelling should be first person, past-tense. Period. That’s your story, it happened to you. You are telling it.

Now, romance novels can dance on the edge of third-person, third-person omniscient, or first-person.

Most contemporary fiction these days is first-person (think Hunger Games) or if you’re feeling fancy, 2-person, first-person (look at Gone Girl–a book told in first by two different main characters–very clever)

I am wont to say that sci-fi and fantasy tend to be third person, due to the world building that has to occur. But it can be done marvelously in first as well (check out “The Martian” which tickles both first and third).

The important part about POV (especially when working with third) is that you stick to a strong, non-passive-voiced point of view that stays in its lane.

Check this out:

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled and slammed her fist into the table upsetting the spoons. She’d had enough of his late nights at the track and the dwindling bank account.

Bob jumped back at the sound. His heart fell to his gut and he felt like crying. He couldn’t believe he’d lost their honeymoon money. He was only trying to double up on the winnings so they could have a bigger trip.

Jill paced the room in a fury. How could he? After she had been saving for months and months so they could go away…

Yowza. For one–this is a lot of information dumping out on your reader. You can’t describe your main character’s (Jill) thoughts and feelings about Bob and then in the next paragraph have Bob spring into an inner dialogue on his thoughts and feelings about her. It’s called head hopping and it confuses the readers. Only a few really talented authors can make this happen and not lose the reader (I’m looking at you Nora Roberts).

Don’t cause a ruckus. If the character you are writing for (be it third or first) isn’t a goddamn mind reader then don’t describe things they wouldn’t know.

If you want the reader to have the information, you show through body language and dialogue.

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled. “I can’t believe you blew our savings at the tables!” She slammed her fist into the table and knocked over the cup of spoons.

Bob hung his head and swallowed. His voice trembled. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry doesn’t even begin–“
“I was only trying to–” Bob started.

“It doesn’t matter!” she yelled. “You don’t get another chance to make this better!”

Here, the reader has enough information to gather how Bob feels without dropping us into his head.

Ok. Whew! Speaking of info dumps, huh? Take a minute to absorb all of that. Think about your story, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to follow, and how you want to bring the reader along. If you’re writing short stories, experiment with all the types of POV. I’ve only written a few things in first and its very powerful, but for some reason, it’s very hard for me. My comfort is in Third-Omniscient, but as in all things in life, we have to push our comfort zones to be better. So…push your zones, get uncomfortable.

Pick a POV per project and stick with it.

Until next week. Happy writing!