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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Potential merits of 2nd Person?

   
Author Topic: Potential merits of 2nd Person?
Disgruntled Peony
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So, one of the short stories I've been poking at lately is about a time travel war and how it affects someone stuck on the 'outside' (essentially, how their lives keep changing from timeline to timeline). I will freely admit that my first draft is a piece of utter crap, written in tell-heavy second person present tense, but I was trying to get the basic idea out of my head and at that much I succeeded.

I'm getting ready to work on my second draft, and I'm faced with a dilemma: do I actually try to make second person work, or switch over to third person limited?

In the first draft, the perspective was part of the framework: every new scene opened with 'Today you...' in order to hopefully help establish that this is the same character, as well as to illustrate that this is a new day and things have changed from the previous timeline. I'm not sure how changing perspectives will affect the story, and I suppose I could always experiment with things, but I was curious about what others might think on the subject.

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tesknota
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I remember hearing that it's very difficult to make second person work well, but it can be done. Personally, I enjoy second person when it has an interesting narrative voice to go with it.

A simple switch to third person might be to start with "Today [name]..." instead of "Today you..." and see how the rest sounds from there. Generally, I enjoy third person more because it allows me to picture action from a distance rather than from up close. If there's a time travel war happening, I might like to hear more about this from a third person perspective because third person's more familiar to me. I've always thought of second person as a more experimental perspective...

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extrinsic
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For prose, "Today[,] you" is of the second-person reflexive transference for first-person narrative point of view; that is, inferable as viewpoint agonist address to the self. The other two second-person types are imperative and impersonal, and imperative splits into actual command and implied. And other nuances of second person, like subjunctive mood, nonnumbered pronoun "you" takes plural verbs; and second person represents personal reflexiveness that implies global inclusion similar to first-person plural, conspiratorial "we" and "us," is not the royal plural first person "we" that is an imperial "I."

By the way, "Today" sentence start is a sentence adverb, takes comma separation. The adverb modifies a whole sentence, or complete-sentence clause, and connects, too, to a subsequent predicate verb, plus, in first position, is dependent and unessential, thus, takes punctuation. A different syntax shows, tests, for the adverb part of speech. //Today, you run.// //You run today.//

Or a dash for its clearer, stronger emphasis of context wrap: //Bullies taunted you at the park yesterday. They would, you know, get physical. Today -- you run.//

Reflexive second person is a counteraction persona of first person, a deeper degree of access to thoughts, danger close, intimate thoughts that are thoughts that we won't in real life share. Reflexive's parallel to real life is it is a self narrating the self. You narrate your life like it is a draft of the next great global novel.

Ergo, a challenge for second-person reflexive is when to transition from first person to second person, and vice versa, and when to use both contemporaneous, and when auxiliary third person is apt, for external sensation descriptions outside of the "you-I" personal space. Another challenge, how to avoid filters through unnecessary extra lenses.

//You feel the rain fall.// a tactile sensation, is an unnecessary "you feel" lens filter and an artless tell. //Rain bombs spall your forearms.// (Sentence-subject noun and predicate-verb metaphors.)

Due to reflexive's deeper thought access, best practice, it is also for stronger emotional response expression than other stimuli responses. It is, at times, the more selfish-wicked side of natural thoughts, too.

For a notable, successful, popularly and critically acclaimed second-person, present-tense science fiction novelette, a study model, as it were, see, Daryl Gregory's "Second Person, Present Tense," 8,500 hundred words, PDF, September 2005, Asimov's Science Fiction; First place 2006 Asimov's Reader Poll for Best Novelette; and Year's Best SF, 11th edition. David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Editors. HarperCollins, New York: EOS, 2006. Pages 29-53.

[ February 19, 2017, 03:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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OSC used 2nd person as a sort of frame to his novel HART'S HOPE, if I remember correctly. You might want to check it out as well.
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extrinsic
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Hart's Hope's second-person personal frame is the apostrophe narrative point of view type and an epistolary "letter"; respectively, a narrator's personal, direct address to a person or persons not present at a narrator's location, and a first-person direct address, by correspondence "letter," to a real reader within a narrative's milieu.

Real-world readers, outside of the "letter's" milieu, are implied readers, we who read the novel. Like Apostle Paul's Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians, apostrophe and epistle, somewhat implied imperative those are. Hart's Hope's method is a non-imperative, slanted, implied plea to read the therein nested, shared-tale collection of the apostrophe novel.

[ February 20, 2017, 11:56 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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Interesting, intriguing and somewhat complicated subject,


I have never tried it and have only read a couple of book-stories placed in Second Person. Some writers have done a very good job with it I hear. Few try it for good reasons though, I also hear.

I would think that you could, if you haven't already, write or revise, some of it in Second and see how it comes out. A quarter or third maybe? And read some in Second.

