'You' P.O.V.s

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“You” P.O.V.s

Yes, I normally don’t enjoy reading stories told in second person, but it’s not because it’s badly written (although that can be a part of it), it’s just not my favorite to read when in comparison with stories told in first or third person.  In addition, just because I don’t particularly enjoy reading second person in general, doesn’t mean I can’t attempt writing in second person myself, and that‘s because only I know what my personal conditions I like when reading these types of stories. Because I hardly find second person stories written the way I like to read them, I mostly don’t go looking for them, and that‘s why they aren‘t my “favorite“ kind of stories to read, especially when they are written by someone else.  Besides clashing with writing style in general, there are plenty of other complaints when writing in second person. One of them is “Real authors don’t write in second person!”

Uh, yeah they do. It’s mostly seen in Create Your Own Adventure/Pick Your Own Path (CYOA/PYOP) stories, which are published professionally. The Goosebumps series was famous for it, and people still enjoy them.  Quizilla also became a popular hot-spot for CYOA/PYOP along with Who Would Fall For You/Who Would You Fall For (WWFFY/WWYFF) before the site changed to have stricter story and quiz templates, along with limiting the amount of characters used when using the quiz-maker.

“It’s impossible to describe all of the readers in one character!”

Well, yes, you can’t say the character has a specific color of hair, but it isn’t as if you’re barred from describing the characters, period. Just say that the character brushed their hair or outlined their eyes. Don’t go into specific colors or styles. There are also ways of making the “reader” unique through the story.  If something like the character worrying about their weight comes into play, just say something vague like “you checked into the mirror for signs of cellulite.” Even if most of the readers don’t worry about their weight or how they look, I’m sure they would understand that it’s still fiction, and if the character had perfect-looking people constantly around them, I’m sure the readers would understand why the constant nit-picking. Just like in any normal story, the main character, in this case “you”, need to change by the end of the story. “You” can still develop just as much as “he”, “she”, or “it” can develop in a story.

“No one reader has the same personality!”

That is also partly true; however, this is a fictitious story where the reader will be under different circumstances from their real life. That means that the character will have different parents, teachers, friends, and overall a different kind of life from their real life, and even though I still suggest being vague with the personality (i.e., “you were stubborn to get your way”), the writer still has freedom to make up a personality. Even if the story is CYOA/PYOP, the writer can’t possibly write down the different answers in all of the different personality types. In other words, the writer is allowed to make up a shell with half a soul; the reader can fill in the second half with yourself mentally throughout the story (I still have thoughts as I read any story) and whenever it comes into play by making choices if it‘s CYOA/PYOP/WWYFF/WWFFY. If it’s a WWYFF/WWFFY story where personality definitely does make a difference, the writer is allowed to pick and choose which personality types would best suit the story and characters. A sloth-like computer technician who doesn’t know about magic, probably wouldn’t survive long enough in a mythological apocalyptic world long enough to fall in love or have someone fall in love with him or her.  

“You can’t name the main character!”

That‘s definitely the one thing that I see almost everywhere and don‘t agree with! I see it on other people’s writing guides, I see it on someone else’s preferences when concerning second person, but I’ve never seen the rule of not naming the “reader” from a professionally published author declaring that.  Maybe it’s just my (unprofessional) preference, but I think you can most certainly name the second person main character. You created the parents who have to choose a name for their child, just like with first and third person, so why would second person be any different? And what if your own name doesn’t coincide with the universe?  

If the story is good, something as little as names shouldn’t stop a reader from getting sucked into the story. Even though it was written in first person, I didn’t like the name of Katniss in The Hunger Games, and I wasn’t anything like her in personality either, but knowing how she grew up, her feelings and history, it made me understand why she did the things she did, and it made me feel her feelings from the sadness, loneliness, anger–I really did get sucked in! If you have room, describe “your” experiences, how “you” grew up, and “your” happiest, saddest, rage-inducing memories. Make sure to describe why you only get to choose from the limited choices, and why these limited choices are most suitable for the story. The readers should understand, and if your story is written well, they’ll enjoy it whether they like the name or not, whether they have the same personality or not.

