Second person point of view (POV) is an often overlooked aspect of writing. Mastering second person POV can add new dimensions to your writing voice and style and help you reach readers in fresh ways.
In this article, I show you what second person is, how you can use it, various types of writing that employ this voice, and more. If you’re new to writing, you may have focused on first and third person so far, but rest assured that second person POV is a writing gem we should uncover.
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What Is Second Person POV?
When you write in second person POV, instead of using the pronouns “I” (first person) or “she” (third person), you use the pronoun “you” and speak directly to your reader. Second person is notable in nonfiction, but it certainly has its place in fiction writing as well.
Types Of Writing That Use It
Whether you are a nonfiction author, write blogs, or simply want to write better recipes, second person POV can help you out.
Bloggers and magazine authors often use second person POV to address their readership. If you write on topics such as business, entrepreneurship, or leadership, using second person POV adds a level of credibility to your voice.
For instance, let’s say you are a food blogger and want to share a new favorite recipe. Telling your reader what to do will likely be much more helpful.
Example: Next, you roll the dough into one-inch balls.
Speech writers use second person as well. When writing a speech, either for themselves or someone in leadership above them, second person works well. Consider John F. Kennedy’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
How To Write In It: 6 Tips
Writing, or speaking, in second person POV makes sense for the most powerful man in the world, but if you’re not the President, how can you write from this point of view?
#1 – Establish Credibility
Second person POV rests on telling the reader what to do. Look at the following two sentences, one in second person and one in first:
Sentence 1: You need to finish your first draft and pitch agents.
Sentence 2: I want you to finish your first draft so you can pitch agents.
Which point of view carries more authority?
#2 – Lead By Example
Leaders are put in positions of leadership because they have followers. It is impossible to be a leader without someone following you. (Did you notice the use of second person in that sentence?)
Second person POV takes a unique look at leading by example. Instead of writing, “He had succeeded in the challenge a year prior. Now, it was up to them to do the same,” look at the power in the following sentence: “I succeeded a year ago, and now, it’s up to you to do the same.”
#3 – Insight Change
Writers often write on topics they are passionate about because they want to instill change in their readership. Second person can be described as the “call to action point of view” due to it’s unapologetic, direct language to the reader.
#4 – Add New Perspective
Dialogue aside, second person is rarely used in fiction. The Princess Bride’s opening lines start in first person. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it. How is such a thing possible? I’ll do my best to explain. As a child, I had simply no interest in books.”
Let’s take a look at the perspective it takes if it were changed to second person POV: “This will be your favorite book in all the world, though you’ve never read it. How is such a thing possible? Do your best to understand. As a child, you had simply no interest in books.”
#5 – Arouse Curiosity
Continuing with The Princess Bride example above, notice how your curiosity is piqued. Suddenly, the narrator is speaking to you as if he knows you. Of course, you have to allow yourself to enter the story as the protagonist—essentially putting on a persona as you read—but what a unique experience.
#6 – Speak Directly To Your Audience
There is a special intimacy that comes with writing directly to your audience. Rather than sharing your story from the first person or telling your story via a character in third person, second person POV allows a direct link to your audience. With this thought in mind, let’s discuss second person POV versus first and third.
Second Person Versus First Person
Now that you have six tips on how to use second person, let’s take a look at the way it differs from first person. First, a self-help style example.
First person: I want to teach you how to use habits to empower your life.
Second person: Habits will empower your life, if you let them.
Second, let’s look at a fiction-style example from N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season: “You can imagine how he looks, for now. You may also imagine what he’s thinking.”
Second person can work well for fiction where the protagonist is a strong, commanding lead.
Second Person Versus Third Person
Second and third person vary in many ways, not least of which is the tone of each. Third person is often a more distant point of view, almost a safety net for the reader. Rather than experiencing the story from the up close and personal perspective of the first person, a narrator tells the story.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. There can be a close third person point of view or the narrator could know more about the hero than the hero knows about himself.
Let’s look at Jemisin’s sentences again, this time editing them to third person: “She imagines how he looks. She also imagines what he’s thinking.”
Do you feel the difference in tone? In the original, Jemisin’s version, second person permits you to imagine. In the made-up version, third person, the narrator tells you what is happening.
Choosing What Person To Write In
First, second, and third person each offer a unique array of advantages. There are innumerable pros and cons to each point of view, depending on your writing goals. When choosing which person to write in, consider the following questions:
- Do I need to speak directly to my audience (second person)?
- Do I want my reader to experience the world from my protagonist’s point of view (first person)?
- Do I want to reveal things about my hero she herself doesn’t yet realize (third person)?
There is no right or wrong person to write in, but there is an option that’s best for your story. Your genre largely contributes to your point of view, but as you’ve seen, point of view influences the tone of your writing.
Have fun with it, take your time choosing, and maybe try writing the first chapter in each point of view, respectively. Then, go with your gut and get to writing!