SunWinks! Sunday Gather Writing Essential: Second-Person Narrative POV (SunWE)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on September 9, 2012 0 Comments

Dear Gatherbobulators:

They’re baaaaaaaack!

Remember me saying we were all done with the topic of Narrative Point Of View? I lied!!! Bwahahahahaha!

Ok here’s the deal: As you undoubtedly recall, I did my series on POV based on the organization of Moffett’s Point of View: An Anthology. Moffett ignores second person point of view altogether, and so did I. Until recently, its use in narrative fiction was widely considered a parlor trick, hardly worth mentioning. The primary use for the second-person voice was the instruction manual (“First you take axle A and spoke B and attach them through hole C using bolt D.”)




Before we get much further…

Second-person voice uses the pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours,” distinguished from first-person (“I,” “me,” “my”) and third-person (“he/she,” “him/her,” “his/hers”).  In second-person narrative, the narrator is addressing someone (perhaps the main character) directly, just as you would address someone directly if you were talking to them.

Why would you do that? You might use this technique to give the narrative a special sense of immediacy. The narrator, in addressing the character directly, is also addressing the reader directly, and thus puts the reader in the character’s shoes, with a kind of “You Are There!” immediacy. Think of it as a literary virtual-reality ride.

Blogger and consultant Sherry Wilson says this about second-person POV:

So why would anyone want to write in second person point of view?

Until recently I would have said, never. But there are instances when you need to make an impression on the reader. One of my students used it in the opening chapter of his book to forcefully put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes. It was extremely well done and came off with a “Wonder Years” type of feel to it. So I take back my answer and say that second person does work in rare instances, when handled well. It is not something I’d recommend for the beginning writer though as it’s very hard to keep up consistently.

Here’s another discussion of second person POV by Richard Nordquist (




Getting back to our story, about the time I was wrapping up the Sunwinks! POV series, I ran across a couple really interesting examples of second-person narrative stories and thought I might do a column on it after all. Then our Gather colleague Nyles Wood beat me to the punch. He submitted an excerpt from his book to this column about which he explained:

This is an excerpt from my novella…. The story is told from the point of view of an extremely removed first person narrator, so far removed that he no longer thinks or refers to himself as “I.”

The chapter begins:

Among other things, you avoid spending any great amount of time with coworkers outside of the looming grey box where you spend most of your days, and most of the men and some of the women share in your avoidance principles.

I told Nyles in my opinion this is second-person narrative, no getting around it—but what a terrific premise for using the second person! So, Nyles, you’re my first example! The Patron Saint of Reckless Youth Check it out, folks!

Another formidable Gather colleague who frequently and very effectively writes in the second person is Terry Collett.  Check out CHRISTINA AND YOU AND HOME FOR LUNCH

Here are a few more examples:

The one I found in my Best American Mystery Stories book:  Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River)

The one I vaguely remembered reading in a doctor’s office—and, by some fluke, managed to run down again on the Web:  “Miss Lora” by Junot Diaz

And one from the last place you’d expect: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Suess

The Prompt:


Write a story in the second person.  Read some of the examples and think about why it will serve your purpose to write your story in the second person.


Write a set of instructions (in the second person, natch) for using a feature of a piece of software.

Write a description from a travel guide.  (“You disembark at Orly Airport with the Eiffel Tower in the distance etc.”)


See the September 2 edition of Sunwinks!

Put SunWE in the title and tags.

  • Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to.  (If responding to today’s, put Second Person POV in the title field.)
  • This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today.  If your piece isn’t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can.  This is supposed to be fun.
  • I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
  • If you would like a little more academic critique–but still very friendly and positive–include the word “rigorous” in your post (e.g. “rigorous critique wanted”).

The response to our Tumbling Verse prompt was wonderful!  Responses are linked to below.  Please check out and comment on one or more.  Let me know if I missed yours.

Sinceriously yours,


Tumbling Verse


Just another day by Priya P. |

SOFTY NOO by Irina Dimitric

I’ll Miss You When It’s Over by Sam Henderson |


The Joy of Soup by DW

© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved.  Please share this on, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy.   Doug’s latest book is The Depressed Guy’s Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.

Doug’s Gather Group is Depression and Creativity, devoted to creative writing about depression and related illnesses, and creative writing as therapy.  Please consider joining.  You can read more of Doug’s posts there, or here.



About the Author ()

57 year old musician, poet, father of 4 grown children, composer, recording artist, author, humorist, survivor. I'm thoughtful, introspective, introverted, open, scathingly honest about myself, creative, a Renaissance guy, willing to grow and change and

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