I’m not saying that you can’t choose not to name the reader; I don’t mind the underscores (“_____”), the hyphens (“——”), or even “[Name]”, I just personally prefer to have a name in the story, and I prefer naming the characters.  Whenever I see the blanks, I hear radio static instead of inserting my own name—it just doesn’t seem as automatic as some writing guides make it out to be.  Either way, whether the reader is named or not, the truth is you don’t need to use the name all that often, so even if someone feels that names, or name blanks, have a chance to kick someone out of believability, there would be so few opportunities to do so.  For example, in my CYOA/WWYFF “A Smile to Hide”, in the first chapter, which consists of almost 3,900 words, I only use the named reader, Kimberly Upshaw, five times.  The second chapter, although much shorter, doesn’t use the name at all, and the third chapter of roughly 2,900 words, I only used it twice.  Nearly all of the times I had to use the name, so far, were only for when I had to introduce the reader to new characters, and if I needed to set a serious mood.  

While it’s the writer’s job to write out the story, making decisions on how to write it, what rules to follow, and thinking about the general formatting, it’s also the job of the reader to learn how to read second person story.  In The Lie that Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction, John Dufresne makes a very interesting point when concerning how a reader should read second-person:  

“Here the reader is asked to imagine herself a character in the story.  This can draw the reader into the story if I do it right, put her off if I don’t.  She might say, No, I don’t shop at Macy’s.  I’m allergic to wheat.  But since this particular story deals in speculation, with what might be, and not what is, and since it’s rooted in our basic desire to better ourselves, I hope the reader will enjoy the opportunity to pretend to be the person she might wish to be.  I’m not asking her to be someone she is not, someone she might not want to be.”

In other words, second-person is just basically make-believe to be another person anyway, and it‘s the reader who gets to decide if they want to pretend or not.  If the reader doesn’t feel like pretending, then they probably won’t feel like reading second-person stories even if it‘s formatted to their specific conditions, but if they do, they still have to know why the character they are pretending to be would act the way they would.  This also leads to another point that should be clarified.  Not all second-person CYOA/PYOP/WWYFF/WWFFY are Reader-Inserts although there are some that can be.  Just plain second-person allows the reader to feel like they can pretend, but putting “Reader-Insert” as a main character makes the assumption that the reader will insert themselves into the story instead of being allowed to pretend to be the character.  That means that when looking at a list of main characters or which person the story is written, “You” doesn’t always mean “Reader-Insert”, just as “I” doesn’t always mean self-insert in a first-person story.

There are also stories that are written as second-person, but look more like first person.  For example:

You slide into the pew last, next to one of your children, sandwiching them with your wife on the other side of the line.  They, your children, have their mother’s hair, but they have your bright blue eyes and thin mouth.  You can’t wait to teach your twelve year old son about carving wood, but you’re still nervous with your daughters.  Girls aren’t supposed to like guy stuff, right?

If you switched the second person with first person, it would make a much better fit.  Why?  It’s because in the example paragraph above, you had unintentionally described yourself into the story.  “They, your children . . . have your bright blue eyes and thin mouth.”  Basically it’s a disguised first-person, where you was simply substituted for I.  This is used when the author wants the reader to imagine what it’s like to be in his or her (or the character’s) place in this situation, and it was written maybe because the emotions were too raw when written in first-person.  If I read a story like this, I would either imagine that half way through, it would switch to first-person, or if the entire story continued on in this disguised first-person, I could imagine, at the end, the author asking “Would you have made a better choice?”  It’s not an incorrect way of writing; it’s just not very practical.

Some of you have noticed that in nearly all of my guides are written in a mix of first-person and second person.  I state my opinions and reasons why, and I guide you into how to write something; however, this is a nonfiction guide that doesn’t tell stories.  Writing in second-person is a functional way of writing guides, step-by-step how-to’s, tutorials, cookbooks, posters of advertisements—you’ll find them almost everywhere.  It’s the same as, say, you’re calling one of those 800 numbers that are supposed to help you figure something out, the caller on the other end wouldn’t say “I need to enter the right pin number,” they would say “You need to enter the right pin number.”  So yes, while I did say before that I don’t usually look for second-person, I meant it more as in I don’t usually look for second-person stories, not second-person nonfiction guides.

