I experimented with something new in my writing. I wrote a poem and a story in second person. Everywhere I wanted to say “I did” this, I wrote “you did.” It’s not a point of view that would work for every piece–and it has to be used sparingly–but it really got me out of my writing ruts (craters, according to the mean editor in my head).
In the story, writing about “you” instead of “I” gave me that needed distance between the me of today and the me of 1979. The two women are barely the same person.
Here’s a sample from the story:
Not that long ago, you’d partied in your college town with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got you alone in the kitchen, he’d blown rum breath in your face and fingered your long brown hair, the hair you straightened with giant rollers . . . .
Here it would be in 1st person:
Not that long ago, I’d partied back home with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got me alone in the kitchen, he’s blown rum breath in my face and fingered my hair, the hair I straightened with giant rollers . . . .
There’s nothing wrong (in my estimation haha) with the second one, but writing in the “I,” I need to show more introspection and accountability for myself. In the “you,” I don’t need to do so and that forces the reader to read more sharply and pay attention more closely. For a short piece like this (500 words total), that’s the reading effect I wanted. Notice that I also felt funny about saying “long brown” about my hair. Too many adjectives about the self. But in 2nd person I can get away with it.
In the poem, experimenting with 2nd person added a mysterious layer that lends depth and texture.
In both pieces, the reader is approached more intimately and encouraged to participate in the birth of the piece (writing + reading = birth).
If you feel that you’re in a rut with your writing, why don’t you give it a try? Either write a story or poem from scratch in the 2nd person point of view (POV) or take an existing draft and change it. But when you revise into the new POV, be sure to keep yourself loose enough to make other changes as you go. Once you change POV you are changing the story in more ways than you can imagine.
52 responses to “You Did It”
I’ve tried to write in first person, but I don’t do it well. I’m a listener. I prefer to let my characters do the talking and it shows. They will be give far more dialog that I. I have never tried you. Mostly I write in third. You did very well in both.
Thanks, SK. 3rd person is one I rarely use because I tend to write in 1st person. But I like to use it once in awhile. It’s best for most novels, I think, so it makes complete sense that you would use it!
I liked your 2nd-person kitchen scene. Menacing! Something else I’d mention about 2nd person is that it forces the reader into a role that could feel uncomfortable, such as in “Bright Lights, Big City.” The 2nd person narrative strips away distance, forces the reader to **be** the POV character.
And I felt very menaced during that time in the kitchen! Yes, very uncomfortable. I was thinking about that distance thing. Supposedly first person is the closest, where the reader is “I” as she reads, but with “you,” there is almost a finger pointing where the reader is skewered and can’t get away and she becomes the “you” in question. It’s the most like being stalked, I guess.
I remember doing this excellent writing exercise in class once, which is why I still toy with POV before I commit. Some things just stick!
Oh how fun to do it in class! That sounds like a great habit, Joey. I mean, how do we know what POV is best unless we experiment? That goes for other elements of writing, too.
Interesting experiment, Luanne. I tend to gravitate toward first person, but I think shifting POV is a great way to exercise how different words will land. I agree that in second person, a mysterious element is present.
Rudri, you could try taking a scene that you are finding particularly difficult and put it into 2nd person just as an experiment to see if it frees up anything in you. Then you can turn it back to 1st person. If you do, I want to how it goes! Yes, it does add mystery and kind of pigeonholes the reader, at the same time.
Playing with the POV is a great writing exercise. It can certainly take your story to places you never imagined. I’ve never tried “ewe” before. 🙂
Hahaha, this made me laugh out loud. I’m glad you appreciated the photo ;). I don’t remember ever trying this exercise before, but I’m going to be more open to these kinds of experiments in the future.
Luanne, you are always full of good ideas. I think you are probably right. The reader can criticize the characters and ideas more if it’s in the “you.”
Thanks, Hollis. I’m not even sure what prompted this experiment, but I’m glad it happened! See what mareymercy wrote below your comment because it fits in perfectly with what you just said.
I will never forget the time I wrote a story for a memoir class (yes I took one, a long time ago) and without realizing it I’d switched one section to second person – just a few paragraphs, then I dropped right out of it. When the instructor pointed it out to me, I realized it was because I wanted distance from that particular part of the experience. Kinda freaky because I did it unconsciously.
