Most of the books you've read are written in the first person (referring to the protagonist as "I") or in the third (referring to the protagonist as "he"/"she"/"it" or by name). Occasionally, though, you run across something written in the second person
You'll note that second-person narration is very rare.
On one hand, like first-person narration, it has a very intimate feeling. On the other hand, while the intimacy of first-person narration is that of storytelling, the intimacy of second-person narration is that of telepathy (or hypnosis): the book is telling you what you ought to think and feel. You may find this rather presumptuous unless it's done carefully.
You'll often find it used in conjunction with a Featureless Protagonist
. Both serve the same function: they attempt to identify you with the protagonist. For much the same reason, you'll also often find it keeping close company with Present Tense Narrative
, to reinforce the impression that this isn't just happening to you, but it's happening to you right now
Sometimes, if you look hard enough, you will discover indications that the second-person narrator is not
supposed to be you the reader. You will likely want to ask why the author of such a work would dare try to make you identify that intimately with a second-person narrator who is, um, not you.
But you probably will never ask the question aloud because the person you want to ask isn't there. How can you speak your piece when you have no one to tell it to? Talking to yourself would make you look crazy, so you'll just have to leave it an internal monologue for now.
You've frequently seen second-person narration in Choose Your Own Adventure
novels as well as Interactive Fiction
games — so frequently
, in fact, that you shouldn't feel any need to list specific examples from these genres in this page. In fact, now that you think about it, some examples are specifically trying to evoke the feeling of these media in you. You will almost never find second-person narration in works older than these.
You will also find second-person narration in a few literary novels, especially ones written outside America.
Special note on music examples
: just because a song uses second person pronouns
(you, your, yours, yourself) a lot does not make the song Second Person Narration
. It's only Second Person Narration if the "you" refers to the character who is singing, not the character who is being sung to. If the song also has first person pronouns—even many fewer than second person pronouns—it's almost certainly not Second Person Narration. ("You're so vain, I
bet you think this song is about you" is not Second Person Narration; "I" is the person singing, and "you" is the person being sung to.) Imperative sentences—commands—directed at "you" are also a sign that it's probably not Second Person Narration. ("Eat your peas," is not Second Person Narration, but "You eat your peas" might be.) The same is true of questions directed at "you"—if the singer is asking questions of "you," in most cases that means the singer is not
"you" and the song is not Second Person Narration. (Unless "you" are just talking to "yourself" in which case it might be.)
Sibling trope of First-Person Perspective
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- There's a whole genre of Fan Fic like this. In those fics, "you" tend to be a Mary Sue. Mostly it occurs among people who think they're being truly original by saying "then you put on your sparkly ballgown and you asked out Draco and then you made out for a while", not realizing that there's more to writing in the second person than just calling your character "you". Pottersues has an entire category devoted to these.
- On the other hand, sometimes it's used as a narrative device, with the narrator (whoever the narrator is) addressing whichever character the story happens to be about. These tend to be rather angsty for some reason.
- Usually, the narrator and the "you" are implicitly the same: the fic is the character talking to/mentally berating himself. Which is why it works so well with angst.
- The Neon Genesis Evangelion fic And If That Dont Work has a scene with 2nd-person Gendo Ikari. The experience is ... strange.
- Rising Sun is written in second person. It's a rare example of this technique being used effectively.
- The Sandman fanfic "The Taste of Honey" uses this kind of narration to great effect too. (In fact, even saying this is already kind of a spoiler to how the story goes, so I won't say any more on the subject.)
- The The Hunger Games fanfiction life a fact above all others gives a second-person narration to the enigmatic Foxface, allowing her to remain nameless, but by no means a Featureless Protagonist.
- Given that it's a Homestuck fanfic, Moirailegiance is Science is written this way. It's basically the Author Avatar telling the story to the reader, who flips POV frequently, even on a couple of occasions to the "Detached Third-Person Fourth Wall Observer".
- Brief Encounter is presented as Laura's confession of her affair to her husband who she refers to as "you" throughout the film.
- The 1961 film Blast Of Silence.
- The 1972 film Poetic Justice by Hollis Frampton/
Live Action Television
- The introduction to most episodes of The Twilight Zone is in the second-person; this, along with the hypnotic visuals (which include a floating eyeball, a swinging pendulum, and a hypnosis spiral) and the weird snake-charmer music, are intended to bring about a real or simulated hypnotic state in the viewer. "You are entering a dimension not only of sight and sound, but also of the mind..."
- Often done in-universe toward the end of police procedurals and courtroom dramas. The detective or DAconfronts the perp and verbally reconstructs the crime as a form of interrogation. "If that news had gone public, it would have ruined you, so you felt that you had to silence him."
- "Creepy Doll" by Jonathan Coulton.
- "Ballad of a Thin Man" by Bob Dylan, for the purpose of disorientation: "Something is happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?"
- One example of second person ''narration' is the third vocal section of Tool's "Disgustipated."
- Taylor Swift's "Fifteen" uses mostly second-person narration despite clearly being an autobiographical song.
- "For No One" by The Beatles.