While I’m writing about second person, I may as well write about first and third too, along with writing in past, present and future tenses for comparison. Sometimes I have a hard time choosing which person to write in, but here are some questions I usually think about:

  • Do you want to have your audience sympathize with your main character? If so, how much?
  • How much do you want your audience to know? Do you want to show them what the villains are up to? Is it important?
  • Do you want your audience to know the main characters thoughts? Do you want them to know other characters' thoughts? Is it important?

Basically the questions are asking the amount of importance do you want the main characters, villains, and the plot to have in your story. Depending on what kind of story you want to tell, and what you want your audience to know, some aspects may be more important than others. Sometimes the answers aren't obvious until you start writing, so it's okay to write a few scenes in each perspective before you choose one, but before you do that, let's talk about the perspectives.

First Person

First person in writing means using words like “I, we, and me” to narrate the story. In this perspective you know as much as the person telling the story knows. Most often the first person is the main character, the One who saves the world, the focus, but there are stories where the first person is actually the follower of the main character (i.e. if the story was told from Friar John’s point of view, following the story of Robin Hood).

Using first person, it can be easier to gain the audience's emotions, thus sucking them into the story. The difference between first and second person is, by definition, is that first person only tells the story where all of the characters are in a glass box, and the readers are looking in, while second person breaks the walls to include the reader into the story.  The way I personally define it, is to read the stories aloud.  It's easier to pretend that I'm in the story if I read:

"I pounded my feet into the pavement as I chased the robber down into an alley. As he was trying to climb the fence, I jumped to grab his collar and yanked him down into the ground covered in garbage slime. The robber clad in black tried throwing punches and kicks but I silenced him by grabbing a nearby pipe and swung it down on his head. I was victor. Me."

The narration isn’t asking for someone else.   With first person, you can really just write the story for yourself, but the purpose of writing in second person is to engage your readers, so if you read the story aloud, you would have to have someone to listen and make decisions if there are a set of choices.

Most stories using the first person perspective use only one character, but there are a couple books that I've read that switched character point of views (P.O.V.s).  In Witch & Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, the story switches from a brother and sister's P.O.V. to tell the story. While the brother has stable emotions and can tell the story more clearly, the sister adds in the humorous sarcastic wit to keep the audience entertained.

Another example of switching first person P.O.V. is in Tell Me What You See by Zoran Drvenkar. Instead of limiting from one to two people, the book switched P.O.V.s with five or six, basically everyone important in the story including the villainous stalker ex-boyfriend of the main character, and the book even has a few chapters written in third person.

If you are going to use the method of switching points of view there are a couple of rules you need to know so you don't confuse your readers. Every time you switch P.O.V.s make a new chapter, even if it's only going to be one line. If it's important, it's worth it, if not, save it for another time or cut it out completely. Second, tell your audience who's telling the story. You can name the chapter something like "Beth the Observer" or just title the chapter "Chapter 20: Beth"

(Yes, I switched P.O.V.s within a single chapter of some of my fan fictions, but now that I'm eight or so chapters in, I have to stay consistent. Consistency is better than following the rules in my book.)

As you can probably already tell, first person has some advantages. While actions and dialogue can be a great way of visually portraying thoughts, I tend to use more narration of telling the story, so with first person, you don't have to worry about the "I thought" part because just narrating it automatically adds in the thoughts:

"Brian started to flirt with me as we walked down the hall. Before I could shoot him down, he tripped over his shoe laces enabling me to escape. What a loser."

However, there are some down sides. It won't create a subjective viewpoint because the narrator is directly involved. In addition, even with the switching P.O.V.s, it's impossible for the audience to know everything that's going on, if you want that in your story.

Normally, in general, written stories with first person would look like, “I was alone that night, hiding in the closet like an idiot, and he was there, going on with his life as usual. I couldn't watch anymore” (examples made by Rouge), but there are a few stories that are written like, “I was alone that night, hiding in the closet like an idiot, and you were there, going on with your life as usual. I couldn't watch anymore.”    The second example is indeed first person because “I” is the subject and “you” is the object.  So while either example is acceptable, it’s for certain occasions.  The first is for general first person storytelling.  The second creates a different mood—eeriness mainly.  I can imagine that the “you” would be another person, a god, or even a gravestone.  It’s almost as if it’s a letter written for whoever “you” was.

