The Art of the Point of View

I am currently reading The Crimson Petal and the White and a hundred or so pages in, I’m still getting used to the point of view (second-person present). I am so comfortable with third-person and first-person that I’d almost forgotten about the little-used second. After, aren’t all books addressing the reader anyway? You’re taking them on the journey with you, and so why not talk to them?

When I began writing, I was a strictly first person kind of girl – I couldn’t imagine writing any other way. It could have been the egomaniac in me, or it could have simply been the fact that each character was someone I wanted to be, and therefore why not write in a way that comes across as Me? Whatever it was, each character was a “Me, Myself and I” type. Then I wrote a short story about a She… I wrote about something I hadn’t experienced myself and somehow it just felt right that it should happen to someone else. And thus it was that I discovered a whole new universe of writing.

I could change characters and write from several perspectives, I could write as a boy (which I had never attempted in first-person). The stories became more malleable and much more exciting – both to write and to read. How had I not realised this before? How had this third-person world been so ignored all this time?

So now I’m a third-person kind of girl. It’s much easier to kill someone off that way as well (which I have discovered I am fond of in a slightly upsetting George R.R Martin kind of way). This is why it’s a bit of a shock to the system when I open a book and find it talking directly to me. Is the second-person another undiscovered mine of possibility? Will I start writing in second and wonder why I ever bothered with anything else?

I wrote some poetry once… well, more than once…in a very misguided assumption that as a writer I should be able to write poetry with great ease (cue disgust at self and a great deal of respect for poets). Those, I found, were very much first- and second-person territory. But the idea of writing a novel from the second-person makes me nervous still. I even feel a little nervous reading second-person!

What’s your choice in Point of View?


Filed under Booky things, Word Wonders

4 responses to “The Art of the Point of View

  1. Present tense alone can be upsetting if it’s not done well. Writing in present tense is something that very often can draw your attention to the words and away from the story, which is a problem.

    I couldn’t imagine reading an entire novel in second person. One of the short stories from Escape Pod was in second person, and it was really weird to listen to.

    If you’re a writer looking to do something different it’s something you can experiment with, but if you’re looking to tell stories, it’s going to pull the reader out of the story, which is never a good thing.

  2. patrick

    I’ve not read it, but I’m sure that The Crimson Petal and the White is actually first person, with a moving perspective and an omniscient narrator.

    A second person perspective is when the reader is in the action. Try Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney for a second person novel. And it works brilliantly in that book, but on the whole would be a gimmicky way to write.

    The tense also changes everything. First person past tense is the easiest and most natural way to write for most people, but I love reading and writing first person present tense.

  3. patrick

    Apologies, it seems that The Crimson Petal and the White sits somewhere between first and second person. It is second person in that it addresses ‘you’ as the reader, but you are not involved in the story, it is being narrated to you, the reader. Interesting.

  4. Crestfallen

    A writer who has written an entire novel in second person present tense and succeeds is a true artist. Few writers ever try this, let alone succeed. The Jay McInerny is a great example of this…hey, you should read this as a counterpoint to ‘American Psycho’, then ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ and you’ll have late eighties New York covered.

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