Inspiration is the key!
If there’s an underrated, underused narrative mode, it has to be the second person. I was recently reading a blog post about this topic. After a short research, I’ve discovered there aren’t too many literary works where this narrative mode is used. Italian author Italo Calvino published his 1979 novel “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler” and during a conference said that “It’s a novel about the pleasure of reading novels; the main character is the Reader, as they start reading a book they won’t be able to finish, for reasons beyond their control. I had then to start writing the beginning of ten imaginary authors’ novels, all quite different from me and between each other for one reason or another“ (source). It is said to be a novel where the writer unveils its tricks and narrative modes, among which is the second person.
But, why is this one of the least popular perspectives in narrative? That’s a bit obvious. Because when one writes it’s easier to speak directly, although this form only became popular with Modernism and literary movements of the past century. Third person seemed to be the most obvious choice in most of literary creations. We must remember that these are just the most chosen methods because it’s almost spontaneous to either speak in first person about anything, or describe what you see therefore choosing the third person.
But what is ‘You‘ in second person narration? ‘You‘ could easily be the reader. The writer is projecting their ideas into the mind of the reader and speaks directly to them, mostly describing what is going on and turning the reader into a fictional character. That can easily turn into a ‘revealing‘ journey through the novel, as the reader finds out more about the plot as it unfolds. Clearly, the reader has the feeling of reading a piece of work that was intended to be read by the character who embodies the second person, but it still works perfectly if its aim was to get the reader to feel involved.
Then, why is it still so unpopular among novelists? Besides the aforementioned reasons, that first and third person are more logical in terms of spontaneous storytelling, the writer is often put off by the never-ending struggle against the repetitiveness of ‘You’, as the trick of using synonyms or equally acceptable terms just won’t work there.
Second person narration, being so close to the reader’s point of view, is sometimes left in the hands of those who read. As some writers let the reader participate but keep the lead, others may venture in the choice of leaving the reader in charge of the fate of their novel, as happens in the books with final multiple choices. This type of novel (which ultimately ends up being another narrative mode) is still very questionable and open to debate, because it deals with the narrative core, leaving to others the task of finishing a story. Would it not be more satisfying that those who started something also concludes it? Is it not the responsibility of a writer? But that’s another story. I’d like to point out how the second person looks, at this point, like it is the weakest form of narrative. Its use is more limited and boundaries are undefined: shall we say a novel has been written in second person when we have an “I” telling a “You” something? I guess some would say yes, others would object. Seems like the best narration for travel guides or manuals, but those would hardly become literary classics! In fact, there are only a few (if not a handful) that can be called a ‘popular novel written in second person narrative‘. Don’t let that put you off as a writer.
It’s a good enough reason to try and explore the road less travelled and one big challenge to take on!