How to Write in the Second Person Point of View: A Complete Guide
by Alex Cabal
Learning how to write in the second person point of view offers a powerful and unique way of connecting with your readers by breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly.
Think of it this way: in second person PoV, the reader becomes a character—a part of the narrative.
This guide to writing in the second person PoV will illuminate the nuances of second person by defining the term, the language to use, exploring examples of text, and providing samples of stories and books written in second person.
Here’s a quick example of the second person point of view:
Your eyes skim the page as you read this article to learn how to write in the second person PoV. Maybe you’re wondering, can you write in second person? Is second person writing the best way for you to tell your story? You feel the tension in your shoulders ease, take a deep breath, and begin to believe this article is going to tell you all you need to know about second person point of view. You decide to read the full article in order to learn how to master this interesting choice of perspective.
What is the second person point of view?
Second person PoV is a literary technique in which the author directly addresses the reader or audience as “you.” It’s an uncommon perspective, and requires the writer to craft and explain the events of the story to the audience as a participant in the narrative.
When you write in the second person PoV, your goal is to transform the reader into the protagonist of the narrative, to immerse the reader in the plot as if they’re experiencing it directly.
But because there’s no difference between the reader and the character, this perspective can be difficult to master and calls for a lot of investment from a reader, especially in novels and long stories.
So you, as the writer, must craft a narrative where the reader feels as if they’re telling their own tale. It’s a very intimate and close approach to writing a story, and when done well, can be a unique, nontraditional, and immersive experience.
Second person point of view words
You have three main choices when selecting which point of view to use for your story. Each choice of point of view uses different pronouns and words within the text to position the reader’s perspective.
The three choices and examples of what they sound like are:
First person PoV: “I rode the bicycle.”
Second person PoV: “You rode the bicycle.”
Third person PoV: “He rode the bicycle.”
The point of view can change the tone of an entire piece. The most common points of view are third and first, or the habitual “He, she, they” and “I.” But every once in a while we’re tempted to reach for second person PoV, or “You,” to address readers. Consider the following examples:
First person vs. second person:
First person PoV: “Walking down the path, I came to a fork. No signs were telling me where to go, so I decided to take the path to the beach.”
Second person PoV: “You walk down the path and come to a fork. There are no signs to tell you where to go, so you decide to take the path to the beach.”
Second vs. third person:
Second person: “You asked him whether he really meant it when he told you he thought your sister resembled a vulgar manatee.”
Third person: “Jen asked Adam if he really meant it when he said that he thought her sister resembled a vulgar manatee.”
Second person PoV is a very powerful perspective with the ability to influence your reader in ways that first and third person can’t. As you can see in the previous second person sentence examples, second person puts you directly into the action—you chose the path to the beach; you asked him the question.
Here are some variations of “you” to use while you write in second person:
Subjective and objective second person words: “you.”
Possessive second person words: “your” and “yours.”
Reflexive second person words: “yourself” and “yourselves.”
What is Second Person Singular?
Second person singular addresses only one person with “you” and “yours.” Consider the following second person sentence examples in the singular:
Feeling tired, you left the party early.
The knot in your stomach tightened, but your voice was strong as the words came, “Mom, you know how I feel about that.”
“These presents are yours, Jane.”
What is Second Person Plural?
Second person plural also uses “you” and “yours,” but rather than addressing one person in singular form, it must be written in a way where it implies multiple people.
The following examples show how to use you/yours in plural form, and how they must be crafted differently than the singular examples above:
Feeling tired, and knowing that Angela did too, you left the party early together.
The knot in your stomach tightened, but your voice was strong as the words came, “Mom, Dad, you know how I feel about that.”
“These presents are yours,” you said to the family.
Second person imperatives
Imperatives omit the pronoun, instead relying on verbs and action to indicate a directive. Consider the following imperative sentences that imply the “you” without directly saying it:
Go up the stairs.
Drive to the park.
Complete the following task.
Give me that!
