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Talking to “You”

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Point of view (P.O.V.) is the perspective from which a narrative is told. Pick up a novel, and it might be written in first person, using the “I” perspective of the main character. The Hunger Games, for example, begins this way: “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed into bed with our mother.”
A novel may also be told in third person, in which the main character is referred to as “he” or “she”. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is one example: “The boy’s name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church.”
And then there are the less common P.O.V.s—the collective, which you can learn more about in this prompt, and second person, in which the main character is referred to as “you”. Which brings us, dear writers, to this week’ s prompt!
Notice the use of “you” in this excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s story “December in Sebastopol”:
You choose the skiff nearest you, pick your way over the semi-decomposed carcass of a bay horse that is lying in the mud beside the vessel, and make your way to the tiller. Now you have cast off, and are away from the shore. Around you is the sea, sparkling now in the morning sun; in front of you an old seaman in camelhair coat…You listen to those oars, with their even beat, to the sounds of voices carried across the water towards you, and to the majestic resonance of the firing in Sebastopol, which, it seems to you, is growing in intensity.
Why use second person? The familiar pronoun “you” invites the reader to step into the main character’s shoes, almost becoming that character as the narrative unfolds. In Tolstoy’s example, we can see the sea surrounding us, hear the beat of the oars, and the sounds of battle as the boat pulls closer to war… In this way, the second person P.O.V. can draw the reader deeper into an experience, creating a sense of closeness or immediacy to the material. Here’s a more recent example from the short story “Leopard”, by Wells Tower:
Good morning.
You have not slept well. Don’t open your eyes. Stick out your tongue. Search for the little sore above your upper lip. Pray that it healed in the night.
No luck. Still there, rough to the tongue, and though it’s very small, not even the diameter of a pencil eraser, it feels much larger. Your mother says it’s a harmless fungal infection, and she pities you less for it than she should.
With the use of “you”, Tower makes us—the readers—feel as if we, too, might have an unfortunate fungus growing on our upper lip, and are not receiving the sympathy we feel we deserve.
Now you try, dear writers. Write a passage of fiction, employing the second person—“you”—point of view. And for added inspiration, check out these pieces by person random and barelybear!