My flash story Shells was published recently by Reflex Fiction. The story is written from a second person narrative point of view and is one that I had not used before in previous work. This short piece is a reflection
The second person point of view, put simply, is the pronoun ‘you’. It might be useful if I touch very briefly on why second person narration is not always terribly popular. I think there are three main issues. First, the overuse of the pronoun ‘you’ has the potential to become very grating. Secondly, the overuse of ‘you’ undoubtedly means that the story will sound contrived. Thirdly, unless it lends itself to the story, second person point of view can be a distraction. Added to that, many critics express the view that, unless second person narration is ‘done well’, it simply doesn’t work.
You might wonder then, given that second person narration is viewed unfavourably and, given that it is quite tricky to get right, why a writer might choose it at all? Well, it does have a number of upsides. Firstly, it moves things closer to the reader, bringing them right into the picture, like a movie.
One of the key themes in Shells is intimacy. In the story, I wanted to raise a question. What is the relationship between the protagonist’s job as photographer, the closeness of what she photographs, and her inner feelings concerning her marriage? With that in mind, I felt that the second person point of view would lend itself to the sense of intimacy and inner conflict that I wished to create.
Amongst the reader feedback I received when Shells was published, was that it is a ‘haunting’ piece. One of the characteristics of second person point of view is that it often presents as eerie. The sorts of questions that might arise in the reader’s mind include: Why does the storyteller know these things? Are they in the room with the characters, or are they floating, just off set somewhere, as if watching them, like a stalker? Put simply, a feeling of mystery can be created.
There are other advantages in choosing second person narration. If carefully done, the writer can hover somewhere between omniscient narrator and first person narrator, zooming in and out, as if with a camera lens, increasing and decreasing personal distance. It also allows the writer to ‘enter the head’ of the characters less obtrusively than in third, or even first, person narration. I think this is because the ‘you’ protagonist has already been established early on. Therefore, rumination and inner thought can more easily be attributable to the protagonist rather than the narrator.
To conclude this short reflection, then, second person narration can be a good choice in order to experiment with closeness and distance. It can add a sense of mystery; however, in the execution of it, subtlety is key. I found that keeping the pronoun ‘you’ to a minimum sets the course for the rest of the action, allowing inference to lead the eye and maintain interest.
Bate, D. (2009) Photography. Bloomsbury.
Cox, A. (2005) Writing Short Stories. Routledge.
Robinson, Julia Shells, Reflex Fiction, Available at: http://www.reflexfiction.com/shells-by-julia-robinson/
The Write Practice, Second Person Point of View, Available at: http://thewritepractice.com/second-person-pov-mystery-and-mark/ Accessed May 2017.