I love seeing those unconscious moments in someone else’s writing haha! Another one is tenses. A writer starts out in past tense and then without realizing switches to present as he/she moves into an oral storytelling mode. I hear you on the distancing! Nothing like putting it off on the reader for that ;).
Yes, you are tight! It must work that way. Well, Mareymercy and I think a like sometimes.
You ladies are smarties.
You know, Luanne, my spelling is not entirely my fault. I really said right not tight. Jeeeeeze! I think WP these days improvises on our words. Embellishes!!!! And thanks for the compliment. MM is cool. I will thank you for her too.
I thought maybe you read my comment on Fat Bottom Fifties about the wine and thought I was tight ;).
I love your experiment, I prefer writing in third person but would rather stick to first person but I guess it all depends on the story and plot. Excellent post Luanne! 🙂
That’s a good point, Seyi. It completely depends on what is best for each particular story. It also could create different stories, depending on the POV, but I think we would all have favorites–which ones work best for us.
I have tried this once or twice but it doesn’t come easily. I think I’ll give it another shot and maybe the mean editors – my family – will wonder if it’s truth or fiction!
On a separate subject, Luanne, I picked up a fiction work by Mary Gordon when I couldn’t find her memoir. I LOVE her. So glad I read your blog otherwise I would never have found this wonderful author.
Ooooh, I love hearing this! Let me know which book and how you like it when you’re done with it!
I’m sure my family would be mean editors too if they ever meander over here . . . .
great idea Luanne! I actually think I have never tried 2nd person in a short story before (in poems yes). I tend to favour 3rd person.
Definitely worth a try, Yolanda! I was so surprised at the results and wondered why I never tried it before.
This is a great exercise Luane. I found it so interesting the way that you described your hair differently depending upon the POV. I thought about that and yes, it would be too much to describe your hair the same way in the first person. Thinking about it even further as I write this comment, I realise that nearly all my poems are written in the 2nd person and until this precise moment I honestly didn’t think twice about it other than as I wrote them, always from a deep, dark place such is my poetry (angst-driven, remember, haha!) it felt the natural way to do so. The few poems I’ve written that are somewhat lighter are in the 1st person. Now I can understand why. Wow Luanne, every single time I come over here I leave with something new. I love it and I love ewe 😉
Isn’t that strange about the hair?! Because by all instincts, “I” and “you” are the same person–it’s just a different way of telling the same story. But what a difference it makes to say I. Suddenly I am more self-conscious and as a reader I expect more from that “I” person! Humility and stuff like that ;).
WOW, that is really something about you automatically writing dark poetry in the 2nd person! What a survival mechanism, for one thing! I love ewe, too!! hahahahahah
An interesting post, Luanne. Thanks. 🙂
Thanks, Mark. What an experiment! I want to keep trying to stretch myself in different ways like that . . . .
I really “like” the sample of your writing in the second person POV! It is “close,” intimate.” The reader senses the uneasiness of your character. Second person can lend powerful depth to a piece.
POV can be tricky to master! I struggle with POV and have a habit of head hopping. I am writing a book through the voice of a narrator. When I switch to first person (I…) I have to pull a few tricks to link myself smoothly into the story. Writing is difficult work!
Great post, Luanne! I am always learning from you.
Thanks so much, Lynne! POV is really difficult. And when you switch POVs in the same writing, you have to be so careful to follow a pattern that will make sense or logic to the reader. Similar to tense, which I am playing around with (and struggling with) in the ole book. xoxo
Very well done, Luanne. What a great idea 😉
Thanks, Dianne. Let me know if you try it. I’d love to know how it goes–if it works for you, at least to open up new ideas for a piece.
Mmmhh…the second version (in 1st person) read easier to me for some reason. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to reading in 2nd person. But you’re right about the description of your hair. It read much better in 2nd. In 1st it seemed out of place and slightly vain, lol. Something I don’t think you are at all!
POV usually gives me the blues. Personally, I feel more comfortable writing in 1st person. But 3rd person provides more opportunities for various character’s POV. I’ve never attempted 2nd person, but it’s something for me to think about!