Second Person

Writing a story in second person ("you, you're, your") other than writing PYOP, CYOA, WWFFY, or WWYFF story is rare, and some people consider it taboo since it breaks the fourth wall of including your audience into the story, but it can be done, and well. The only difference between a story that's written in second person and a CYOA/PYOP or WWYFF/WWFFY, is that a normal second person story doesn't give you choices, whether deciding the path or personality, so the process of overall writing is the same.

One of the many things that bug the audience is when the sentences are too consistent. There needs to be a flow, not choppiness. Do not start all of your sentences with you, you're, or your, just like you wouldn't start all of your sentences with I, or we in first person, or he or she in third. For example, here's an entire paragraph from one of my stories “A Smile to Hide” to look at:

"Just like what Father Gordon said, you have to skip Sunday teaching to take the Psychic Exams. It’s not like you care; how could you listen to the one who didn’t believe in what he was an expert in after all, right? You think that the exams will be multiple-choice or take a really long survey, but you are wrong. Once you see what’s in the room, you realize that these tests won’t be so easy to fool. From the sight of the chair, wires, and monitors, the first test is a polygraph, and unfortunately you don’t have enough time to stick a tack in your shoe. How ironic, you’ll be done in with your own abilities."

I only started a sentence with "You" once, so it is possible to achieve variation. If you paid close attention, you'll have noticed that the paragraph is in present tense instead of past, but I'll get to the different tenses later in this entry.

While reading other second person stories, along with writing the first few chapters of “A Smile to Hide”, I noticed some do's and don'ts. Just to reiterate:

Do describe your surroundings and other people. Since you're breaking the fourth wall, you have to describe what the heck is going on. You don't have to be too detailed, just a brief description will do. Don't forget to use all five senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, sounds. This is just like writing in first person, except there‘s more investment because you‘re trying to insert your readers into the surroundings.

Do describe the reader‘s feelings. I’m not saying tell the reader they’re angry, nervous, happy or sad, I’m saying describe how they feel when they are angry, nervous, happy or sad.  It’s one thing to give a reason to the reader what they should be feeling and why, it’s another to describe how the body feels when reacting to something.  Does the scalp tingle or the spine vibrate when he or she is feeling something?  When would the cheeks flare?  Would the reader notice his or her feet getting cold when extremely frightened?  Also, describe some of the habits a reader might have when feeling this emotion.  Does he or she stamp their feet, bit their nails or run a hand through their hair?

Don’t start off every sentence with you, you're, or your. I already described this, so I don't really need to describe it again. This is just a reminder that variation is key.

Don’t directly describe the reader. I already described this also, but I should also highlight that you shouldn’t use those parenthesis telling the reader what you’re “describing”. Don’t write something like, “You brushed your (s/w/c hc) hair, and outlined your (ec) eyes with kohl.” The “s/w/c” stands for straight/wavy/curly, “hc” stands for hair color, and “ec” stands for eye color. All the parenthesis and abbreviations force your readers to stop and figure out what you’re trying to do–kicking them out of your story, plus they‘re just simply not needed.  You could have just stated, “You brushed your hair and outlined your eyes with kohl.”

This rule is a maybe, where you can choose to follow it or not—I’m definitely not an expert, so you don’t have to take my word for it.  When regarding the thoughts of the reader, I personally say not to do it.  Describing feelings is definitely enough for the readers to come to their own conclusions and produce their own thoughts.  You can write something along the lines of “You focused on what possible reason Father Gordon would have wanted to kill Quanisha,” but not any specific phrases like “Why would Father Gordon want to kill Quanisha?  You thought.”  I say this because I think it isn’t needed unless in rare exceptions where you need to direct the reader’s thoughts  to either bring focus to something, or to excite a certain mood, and because describing feelings is plenty to work with, even for someone who generally likes to keep a word count minimum.  Readers have thoughts even while reading a story, so if they are inserting themselves in a story (whether it’s written in first, second, or third person), they’ll have their own thoughts anyway throughout the story as the events unfold.  If you get a directly inserted thought (or many thoughts) wrong, it will begin to feel like the disguised first person story, and I think that may take some of the fun out of a second-person story, especially if it’s supposed to be a reader-insert.