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A. Bird
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First, may I say that is a really cool way to approach time travel. I'm quite intrigued by the premise. Second, if you haven't already read it you could check out N.K. Jemisin's fantasy THE FIFTH SEASON. The way she incorporates multiple perspectives - including second person - is rather cunning. Now when I choose which perspective to write with that book has taught me to ask myself : "Who is really telling this story?"
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by A. Bird:
First, may I say that is a really cool way to approach time travel. I'm quite intrigued by the premise. Second, if you haven't already read it you could check out N.K. Jemisin's fantasy THE FIFTH SEASON. The way she incorporates multiple perspectives - including second person - is rather cunning. Now when I choose which perspective to write with that book has taught me to ask myself : "Who is really telling this story?"

Might a corollary question, of equal relevance, be to whom is the story really told? Or if the story is not told to anyone, per se, instead, is posed in the immediate moment, intimate, received reflections of and responses to sensation events while they unfold?

The Fifth Season's "prologue," for example, opens with direct first-person plural address -- "Let's start with . . . " -- to unstated real readers of the novel's milieu, an apostrophe, and, by rhetorical extension, indirectly addresses implied readers of the real world.

[ February 23, 2017, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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A. Bird
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True point, extrinsic. If I may add to that, in some cases the second person P.O.V. character might simultaneously be the one about whom the story is told as well as the one to whom the story is told. This allows the reader to inhabit the narrative in a unique participation, almost as if the P.O.V. character is unaware of of their own story and the reader gradually reveals each event as the pages turn.

Jemisin, for example, relies on our limited experience of second person (via apostrophe mostly) to subtly build the relationship between an invisible narrator and the visible P.O.V. agent. We readers blissfuly assume we are the ones being addressed, all the while we stand in the middle of a conversation between two characters and we facilitate their communication through our absorption of the narrative. More I'll not say because spoilers.

Experimenting with second person P.O.V can not only tone those writing muscles in dealing with perspective, but also perhaps offer some epiphanies on the nature of narrative itself and the relationship between teller and told.

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Jay Greenstein
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Person is an authorial choice and pretty much irrelevant. Is there any difference between:

"As he went to the garage to get his car he thought about Susan's infidelity..."
and,
"As I went to the garage to get my car I thought about Susan's infidelity..."
and:
"As you went to the garage to get your car you thought about Susan's infidelity..." ?

The answer is no. Nor does tense change anything:

"As he goes to the garage to get his car he thinks about Susan's infidelity..."
and,
"As I go to the garage to get my car I think about Susan's infidelity..."
and:
"As you go to the garage to get your car you think about Susan's infidelity..." ?

The same person goes to the same garage and thinks about the same subject,no matter the pronoun choice.

Never mistake POV as defined by personal pronouns for viewpoint, because it's an entirely different thing. In the character's viewpoint, matter what pronouns you use, it's first person, present tense.

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extrinsic
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Gendered third-person pronouns are unequivocally different from others. Those express a persona's sex identity. First- and second-person pronouns do not.

Prose's different grammatical persons and tenses also express differences, along a subjective-objective emphasis axis. Third-person past tense is the more objective nuance, compared to more subjective first-person present tense.

[ February 26, 2017, 01:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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H Reinhold
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I think there is a difference--certainly between third- and first-person narration, and presumably also between these and second-person, though I know less about that. OSC has an interesting discussion of example passages in the last chapter of Characters and Viewpoint, and, as far as I can tell, the viewpoint in his examples is exactly the same. My understanding is that third-person past tense allows the scene to be told 'straight', unreflectively, exactly following the character's unconscious experience. First-person past tense, by contrast, sets up the expectation that the narrator has since reflected on the event and consciously reports certain elements, looking back from a distance. There is an assumption that the narrator chooses to report events or elements for a reason--because the events are of significance to him later, or because he wants to make some comment on how he has changed since. There is a distance, a lens, between the character's experience and the reader that is not there in limited third-person.
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Reziac
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So you picked up this new novel everyone's raving about, and the durn thing is written in second person. How can you read that? No one could. You plop down at your keyboard intent on writing a diatribe but the words just won't flow. Eventually you kick over your computer and go for a walk, muttering at random strangers about how there's so little difference that you can barely tell second person from first.

[a bit I wrote when this topic came up elsewhere]

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extrinsic
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Malware spams come from out of the wild blue yonder Internet of water coolers. Unconfirmed why the spate struck when it did; suspect one of the massive criminal hack jacks so much in the news or some other vulnerability exposure. Where each originates from is clear: Mumbai, Panama City, Kiev, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Cape Town, London, Miami, Amsterdam, Berlin, Santiago, Lagos, Monrovia, ad nauseam.

