If you’re a fiction writer, you may have been told never to write in the second person point of view. Or perhaps you’re a business writer who’s been told to always use it?
But what exactly is second person narration and why do people have such fixed opinions about when it’s okay to use it?
This guide gives you everything you need to know, including helpful examples and practical exercises so you can get it right.
Point of view is the narrative voice you use to write in. It tells us who is speaking and is split into first, second, and third person.
You might hear people talking in different terms to describe narrative point of view, including the acronym “POV”, “narrative voice”, and “perspective”. They all mean the same thing.
You can usually tell the narrative voice easily by looking at the pronouns used:
- First person: I
- Second Person: You
- Third person: she, he (or a character’s name)
First Person Perspective
In the first person point of view, a character is telling their own story. It creates an intimate atmosphere, making the reader feel as if they know the character well already. First person can also intentionally restrict the information shared with a reader.
The narrator is limited to their own perspective on events and can only talk about the things they have experienced.
Second Person Perspective
With second person point of view, the writer addresses the reader using the pronoun “you”. It forces the reader into the story, making them part of the action and complicit in events. This is hard to sustain over longer pieces of writing, which is one reason it is rarely used in narrative texts.
Third Person Perspective
In the third person point of view, the author is telling the story of different characters, but is not part of the action themselves. This perspective is further divided into “omniscient”, “neutral”, and “limited” perspectives.
Looking for more guidance on using pronouns to construct point of view? Check out our guide to commonly confused pronouns to learn when common pronouns are used.
Why is Second Person Perspective Less Well-Known?
In school, you probably spent most of your time writing either in the first or third person point of view. These perspectives are well suited to writing stories, diaries, and recounts of events, the type of tasks teachers often use to improve writing skills.
Second person narrative voice is used less often, and it comes more naturally in spoken language rather than writing. It can feel forgotten about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it.
Remember, looking at the pronouns of a sentence is an easy way to distinguish the narrative point of view being used.
First Person Example Sentences:
- I didn’t know where I was going.
- Should I meet him?
- We went to the movies.
In the third example, you may have spotted the plural pronoun “we”, which is also a sign that first person narration is being used.
Second Person Example Sentences:
- You walk down the road, glancing behind you.
- You rub your feet at the end of the day.
- After finishing work, you decide to go for a drink.
Third Person Example Sentences:
- He was mean, but she tried to ignore it.
- They were the perfect couple.
- Tommy worked at the bank.
Characters’ names and the pronouns “they” and “he/she” help you spot a third person narrative voice.
A Warning About Deciding POV
Avoid deciding which narrative perspective is being used based on a single sentence as this can be misleading.
For example, the sentence “they were the perfect couple” suggests a third person point of view. But what if we read it as a part of a longer extract?
By reading a longer extract, we can see that this is written from a first person point of view. We can hear the character speaking to us about their feelings for the other characters.
To make sure you have correctly identified the narrative voice used, try to read at least a few other sentences to make sure.
Second person perspective means addressing the reader directly. You’ll spot the pronouns “you”, “your” and “yours” being used.
- Are you always running late for work?
- Your family means the world to you.
- You realise a moment too late that the purse is yours.
We often use a second person perspective in sales and business writing because it can be persuasive. You’ll see it in slogans and adverts that are trying to make you take action, often using rhetorical questions for impact.
Copywriters use a second person point of view to establish a bond and intimacy with the reader, to make them believe the writer really understands their situation.
This type of writing differs significantly from fiction writing because readers stay as themselves rather than imagining themselves as a character within a story.
Speech writers often use the same approach. If they stick to a first person perspective, they can inadvertently seem too interested in themselves or removed from their audience. Second person shows they understand their audiences’ problems and want to help.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
You’ll also spot second person perspective used in instructional writing, song lyrics, and video games.
These types of writing may seem very different from one another, but they all want to create an immersive feeling where you are at the center of the experience.
Second person narrative voice is intimate. It creates a conversation, immediately making you feel as if you know the person speaking. This inclusive experience can create feelings of trust, which are ideal for persuasive sales writing.
You work hard every day. When you get home, you want to relax, not work through a long list of chores. That’s why you need Daily Maids.
For fiction readers, a second person narrative voice is an intense, immersive experience. They’re thrown into the action and become a part of the events that happen. As a writer, you can make them a friend or confidant, or even complicit in misdeeds.
Alternatively, the second person narrative can create a sense of mistrust. The reader asks themselves, is the writer telling me everything? Can I trust what they’re saying?
A second person narrative voice can feel unrealistic if you don’t have a clear idea of your reader, although this can be useful if you’re trying to appeal to a specific type of customer. Second person point of view can seem accusatory and suggest that you’re looking down on your reader.
This perspective is not often used in fiction writing because it is hard to maintain consistently over time. Readers enjoy feeling immersed in a story, but it’s hard for them to suspend their disbelief completely and become a part of the action.
Your reader may enjoy hearing about the life of a bank robber, astronaut, or knight, but can they actually imagine being them?
You may have been told that fiction writing should only ever use the first and third point of view.
Many editors actively advise against using a second person narrative voice at all. If you look at published works of fiction, you’ll notice how few of them ever use it.
Writing in second person point of view can be:
- Distracting and jarring for the reader
- Repetitive and boring—only using the pronoun “you”
But does that mean you shouldn’t use it?
That’s for you to decide. While there are fewer examples in literature of second person point of view, they do exist. Your story may only work if it’s told from this perspective.
Before using second person perspective, ask yourself:
- Can my story be told from a different perspe