Yes, it’s much more comfortable to read 1st person! Exactly! Haha, I thought it sounds vain, too. I mean, we don’t sit around and describe ourselves in a neutral or positive way. We say negative stuff without a problem ;). But dwelling on our own characteristics does sound vain!!
I feel most comfortable in first person, too, but I realize that if I wrote more fiction I would want to get more comfortable in 3rd person. Sigh.
I did not hear anyone mention this, but I was looking forward to the poem, Luanne! Smiles!
Anyway, I tend to think my writing is an essay, on my blog, so of course it is first person. In my children’s books, I am always speaking from a distance, since it is about other characters. My mystery novel, I wrote awhile back was through the eyes of another person, but spoken in first person. It allows me to pretend I am another person seeing things as I would if they actually happened to me.
In your choices, I liked your voice in 2nd person, speaking to your younger self. This was an excellent post, which got me thinking a lot about POV!
Thanks, Robin! Yes, bloggers are so comfortable with 1st person because we write that way all the time. Do you write your children’s books in 3rd person? Is it always “she” or “he” did something? Are they picture books, by the way? Because I am thinking that picture books are almost never in first person! I love that idea in your mystery novel!!! Very cool! xo
This post reminded me of a poem I wrote in the throes? woes? of teen angst. It was epic in length and heartache. I think of it now and then because of our shared feelings about dolls. It began…”Your beard scratched like the hair on my doll” and goes on to discuss my thumbalina/first love. But I struggled so with the point of view! If I had had this post and these comments…it would have surely helped! xo
Oh, I would love to read that poem, Jaye. Haha, I love that line! How are you, by the way? Have I missed your posts? Gotta go look. OK, you’ve not been posting. I will watch for them, though.
My (unpublished) novel is written from two points of view, one of which is in the second person – it’s not something I do very often, but I did like the intimacy of writing in that voice.
Wow, I’m fascinated to hear that, Andrea! What is the other POV? Is it two different people or the same person? This has gotten me very curious!
It’s two people Luanne, a mother and daughter – the daughter talks in first person, while the mother talks in second – as though she is talking to her daughter but not saying the words out loud. I didn’t plan to do it that way, it just happened!
I really like this exercise. We’ve done it as the “1-2-3” prompt in my writing group before and it really gives everyone a boost. Switching pov is challenging and recharging–like a writer’s reset button. Sometimes I turn to this when I’m stuck. At times just taking a different seat in the room makes all the difference… like how you feel describing your hair. Usually it’s enough to get me back out of the ditch and on task again.
Great Post L!
Mom, you’ve really made a great point. Yes, a reset button! And there are other ways to do that, but this one really shook me up because it’s not a POV I’ve ever used. I need to remind myself to make these kinds of changes periodically so I don’t fall into ruts–or as you say, ditches!
I think one reason why I avoid writing in the first person is because it does feel odd to describe oneself (“long brown hair”). I have the beginnings of a novel that was initially in the first person, but it felt awkward. Revisions are in third-person. I should say that the story is (very) loosely based on a real situation so perhaps that’s why first-person felt so weird. Anyway, I think both of your examples are well done 🙂
Writing in first person (which is my main POV) does create restrictions in that way. It’s impossible to be unbiased (objective), for instance, because it’s a very limited viewpoint. And, yes, if I want to get across something like long brown hair, I have to do it a different way than just saying it as with the 2nd person excerpt. Thanks for much for your sweet compliment, Marie.
POV changes things so often – smashing post, Luanne – thanks for provoking thought 🙂
Thanks so much, Polly. It helped me so much. I can’t remember ever writing in that POV before!
The “you” POV has been a bugabear in my writing, but I really like what it does to this telling. Like you say, the distance it creates. Also the feeling of universalization—many readers are, in fact, going to identify with what you are describing, actually being the “you.” Thanks so much for sharing it.
Bugabear. I love that word! Haha, way to distract me, Ellen. Do you mean that sometimes you use it without meaning to when you don’t want it? Yes, universalizing is a good one. Especially for women, huh?
Yes, I realized I often used “you” for reasons that were confusing to the reader—I would be meaning a substitute for “one” and the reader would be feeling personally accused! I’m very aware of it now when I use it and do so intentionally. (And I’m afraid that’s my Southern spelling of bugbear!)