The mail content catphisches for bank login and private registration detail info, maiden name, SSN, password, usrname, etc., links link to individual web sites, dot coms and sundry other domains, identical content of a variant language aptitude, language consistent with English second language grammar errors taught and reinforced by term-paper plagiarism mills. The financial bait does not snare _you_.

A best practice for second person, like first person, avoids early and frequent pronoun repetition. Also, like for all de re, of the thing, pronoun expression, locates such necessary, timely, and judicious pronouns in sentence object position, agonist acted upon, victimized, active and dynamic voice, whenever and wherever practical.

This method tames wild pronouns, the perpendiculars, the youses, yin's, y'alls, and dems and deys and deases and doses, and thises and thats, and hes, shes, and its. Instead, places a true subject in sentence subject position, without pesky extra lens filters, like you see, I felt, she heard, he tasted, it noted, they and them and all smelled smoke where there's fire -- smells, so to speak, with the eyes and ears, as the sense case may be, from unfiltered, bald emotional sensation description.

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Jay Greenstein
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The thing that so many people lose sight of is that no matter the person you use to tell the story, for the protagonist living the story, as for every living creature, it's always first person, present tense. And since our goal is to place the reader into the moment the protagonist calls now, not inform them in the details of the protagonist's past, present, and future, the person, and ternse we tell the story in is primarily an authorial choice, and irrelevant to the actual story taking place.

We may say, "Charlie went to the closet and studied the clothing arrayed there, trying to get an idea of the kind of person Maison was through his choices in personal appearance." The phrasing is presented in third person past tense, but for Charlie it's real time in his present. Does it really change anything about the action if we make it second person present?

"You go to the closet and study the clothing arrayed there, trying to get an idea of the kind of person Maison is through his choices in personal appearance."

Of course not. Same person does the same thing for the same reason.

So why use second person and changes in tense? To try yo make your work more interesting by making it unusual. That can, and has worked, but you, first, need to be writing on a professional level. And for a first sale author, better than that, to get the glowing reviews that will bring sales.

My personal view is to save the gimmicks till you have a fan base.

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extrinsic
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I cannot support assertions that grammatical person and tense are irrelevant variations, nor that every story amounts to first person present tense regardless of actual person or tense. Grammatical nuances are manifold for person and tense, some mechanical, others aesthetical.

I can support that simple past tense is prose's metaphoric present tense. Or "Historic Present" per Seymour Chatman. Chatman supports this tense and time depicted and lapsed principle in Story and Discourse, "How Time Distinctions Are Manifested," page 79 through 84.

First person alone poses a singular and a plural case, mechanical, a matter of number on its surface, yet of additional nuances: first person plural-singular royal "we" to self-refer to one's deification; the singular-plural all inclusive "I" of confessional poetry and prose. Plus that first person singular tends to filter through unnecessary extra lenses in unsure hands on keyboards. I said, saw, felt, touched, tasted, smelled, heard, yada.

Second person grammatically entails the impersonal and imperative, plus matters of implied imperative -- mechanics matters. Second person reflexive is an aesthetic that substitutes second person for first person of an introspective stream-of-consciousness method different from other persons' interior discourses and as well can be self-imperative and self-accusatory, that other persons cannot the same ways imply and be inferred. Who publicly blames the self and takes responsibility? Rather, the norm is to publicly assign external blame. Second person reflexive blames and confesses to the self.

Third person dwells in other mechanical and aesthetic realms, one arena of which is ambiguity, sometimes artful, sometimes artless vagueness. Who does this for whom? for example: He mended his torn shirt. The two personas could be one or two individuals, both male. The past tense of it is as well potentially ambiguous, just this immediate past now moment mended, or mended the shirt at some other imperfect past now moment? Nor does present tense clarify. He mends his torn shirt. The predicate action leaves open for interpretation how long the shirt mend spans and when it transpired: once and done now, in process for an indefinite time, incomplete, just this now moment started, at some indefinite past time completed. Prose's simple past and present tenses' mechanics imply the shirt mend is completed, though leaves open when it is completed. Context wrap would clarify a definite time, and how effective a mend it is.

No reason here to explicate zero, fourth, or fifth persons, though nonnative to Modern English inflections, syntax constructions and metaphoric pronouns arrange those persons. Zero person, for example, a special case in which persons are referred to with "othered" nuances, like, One should know one's limitations -- zero person's odd further, sometimes offensive depersonalization of persons. Or like, Some people shouldn't live in grass houses and grow thrones, "Some people" a common noun zero person phrasal, and an othered exclusion.

Fourth and fifth persons amount to matters of proximate and obviative cases, plus concern animacy, whether a subject or object persona is animate or inanimate in terms of a verb's acts or acted upon matters or altogether nonanimate. Plus, fourth and fifth persons' matters of object dative or accusative cases, indirect or direct object, plus, of course, whether a predicate's verb is transitive or intransitive, requires an object or doesn't, respectively.

