Point of View (POV) is defined as the perspective from which a story is being told.
This can be either from the perspective of a character or an outside observer who is relaying the ongoings of the characters to the audience. The POV a writer chooses can depend on a number of factors such as the story’s plot, genre, the age group it is intended for, or the reader’s personal preference.
I ran a poll on my Twitter page asking which POV other writers use in their fiction.
Thank you to everyone who participated!
I continued to receive replies in the comments following the end of the poll’s duration, so the actual figures above may not be entirely accurate percentages.
Each style has its own pros and cons, which I will be reviewing in a series of posts throughout the month of February.
Second in this series is the only option to receive zero votes, Second Person POV.
I’d like to begin this week’s post with a brief disclaimer.
Second-Person POV is a topic I knew nearly nothing about going into this post, but it seems I’m not alone in my state of puzzlement.
After doing a little bit of research, I hope I’ll be able to provide a little more information about this subject.
Second-Person POV occurs when the story is being told using you and yours rather than the I and mine of First-Person POV or He/She/They and His/Hers/Theirs used in Third-Person POV.
As Katie Surber explains on Study.com, “An author may use second-person when he/she wants to make the audience more active in the story or process. The author may use it to talk to the audience (as in self-help or process writing), or, when used in fiction, the author wants to make the audience feel as if they are a part of the story and action. When writing fiction in second-person, the author is making the audience a character, implicating them. The author may even be employing second-person as a thematic device, a way for a character to distance himself or herself from their own actions.”
When I was gathering a list examples using Second-Person POV, the first thing that came to mind was, for better or for worse, Rob Cantor’s viral video Shia LaBeouf which tells the story of you being chased by a cannibalistic version the titular actor.
“You’re walking in the woods
There’s no one around and your phone is dead
Out of the corner of your eye you spot him:
He’s following you, about 30 feet back
He gets down on all fours and breaks into a sprint
He’s gaining on you
Shia LaBeouf places the audience in the position of being pursued by this “actual cannibal Shia LaBeouf,” creating an immersive story.
It should be noted that Second-Person POV is different than an instance of an author or narrator to directly address the reader.
For example, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is told from the perspective of a young boy as he and his sister are visited by the titular feline.
On the last page, the narration shifts to speak directly to the reader:
“then our mother came in and she said to us two,
‘did you have any fun? tell me, what did you do?’
and Sally and I did not know what to say.
should we tell her the things that went on there that day?
should we tell her about it? now, what SHOULD we do?
well…what would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?”
This change does not mean the POV is now Second-Person. This is an example of the narrator breaking down the fourth wall, which authors or narrators may do to provide their own commentary on the situation or characters.
Second-Person POV, like other narrative styles, has its advantages and disadvantages.
PRO #1 | Second-Person POV Puts The Reader In The Story
Similar to First-Person POV, Second-Person POV gives writers the ability to bring readers into the story. However, rather than have the reader experience events through the eyes of their character, Second-Person POV casts the reader themselves in the story. The other characters interact directly with the reader, resulting in a more immersive experience.
CON #1 | Second-Person POV Can Make Character Arcs Difficult
In fiction, one of the things readers often enjoy is watching the protagonist’s growth as the story progresses and they are met with new challenges.
But what if the reader is the character, as is the case in Second-Person POV? It’s a lot more difficult to create this experience. Writers are not in as much control when their character is not one of their own creation.
PRO #2 | Second-Person POV Can Stir Deep Emotion In The Reader
Second-Person POV places readers in the world of the story. As such, it can be a great technique for writers looking to instill a sense of empathy. Rather than reading about a character struggling with a mental illness or financial insecurity, as if observing from a distance, Second-Person POV brings readers a step closer to experiencing it themselves. When used well, this perspective can make a story hit closer to home because it forces readers to imagine themselves in these situations.
CON #2 | Second-Person POV Can Be Difficult To Make Audiences Engage With
I love the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style of writing. It can be a lot of fun to go back and play out the different outcomes of making a different choice in the moment. This is why I absolutely loved the concept of Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography and got totally sucked into Netflix’s Black Mirror special Bandersnatch even though I haven’t watched an episode of Black Mirror. Many of my favorite video games are also based on the Butterfly Effect including Until Dawn and Detroit: Become Human.
So why am I listing this as a con?
Well, unless you’re setting out to write a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, Second-Person POV can make your story feel like a poorly written one~one where they don’t actually get to choose their own adventure. Second-Person POV throws the reader into the world of the story by making them part of it, but that doesn’t mean it gives them any say in what happens.
For example, let’s say the story has you, the reader, come across a puppy.
Now, this pup is coming towards you. It’s a cute little guy, but he only has three legs.
In your pocket, you have a gun.
You shoot the puppy.
***I want to make it very clear that this is only a hypothetical example and no puppies were harmed in the writing of this blog article.***
That said, if you’re anything like me, you would not shoot this puppy. If given the choice, you might look to see if he is wearing a collar or see if you can find his owner.
But shooting it is definitely out of the question.
However, writing in Second-Person POV doesn’t give the reader that choice. This can lead to aggravation rather than an interest in continuing the story which, as a writer, is the last thing you want.
Second-Person POV does not occur too often in fiction. This is not to say you should never make the attempt at using it. Experimenting with different POVs can be a great writing exercise, especially if you’re able to get the knack of it. Second-Person POV can be interesting if executed well, and an even greater achievement considering how rarely that is done.
Be sure to check in next week for the first post on Third-Person POV!