In the second-person point of view, authors speak directly to their audiences using the pronouns you and your. You might use second-person in teaching, which is the perspective used for many of this website’s pages. The present tense is almost always used. For writing in general, it tends to be judgmental, either accusing or assuming.
A ship’s captain, facing disaster on the open seas, might describe his plight this way:
As the wave crashes over the railing, you lock your arms around the mast post and cry for your men to hang on.
- The Ultimate Challenge
Second-person is seldom used in storytelling. It raises the question why the narrator is so disconnected from himself that the reader is forced to be the main character, being told what he is doing and thinking. Other than for how-to instructions, you probably want to avoid this point of view.
- A Classic Example
Storytelling in second-person is much too difficult to write. Nevertheless, Jay McInerney wrote the novel Bright Lights, Big City (Vintage Books, 1984) about a young New Yorker lost in the 1980s drug culture. Here’s a sample from page 80:
You wander down to the library to browse through back issues. Marianne, the archivist, is glad to see you. She doesn’t get many visitors. All day long she slices issues of the magazine into column-width strips and pastes them into file volumes by author, subject and year. She can tell you where everything is. At first she is disappointed that you are not looking for anything in particular, then amazed when you try to talk to her. Suspicious when you ask where she lives, she gradually warms to the neutral subject of movies.