- "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads. "You may find yourself... living in a shotgun shack..."
- "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty.
- "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits. "You get a shiver in the dark/it's raining in the park but meantime/south of the river you stop and you hold everything"
- "Sometime Around Midnight" by The Airborne Toxic Event, which could be described as a poem or very short story set to music:
And it starts sometime around midnight
Or at least that's when you lose yourself for a minute or two
As you stand under the bar lights
And the band plays some song about forgetting yourself for a while
And the piano's this melancholy soundcheck to her smile
And that white dress she's wearing, you haven't seen her for a while...
- Ricardo Arjona's "Si usted la viera(el confesor)" recounts to you a conversation between the narrator and a priest during confession, the whole discussion is about you ("you" being a woman of doubtful reputation).
- The song "Mineshaft 2" by rapper/singer Dessa.
He knows how bad he acted, knows he can't have you back
But the fact is he can't be happy when you're angry
And you're so angry...He says you stayed so mad
And he heard it on the street that you moved back in with your dad
You were drinking something awful and that makes him sad
Then he says it's good to hear your voice again
And that it's hard to ask it, but he's calling with a question...
- The chorus and first two verses are entirely in second person, with only the last verse switching to first person in a way that makes it clear the song is about Dessa herself.
- Many of the songs on Swans' first few albums (Filth through Holy Money) were intentionally written to resemble political slogans, resulting in a good number of them being entirely in the second person. Cop in particular is filled with abstract mini-narratives and decidedly creepy character studies, all framed solely with the word "you."
- Swans frontman Michael Gira's other major project, Angels of Light, has a few of these, most notable being the song that gave the band their name: The seven-minute "Angels of Light", which seems to describe an out-of-body experience.
- Sure you've heard angry songs. Sure you've heard songs about people hating someone's guts. Ever heard one that was written to one's self? That's exactly what Everclear's "Like a California King" is about. Kinda. Apparently, Art Alexakis witnessed Gavin Rossdale of Bush lose his temper because someone received a gift near him and he didn't. Art wrote the song to himself as a reminder that he needs to never be that guy.
- Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" the "you" referring to Syd Barrett.
- From the same album ("Wish You Were Here"), "you" in "Welcome to the Machine" refers to a young musician, who is being addressed by a seedy record company executive.
- Iron Maiden's "Killers" starts with a Second Person Attack, before going into the killer's point of view.
- After a Newhart Phone Call intro, "Dead End" by Mind In A Box becomes a rather effective Second-Person Narration.
- SPN is fairly common in their songs. It also appears in "Take My Soul", "Between Worlds", "Fear", "What Used to Be", and parts of "Certainty".
- In spite of using First Person Narration, parts of "The Dream" seem to be in second person, as well.
- Used in the World War II radio series The Man Behind the Gun.
- Dragnet uses this in the opening narration: "You're a Detective Sergeant working out of Robbery Division..."
- Yandere Heaven puts the (presumedly) female listener in various roles trapped between two Yandere love interests.
- "Beebop-a-Reebop Rhubarb Pie" sketches on A Prairie Home Companion are always narrated in second person by Keillor. It makes sense because the sketches always lead up to the in-universe radio ad for Beebop-a-Reebop ("Nothing gets the taste of shame and humiliation out of your mouth like a piece of rhubarb pie!")
- Just about any Role-Playing Game.
- In-universe, the main holy book of the god of pain in the Kalamar game-setting is the account of a lone wanderer trekking barefoot through an icy wasteland, clambering over sharp rocks, and falling into an icy lake. It's told in the second person, presumably to make it creepier.
- The chapter-opening narration in Baldur's Gate uses this, as do the dreams- not surprising, given the provenance of the game.
- Duncan from Dragon Age: Origins provides some opening narration and at the end of the game in this style.
- The narrations at the end of each episode in Doom are in second person.
- In The Legend of Zelda games, with a few exceptions that can be written off as typos, the narration always refers to Link as "you", e.g. "You found ten rupees!". The instruction manuals for A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening are written entirely in second person.
- Persona 3 and Persona 4 use this. It makes sense, though, since the main character is a Blank Slate, and you decide pretty much everything he does and says.
- Omikron Nomad Soul is not about your character - it's about you. The player's soul is supposed to inhabit the bodies of the game characters.
- The Fallout series has this in spades during Ron Perlman's opening and ending narrations.
- Warlords: Heroes uses this for its entire storyline, placing you in the minds of the characters themselves.
- Planescape: Torment, much of which is dialogue and narration, tells the story this way. Like Baldur's Gate above, it's a Dungeons & Dragons game.
- The epilogue to Bioshock is like this.
- You might have played roguelike games of yonder, in which case, you notice the ubiquity of this style of narration. Upon reading this entry, you might recall the days you played NetHack:
You fall into a pit! You land on a set of sharp iron spikes! —More—
The spikes were poisoned! The poison was deadly... —More—
Do you want your possessions identified?"
- In a sense, instruction manuals, video game guides, and the sort can be like this. "Once you've inserted Part A into Part C, next you take Part B..."