If you follow the basic rules, you'll be golden with second person. Unlike first person, you can't switch P.O.V.s, because your audience, who is directly involved, can only be one person per story. Because of this, the audience is heavily limited to the amount of access to information. This perspective is more limited than first person and third person; however, if the story is WWYFF/WWFFY, other scenes, generally not very important, is inserted for the results of a “love” interest.  These results can contain scenes focusing on the specific interest written in any three persons, trivial factoids of the specific interest, or just about anything the author can think of focusing on the specific interest.  Even though this is WWYFF/WWFFY, it’s still mainly considered second-person, and still extremely limiting, because the results generally aren’t important enough to reveal the plot, besides the romantic aspect revealed by the decision making when choosing a love interest, so wouldn’t give the reader any way to know top-secret stuff or know something they generally shouldn’t at a certain moment.

Third Person

This role is basically from a God's P.O.V. who has decided to zero in on something or widen the horizon from time to time. If you have trouble deciding which person to choose, this is a safe bet to try first. With third person you can widen your view to everyone, including the villain's, depicting their emotions, actions, and thoughts, or limit your view down to zooming in on one character's actions, not including thoughts, like being a fly on the wall. There's a whole variety of zooms and focusing that you can do with third person, however there are drawbacks.

Being 'god', the narrator shouldn't have a distinguishable voice. The only job the narrator has is to tell the story, and not interject them with thoughts or opinions. That means writing “He did that, she did this.  The junkies in the alley were stringing out for another hit.”  It can't be personal. You have to write what he, she, or it did, what happened, where they were at what time, answering who, why, what, where, and how. You state the facts of what happened without getting directly involved.

Writing in third person has the greatest amount of freedom, however you as the author aren't allowed to state your own opinions during the telling of the story, and that can be hard for some authors (it‘s hard for me). You can't call your characters stupid or give them a heads up or advice. You're an all-seeing hooded prophet who isn't allowed to interact with the heroes or the villains where your thoughts and feelings aren't important at all.

Aside from that, there is probably only one other guide-line you should at least know about; whether you want to follow it or break it is up to you. If you zoom in on heroes, and then if you want to zoom in on the villains, or want to zoom out, make a new chapter, or skip a few more lines. Similarly, if you zoom in on one specific character, make a new chapter or skip a few lines if you decide to zoom in on another specific character.

An example of switching where to zoom is in The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting. About 90% of the story focuses on the main character, Violet, but when the focus changes to the serial killer, it becomes its own chapter. However, instead of naming the chapter of who’s the focus, the entire chapter is italicized so it's easy to see that the focus changed.

Now let's get into the different tenses.


Writing in past tense is the most common and accepted way to write a story; however, it's not the only way. Past tense is telling a story that has happened some time ago, of which is not specific unless declared. You can write in past tense for any perspective. Like third person, using past tense is a safe bet; although, depending on your story, you might want to choose another tense.

First Person: Using past tense is great in first person, except when you don't switch P.O.V.s and the narrator dies. It would be like telling us the story directly from the afterlife, but if the character is in a religion where there is no afterlife, then the story wouldn't make sense. If this is the case, you either need to tell the story from the surviving follower's P.O.V., or change tense. On the opposite side, if you planned that there would be a huge battle and he survived, it would be obvious because he or she is telling the story. That's fine, go with that if you want; most readers don't pay that close attention; it's just another thing to think about.

Second Person: I wouldn't recommend using past tense in second person. Yes, it can be done decently, but think about it. You did this, you did that, you felt this, but that was seconds, minutes, days, we don't know how long ago, and the readers don't remember doing it. If the audience stops to ask him or herself that, then the magic's over, it's just another story in past tense. Again, it depends one what your story is about and how well you write it.