Is the second person point of view an omniscient point of view?
In general, the second person view in a fictional story is omniscient.
With “you” as the authoritative voice of the story, the reader is seeing and understanding everything directly from the main character’s perspective. Within this perspective, “you” are not the narrator of the story; “you” are the character. Positioning the reader from this perspective allows the reader to “see,” “speak,” and “hear” all that the main character does, says, is told, and experiences.
However, in some instances, the writer may be giving instructions to the reader using second person, and the second person PoV is not omniscient. This is typically done in non-fiction work where the writer is the narrator, and the tone is conversational and instructive.
For example, in this article you’re being instructed about how to write in the second person PoV, from me, the author that wrote this guide for you.
Common uses of second person point of view
There are several forms of writing in which the second person PoV is natural, and possibly even required. These include do-it-yourself tutorials, choose-your-own-adventure novels, and other content in which you as the author are giving instructions to the reader.
Second person is best utilized when the point of the piece is to address the reader of the work for instructional or emotional impact.
The reader is being directly addressed by the work in front of them, and it invites the reader into the piece to experience the joy, anger, anxiety, or danger as their own personal experience – not simply the experiences of a distanced character separated by the fourth wall. It intensifies the emotional aspect of writing, as it reflects directly onto the reader as opposed to a character who’s a part of the story.
Types of second person point of view and second person narrative voices
There are three types of second person narrative voices that you can use in your story:
Character: The character point of view in second person is, in general, both the main character and the reader who is experiencing the story.
Stream of consciousness: Stream of consciousness is performed as an inner monologue and thought process of a character. Stream of consciousness is a technique that is often used to explore what transpires within a character’s mind. While it can be used in the second person PoV as a device to explore the interior monologue of the main character, it should be done selectively and with care, as it may feel disjointed to a reader.
Epistolary: “Epistolary” means “related to letters that you mail.” Epistolary language is used for things in a story like a letter, note, map, ticket, poster, or otherwise. Using epistolary text within a story may include having the character write a letter, or having the reader read a letter.
How does the second person perspective affect the reader?
When you’re learning how to write in the second person PoV, it’s important to consider what the second person PoV means for your audience. The second person view clearly identifies the audience by addressing the reader—e.g. “you’ll never believe what I did today,”—or, by inviting the reader to experience the story themself—e.g. “sipping your nightcap, you thought back on the incredible events of the day…”
Using a second person voice within a story narrows the gap between the narrative and the reader. When done successfully the reader feels as if they’re fully present within the story, and are experiencing it first-hand. does the does the second person perspective affect the reader?second person perspective affect the reader? Key characteristics of how second person may affect the reader are:
Immersion: The writer is either the protagonist or the main character in proximity to the protagonist, and they use the second person PoV to describe the character’s behaviors, feelings, and thoughts as “your” thoughts. You, as the reader, are having your—the character’s—actions, emotions, and choices described to you.
Interaction: This is generally done with “choose your own adventure” novels, where the writer constructs a story that allows the reader to make choices for how the story will unfold.
Instruction: While this is not common for fiction writing, other forms of second person PoV writing may include directions for how to do something, such as a tutorial that walks the reader through a series of steps.
Advantages of second person point of view
A few advantages of second person PoV include:
The intimacy of second person PoV can encourage a reader to deeply empathize with the story, and maybe even offer them an experience from a new perspective they may otherwise not encounter.
In addition to empathy, second person PoV can create a highly immersive, sensory experience for the reader, as they see themselves directly experiencing the story the writer has created.
Because stories are not often told in second person PoV, using this perspective can be a unique and engaging experience for a reader. It can set your story apart from other texts and make the experience of reading it incredibly powerful and memorable.
Another advantage of writing in the second person PoV is to provide writers the opportunity to try on and explore a new perspective and style of writing. Writing from a perspective that you’re not familiar with can be a great overall learning experience and may teach you more about yourself and your style of writing than sticking with what you’re comfortable with.
