Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Now don't get tense about it!

A real rarity came into the competition the other day, recalling one of our least-used writing techniques - namely, telling the story through a second person viewpoint.

We are all familiar with first person (I have had a really good day) and third person (she had had a really good day) but many writers will be unaware about second person. When first asked about it by a student some years ago, I had to go and look it up to get the technical definition just right.

In short, in second person point of view, the narrator tells the story using ‘you‘ as in ‘You pick up the phone because you feel scared‘. Footballers, those great bastions of language tend to use it quite a lot (‘In games like this, you go out on the field and leap like a salmon sandwich and nod the ball into the old onion bag.’) If that’s not a mixed metaphor.

So which one to choose? Well, often the first-person narrative is used as a way to directly convey deeply internal, otherwise unspoken, thoughts. It allows story to directly revolve round one person and can allow the character to be further developed through his/her own style in telling the story. That style is often chatty and informal, always deeply personal.

There are drawbacks: in third person you can tell the reader what is round the corner to create tension; you can’t do that in first person because the character simply does not know. That is third person’s biggest advantage; the way it allows the narrator to be all-seeing. And yes, it can also be used to delve deep into the character’s mind but many writers feel happier doing that with first person.

So where does second person fit in? Well, it is rarely used but, as shown in the story submitted overnight, can be very effective in that it directly challenges the reader to step into the story by use of the word’ you’. If they feel so challenged then that will make the story so much more real.

John Dean

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