In short, other than identity a grammatical person expresses, person also informs grammar, particularly diction and syntax. Second person takes a plural or nonnumbered verb, for one, except for unconventional grammar variants: You are saying; you were saying; say you, you say, you said, you had said, you will say. First person singular takes a singular or nonnumbered verb or plural auxiliary verb: I says, says I, I said, I am saying, I was saying, I had said, I will say. First person plural, likewise, always takes plural verbs. Third person is dependent on singular or plural for which verb number to use.

For prose, second person is more of a challenge than first person; first person is more of a challenge than third person; third person is challenge enough on its own for any writer who dares not experiment or determines an optional person or tense metaphorically suits a narrative portion.

Never mind zero and fourth and fifth persons' challenges, or, Providence forbid, simple future tense as a main tense.

Present tense is more of a challenge than simple past and past perfect yet more a challenge, though, like present progressive -ing disease, becomes a convenient habit and often used to excess. I do second that person and tense options' challenges be understood and overcome before submission forays into those esotericas and exotericas. However, short prose is ripe for artful experimentation, long prose, too, person and tense experiments if in short doses as auxiliaries to a main person and tense.

The above linked Daryl Gregory "Second Person, Present Tense" novellete contains first, second, implied, imperative, impersonal, and reflexive, and third persons, plurals and singulars; simple present, simple past, progressive present and past, past perfect, other perfect tenses, and future tenses. As do the other novels and examples referenced above. Not to mention as well the aesthetic nuances of person and tense. Rigorous person and tense limitation is a manifold edged knife; either too much or too little untimely, injudicious variety for no reason other than to install speed bumps or artful, timely, judicious variety. Consistency in all things, even consistency in inconsistencies.

Implied fourth person, by the way, is part of everyday expression and a legacy of indo-language origins. An example from a first-contact tableau: Wahunsonacaugh, Powhatan wero-werowance, head-head man, said to John Smith, "I you tell when again come English great ships." Or in everyday contemporary form: Tell when the English ships come again. Worth note, too, Star Wars' Yoda speaks fourth person; and, also, Yiddish dialects lapse into fourth person.

A question of substance: Who is the narrator, though? A fictive persona who orates in written word narration? Is the narrator an implied writer? Is the narrator a real writer? Or is the narrator a viewpoint agonist? Or is a narrative metaphorically "nonnarrated"? Readers, like law enforcement and juries, anymore prefer a firsthand account over second or third or more hand accounts, from personas who are closest to events, settings, and characters at the immediate now moment those unfold, for best possible, most credible eyewitness testimony, bias-flawed to whatever degree it may be.

Why then write third person simple past? That narrative point of view is most reader palatable for its commonest familiarity and overt objectivity, meanwhile, covert subjectivity, is most believable and appears least biased in capable hands. Likewise, yeah, first person present tense is most immediate and most open to question and interpretation, less reliable, appears more biased, those biases subject to believability as regards this is valid for its incidence: So-and-so believes a dubious assertion to be true, valid in all cases, regardless of whether it is valid or not.

These above are a few of the broader person and tense mechanics and aesthetics. Further nuances are manifold, like subjunctive mood and polysemes. Grammatical mood is independent of tense, English native moods include indicative, imperative, and subjunctive, plus a gamut of syntax constructions that span a few dozen other potentials, like emphatic mood.

A polyseme: multiple meanings, from the above mal-spam demonstration, "Unconfirmed why the spate struck when it did; suspect one of the massive criminal hack jacks so much in the news or some other vulnerability exposure." The elided sentence-clause subjects leave open for interpretation who unconfirms and suspects, as it were. Ostensibly, the stream-of-consciousness method signals an "I." Per real writer moi. Or a second person reflexive "you." As well, the elision and semicolon join signal the implied, impersonal, and imperative second person. All of second persons' nuances are contained therein, though the overall person is third. Some readers will interpret the sentence as third person by default, some as the memorist's sole "I" by default, some as second person reflexive, some as imperative mood, a very few as all of second person's nuances and polysemes. Unconfirmed and suspect, indeed, even if I do say so.

[ March 21, 2017, 05:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Jay Greenstein:
My personal view is to save the gimmicks till you have a fan base.

This. And then remember that as soon as you introduce gimmicks, many fans will jump ship, cuz that's not what they signed on for.

Observations over many years, and considerable mentoring elsewhere:

First person is harder to get right than 3rd. A minority of writers have a naturally first-person voice, and fewer still have a naturally present-tense voice. When writing outside your natural voice, bad habits are easier to acquire and entrench, and it becomes proportionately harder to improve your writing. Therefore when I become dictator, unless I detect that your natural voice is indeed something else (and it's generally pretty obvious), we shall first learn to write in 3rd person past tense. Once that achieves reasonable competence, then you can branch out without the risk of hanging a millstone around your own neck.

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