Disadvantages of second person point of view
A few disadvantages of second person PoV include:
Some readers may find second person PoV to be off-putting; it can require a level of empathy and imagination that not all readers are willing to invest in—some readers want to be told a story rather than experience one.
If your reader dislikes your narrator or the voice of the main character, they’ll likely disengage with the story. Additionally, because second person PoV positions the reader as the character, the reader may dislike the choices the character makes and may struggle to empathize with or invest in the story at all.
If your major goal in writing your story is to get it published, you may encounter some difficulties. Professional editors and publishers may be wary of any book told from this perspective, as it is an uncommon perspective that readers may not be familiar with or prepared to commit to.
Because second person PoV in fiction is omniscient in nature— i.e. the reader knows everything the character knows—it can be difficult to create suspense, subplots, or develop other characters within the story.
Tips for Writing in Second Person Point of View
When choosing to write in second person PoV, the choice of point of view should reflect your project’s goals.
If you’re writing instructionally, the goal is to provide the reader with guidance, and potentially step-by-step solutions. A cookbook, for example, would benefit from the direct address effect of providing explicit step-by-step instructions. If you’re writing fiction, the goal may be to create a fully immersive experience that allows the writer to deeply involve the reader so that the reader finishes the story with a new perspective.
Consider the following tips when writing in second person:
Avoid repetitive language and overusing the pronoun “you.” While some explicit and declarative second person language will be necessary, implied second person language in the imperative form can break up highly repetitive language
Explicit example: “You look out the window at the snow-covered mountains.”
Implied example: “Look out the window at the snow-covered mountains.”
Use present tense to make the story feel more immediate and engaging rather than reflective.
Make sure to show and not tell to develop a highly rich sensory experience for the reader that they can see, feel, and imagine themselves in.
Consider reserving the second person PoV for short stories rather than books and novels (unless you’re crafting a choose-your-own-adventure story). Reading a story in the second person can feel exhausting, especially if the reader isn’t particularly fond of the character they’re experiencing the story through.
Play with the idea of using different points of view in different chapters and with different characters to create a highly dynamic and complex story.
- For example, if you’re writing a crime or thriller novel, you may use the second person PoV to create a complex story by sharing the details and thoughts of the person who committed the murder or crime to get your reader to empathize with their motives. Then, you may use third-person PoV for the detective who is solving the mystery to create tension and suspense within the story.
Ensure that the narrator is a full-fledged character with a rich and detailed identity. If your second person narrator is doing things and making choices, your reader, as that character, will want to empathize and better understand the motivations, preferences, reasons, and driving forces for those choices and actions.
Should you write your story in second person?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “how do you write in second person?” your second question is likely, “when should you use the second person point of view?”
The best way to answer that question is to ask you a few questions.
First: How long is your work?
Second person—while effective for drawing your reader in—may also be exhausting for them.
It’s natural for a reader to think in “he” or “she” or “I” because that’s how people speak most of the time. “I feel tired.” “Her dress is ugly.” But they rarely use the word “you” unless they’re giving a pep talk to themselves or directly addressing another person.
Even then, the “you” is more likely implied as opposed to spoken outright. So a work that uses “you” instead of “he” or “she” or “I” should be short enough that the reader doesn’t get tired and put your work down.
In other words, use it in a short story or a few chapters or chapter divisions, but unless you’re writing a choose-your-own-do-it-yourself-adventure-project book, your ninety-thousand-word novel would probably be better served by a third- or first-person perspective.
Second: What effect do you want your work to have?
Third-person gives a little distance from the action of the novel, which can be good for things the audience may find uncomfortable.
First-person nestles the reader in your protagonist’s mind, for better or for worse. But the second person breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses and commands the reader. This can have the undesired effect of popping your reader out of their suspended disbelief because the narrative is actively calling attention to them as a reader. It implies that the reader themself is the acting character of the narrative.
However, this can be a useful tool. There are times when we want our work to cause the reader to become conscious of the fact they’re reading, such as in meta or surreal commentaries.
