The truth is, the second-person narrator is confusing. This literary resource is rarely used when compared to its first and third-person peers. The less it is used, the less exploration of it we find, and this can present a challenge for writers. After all, we fear what we do not understand.
Personally, knowing the devices I use can be the key to turning obstacles into opportunities to grow as a writer. It forms a foundation and it gives me confidence in my work. It makes that blank page a bit less scary. Sort of like jumping from an airplane with a parachute. The adrenaline and expectations remain, but at least I am not falling to my death (dramatic, I know). So, in an attempt to motivate young writers out there to use this unique resource, I will explain the two main types of the second-person narrator, together with how can we use them and how to recognize them.
(Other technicalities plus a case study in the article The Second Person Narrator).
This narrator can either be the protagonist or a witness of the story, so they actively take part in the plot. This limits your narrator to the experiences of a certain character while approaching the reader as another. It also merges well with the first-person narrator, in case you are feeling brave and want to experiment. An example of the internal narrator is:
You walk into the café with that teasing grin of yours, the one I convince myself is mine every other Thursday afternoon. You walk to the counter and I take your order quickly. You look at your watch and hum along to whatever coffee-shop song is playing at the moment. You take your espresso, always to-go, and leave me hoping that you would see the note. Hoping you would come again.
Notice that the narrator never describes what the “you” character feels or thinks, they only describe what they do. However, the narrator interacts with this character and expresses their own emotions. It almost makes the reader feel as if they were interacting with a character.
Contrary to the internal narrator, this type has no influence whatsoever on the plot. It approaches the story from an outermost perspective and knows the story completely, as well as the thoughts and feelings of various characters. It is omniscient, but when writers use the external second-person, they often choose to retain a lot of information. The main goal of this type is for the readers to forget that someone is narrating entirely; while tricking them into thinking that it is their story the one being told.
You were starting to doubt yourself. You spent your foggy nights pacing around the room or looking through the window, or seating at the edge of your bed, knowing that it wasn’t only you the one who had trouble sleeping. You had a presage. You thought that the others who had blood in their hands knew what you did: it hadn’t been worth it. It was one of those nights that the police sirens got a little too close, and you ran a little too slow. Because the others didn’t feel guilt, they felt terror. And you paid the price.
In this example, the reader is placed in the protagonist's position. They know their feelings and thoughts. However, they also received information about other characters and their actions, which will influence the “you” protagonist. Notice how this type also works with the third-person narrator.
Source: Enciclopedia de Ejemplos. "Narrador en Segunda Persona". Ejemplos.de, https://www.ejemplos.co/narrador-en-segunda-persona/
Sometimes, the line between both types can get blurry. It is in this no-mans-land that writers move around the plot to create twists and make the readers ask themselves who is really talking. Sure, it is complex, but that is exactly what fills this device with potential. It takes time to learn how to take advantage of this potential to the fullest, but I do hope I gave you a parachute to make the first attempt with courage.
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.
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