One rare point of view that you might consider using is second person. In this point of view, the reader becomes the protagonist and decides how the story will turn out. Authors typically use words like “you” and “your” in such tales.
If you’ve ever read a choose your own adventure story, listened to song lyrics in which the singer seems to be addressing you, or played a video game, you’ve encountered second person point of view. Sometimes in plays and movies, actors will break the “fourth wall” and directly address the audience, which is briefly using second person in scriptwriting; it occurs in both William Shakespeare’s In A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
For novels and short stories, here’s a passage written in second person:
Maybe you’ve heard of us, LoveNow. You’re not the first to say no, even though you can find us on GooglePlay and the App Store. We owe our success to this elderly couple – not even our target customer – who met on our app and got married. The national TV coverage almost broke our computer server with all of the new subscribers. You saw that news story, didn’t you?
Now compare it to the same passage, rewritten in first person:
LoveNow is a little known company, even though we can be found on GooglePlay and the App Store. We owe our success to this elderly couple – not even our target customer – who met on our app and got married. The national TV coverage almost broke our computer server with all of the new subscribers. Everyone saw the news story.
This point of view offers a lot of advantages. First, it instantly draws the reader into the story’s action. That’s because the reader is deciding what will occur next in the tale – go to page 23 or 26, turn off the radio and forget the singer’s sappy plea for love, or which type of ammunition to load and which monster to fire it at. Secondly, this point of view makes the story personal, so the reader tends to invest more into it. That’s vital in a low quality tale like a choose your own adventure or a song with lame imagery and rhymes, as you probably wouldn’t settle for such a story or lyric told in another point of view. Third, when done well, this point of view surprises the reader. Readers aren’t expecting a book to be written in second person, so there’s an element of delight, such as when the book is a character addressing them.
A number of great books have been written in second person. Among them is the bestseller Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mclnerney, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison, and the children’s classic The Monster at the End of This Book.
Of course, there are some major disadvantages to second person, so be wary of using it. Most importantly, novice writers often use it to cover poor writing. For the reader, it’s sort of like the author stirred a lot of cream and sugar into a cup of coffee; that, however, can only go so far in covering the bad taste of an inferior coffee. Readers eventually will see through you. Secondly, this point of view can come off as gimmicky. Readers don’t expect second person, so they often think the author is trying too hard to be clever. Even if readers are wrong, they’ll likely believe the author favors style over substance, as that is the case with so many stories told in second person. Finally, second person usually is not what a reader wants, which is a tale where an interesting main character overcomes a difficult problem. Literature – even the deep stuff taught in English literature classes – offers a chance to escape one’s reality and vicariously live the life of another albeit fictional person. Readers want to join Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter or Elizabeth Bennet on an adventure, not themselves.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.