Other times, you may want your reader to think carefully about preconceptions they bring to a piece, and by bringing them so directly into the piece, you engage them on a conscious level with the material. This is especially useful for things like political or social commentary. But, at its foundational level, second person PoV serves as an invitation for the reader to come fully into a piece with all of their baggage, all of their expectations, and, for a moment, to become fully immersed as a character in the work.
So, after all this, let’s say you’ve decided you want to write in second person. You’re prepared to substitute every “he” or “I” for “you” in your piece because the shorter work you’ve planned will benefit from directly addressing your audience. You want to tear down the fourth wall and provoke the reader to think, or you want to induce particular emotions in your reader by making them the primary character in your work, and you’re sure that neither first person, nor third-person, point of view will better suit your purpose.
Then go right ahead and break out the “yous” to start reeling in your readers!
If you still feel that you need additional examples or clarification, one of the best ways to learn how to write in second person is to read work from other authors that have done it successfully.
Second person point of view book examples
Because full-length books and novels are more challenging for writers using the second person PoV, this section will first provide two examples with more in-depth analysis, before offering a more complete reading list.
John McGahern’s short novel The Dark is a depressing portrait of a young boy growing up in Ireland. Half of the chapters are written in second person while the rest are split between third and first, with a smattering of chapters where the voice is so passive it doesn’t even seem to have a perspective. And the chapters aren’t chosen at random, either; each change in PoV serves a purpose.
The first-person chapters, which account for only three out of the thirty chapters, are all ones where Mahoney, the young protagonist, is enjoying himself.
The third-person chapters are all instances of brutal humiliation, failure and abuse.
The second person chapters are all instances where Mahoney is trying to amp himself up or change his life.
McGahern juggles these viewpoints to alternately distance his protagonist and the reader from the horrors of the book, then invite the reader into Mahoney’s head to witness his pleasures and growth.
It’s an effective tool and really works to highlight the emotional turmoil of Mahoney’s life by inviting the reader to experience Mahoney’s struggle to defend himself, and his eventual triumph. At the same time, the third-person chapters serve to show Mahoney’s trauma while not overwhelming the reader with it.
A more consistent use of second person is in the codas of John Scalzi’s Redshirts.
After the novel proper ends, the reader is presented with a series of short stories—codas—following one of the minor characters through the aftermath of the novel, and each in a different point of view.
The second coda is—funnily enough—in second person. It follows a young man who was in a coma for the entirety of the novel and is just now coming awake to realize that things don’t exactly add up.
Having constructed it in second person, Scalzi invites the reader into the novel to directly experience the rude awakening of this supporting actor. And it works as a fun device to more fully integrate the audience into the reading experience and more vividly reflect his confusion and curiosity.
A few more books written in the second person PoV are:
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
The Malady of Death, by Marguerite Duras
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, by Tom Robbins
Stolen, by Lucy Christopher
How to Become a Writer, by Lorrie Moore
Second person point of view short story examples
Short stories are a faster read, allowing you to gain an insight into how different authors approach the second person point of view. Consider the following short stories as a starting point for more context, and for understanding how you can write in the second person PoV:
“A Cure for Ghosts,” by Eden Royce
“All the Colors You Thought Were Kings,” by Arkady Martine
“Black Box,” by Jennifer Egan
“Conversation of Shadows,” by Yoon Ha Lee
“Little Man,” by Michael Cunningham
“Chimeras,” by Jae Steinbacher
“On the Day You Spend Forever With Your Dog,” By Adam R. Shannon
“The Sorcerer’s Unattainable Gardens,” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor
And just for fun, here is a list of second person point of view children’s books:
Princess Island, by Shannon Gilligan
Song of the Old City, by Anna Pellicioli
It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln: How I Made the Biggest Decisions of My Life, by Tom and Leila Hirshfeld
The Cave of Time, by Edward Packard
Space and Beyond, by R. A. Montgomery