Third Person: Past tense is golden–platinum even–in third person. God is telling the audience what happened, and God doesn't die. The world could end and we wouldn't be able to predict it.


Similar to “You” P.O.V.s idea, I’ve read people–writers included–telling other writers not to write in present tense. I hardly ever find stories written in present tense even though I find it an ingenious way to write. So what if it’s not done often? If you think you can write in present tense in a well-written style, go for it.  In past tense, it's harder to tell the present story from the flashback. With present tense, there's the story, and the flashback is written in past tense. This can fit comfortably with almost any perspective also.

First Person: Using present tense in first person is a great way to get to know the characters in an in-depth way that not even past tense can get to, especially if the story is more character-driven than plot-driven. Instead of using "I think" you can just write it. For example, here's a passage in one of my stories "The Quiet Adventures of an Introvert" that I‘ve discontinued:

"Before I can introduce myself, or even shake his hand, he says, 'I noticed that you were sitting here alone, and wanted to welcome you to the rest of us. We don’t bite.'

He chooses today, of all days, to introduce himself to me when I am sitting alone, even when I was clearly sitting with them the few days before. I hesitate in taking his hand, not fully sure if he’s going to yank it off my body. 'Sab.'

He sits in the chair next to me without a word of approval, or asks me if I want him here. 'So why are you sitting alone?'

Because I feel like it. 'I’m tired.'

He nods his head slowly, almost like a bobble-head. 'You’re one of those quiet people aren’t you?' He asks it as if being quiet means that I am in part of some sort of cult. 'I can tell. You don’t talk much.'

You noticed? And you must be those talkative people I keep hearing through my headphones. I don’t know how he can put me on edge so quickly, especially since I am not even close to my time of the month.

Naren doesn‘t even notice that I didn‘t comment on his previous statement, and immediately shoots off another question, ‘Aren’t you hot wearing all black?’

'No.' Yes and I regret it. I’ll probably have an ugly, itchy, heat rash later."

It's pretty easy to distinguish the thoughts from the narration without the "I think", even though introverts tend to think at hyper-speed.

Second Person: Like I said before, you can write a story in second person in past tense, but I usually enjoy the stories more in present tense. Your audience that you are including into your story is experiencing what is happening here and now. This is ideal in PYOP, CYOA, WWFFY, and WWYFF stories specifically because it creates the illusion that the story is writing itself as it happens and by choosing one of the choices provided, it also creates a feeling that the story was made for them.

Third Person: Present tense isn't used often for third person because when switching the focus, it often takes place at a different time, thus having to switch tenses often to past. With the time-zone confusion, the story is often told after the story is finished, thus past tense would be better. However, writing a third person story in present tense isn't impossible; it’s just difficult.

Writing in present tense demands action, so use more showing instead of telling.


I have never read a story entirely of future tense, so I imagine that it would be extremely difficult. Telling a story that hasn't happened yet; you must be thinking, how the heck does that work?

First Person: The only way I would think that this would work is if “I” went back in time to tell someone of the future and what would happen, but once I go back home I would have to tell the rest of the story in past/present (I don't know!) tense depicting if anything changed or not. After that, then what?

Second Person: This would be similar to first person, except someone is telling “you” what you will do or what will happen to you in the future. Other than that, for the story to progress, the rest would have to be told in past or present tense to see if anything changed.

Third Person: "Somewhere in the future a baby will be born. He will be a great warrior and conquer many enemies, etc." I have no idea how this would work for the entire story/novel, but if you want to take a crack at it, go ahead. And if you finish, send me a link so I can read.

In my opinion, having the entire story dedicated to future tense is impossible. Maybe half the story, or up to the end like I described in first and second person, but not the entire story, but I could be wrong.  
If you haven't please read my Mary-Sue: Who is She? Series first.

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Quibbledink's avatar
Thank you for creating this, I gained some excellent insight of writing perspectives. For a long while, I've written Third-Person stories and they are typically read in the past/passive voice. I read that was almost unacceptable in our day's modernized writing. Just as bad as starting a sentence with the word "And"

So, thanks for writing this. It helped me understand it all better.