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Second-Person Narration
aka: Second Person

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Most of the books you've read are written either in the first person (narrated from the perspective of one of the characters, who refers to themself as "I" and "me") or in the third (referring to all characters by name or with third-person pronouns like "he" and "she"). Occasionally, though, you run across something written in the second-person, where the subject of the narration is you.

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: the book is telling you what you experience and how you experience it, which often includes directly telling you what you think or feel. You may find this rather presumptuous unless it's done carefully.

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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.

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'll probably 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.

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You've frequently seen second-person narration in Choose Your Own Adventure novels, Tabletop RPGs, 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. You can even make a convincing argument that all Video Games where you play a personified main character are narrated in second-person. 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.)

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Sibling trope of First-Person Perspective.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The early Iron Fist stories from the 70s used second-person narration, starting each story with variations of "You are Iron Fist." This was started by creator Roy Thomas and continued with writers Len Wein and Tony,Isabella in the Marvel Premiere title and Chris Claremont in his own series.
  • Spider-Girl, though they dropped it with the last relaunch a couple years ago.
  • EC Comics stories do this a lot:
  • The narrator of Marvel Comics's Dracula summarizing the previous issue: "Your name is Frank Drake and you are having a bad day. Your girlfriend has just been killed, turned into a vampire, and you had to kill her again (or something like that). You have came to the bridge to commit suicide."
  • The Sentry 2000 and 2005 miniseries apparently use Second-Person Narration to represent the protagonist's internal monologue, which creates a claustrophobic effect: the Sentry is a character metaphorically and somewhat literally trapped in his own head. This is kind of weird when the perspective shifts to Reed Richards or the Hulk in the crossover issues, because it begins to feel like the author dictating to them the mental tongue baths they are giving the Sentry, but then becomes awesome again in The Sentry vs. the Void, which wraps up the 2000 miniseries, when it becomes apparent that the Sentry is supposed to be a Canon Sue:
    You're the last line of defense, arriving in the nick of time with one second left on the clock.
    You're better than Jesus. Tick.
  • Morpheus' wake in the "The Wake", the tenth volume of The Sandman, is narrated this way, and to great effect.
  • Shade, the Changing Man, waking up the day after Kathy's death.
  • Man-Thing has this due to his limited understanding of human ways.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • 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.
  • In 1945 Film Noir Detour, Al the narrator continually address the audience as "you", as Al pleads with us to believe that he isn't a murderer and he didn't mean to do anything wrong and he only stole that dead guy's money and car because he had to and when he strangled that woman to death it was totally an accident...
    "How many of you would believe it wasn't premeditated?
  • 1947 film noir Lady in the Lake starts with Philip Marlowe addressing the audience directly, saying stuff like "You'll meet the people, you'll find the clues...and maybe you'll solve it quick, and maybe you won't." This sets up the rest of the movie, which is almost entirely shot in P.O.V. Cam from Marlowe's perspective, with other characters looking at the camera and addressing Marlowe and the audience as "you".
  • The Memphis Belle: The narrator of this 1944 propaganda documentary about a B-17 bomber sometimes addresses the audience as "you", saying that you might have dozed off in high school but you will definitely be paying attention when the CO gives the briefing for the bombing raid. On other occasions, the narrator speaks of "we". The idea is obviously to make the viewers feel part of the mission and the war.
  • The 1972 film Poetic Justice by Hollis Frampton

    Gamebooks 

    Literature 
  • In 2014 novel This Is the Water, you are Annie, a middle-aged suburban swim mom with a daughter on the swim team, and you contemplating having an affair... while a Serial Killer stalks your town.
  • If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino has a frame story (about "the Reader") as well as descriptions of the novels the Reader is reading. The Reader is referred to as "you"; the narrators of the internal novels are referred to as "I". Then there's an interesting section where the Other Reader (the love interest of the Reader) becomes the "you" for a brief while.
  • Halting State and its sequel Rule 34 by Charles Stross are written in the second person despite having multiple well-defined, named narrators, as an homage to text adventure gaming.
  • The Gospel of the Knife by Will Shetterly is also written in second person.
  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is one of the more famous English language examples.
  • Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins, but completely not an AFGNCAAP- information about "you" gets revealed slowly over the course of the book.
  • The last part of the novel Some Other Place. The Right Place by Donald Harington is written like this, but the "you" is not the reader but the first-person narrator of the previous chapters, whose "eye" has been confiscated by a new narrator who speaks in first person plural.
  • Ann M. Martin's California Diaries books are mostly written in the first person, being fictional diaries, but Ducky's books are in second person. The explanation is that he doesn't feel comfortable writing about his feelings or whatever in first person, so he uses it to distance himself).
  • The Frangipani Gardens by Barbara Hanrahan starts off like this. but it's dropped after the first chapter.
  • In The Stand, by Stephen King, Fran at one point muses about Harold's very unusual fiction writing style: second person, present tense.
  • Bunker 13 by Aniruddha Bahal is a Stale Beer Flavored Spy Fiction, very much at the end of Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. You are an Indian journalist conducting an investigation into covert intelligence operations of the Pakistanis. It keeps the second person perspective even after the reader unravels that he is actually a Pakistani double-agent.
  • Carlos Fuentes' short novel Aura is written in second person, future tense. It gives you a sensation of inevitability on what the protagonist is going through, with it adds to the other themes of the book.
  • Tim Waggoner's Portrait of a Horror Writer.
  • A book on writing, rife with examples, said that second-person rarely worked. The example used, which did, implied that there was an "I" which somehow never came up. Paraphrased:
    You walk about the cabin. Hearing a noise, you peer out the window, but you see nothing. Out loud, you say, "It's Probably Nothing," but your voice is shaky. The light silhouettes you perfectly in the window.
  • Same in How NOT To Write A Novel, but without examples.
    In fact, it was called the "second person" when McInerney became the second person to get away with it and it became clear he would also be the last.
  • French novel 99 Francs, a satire on the world of publicity by Frederic Beigbeder, is divided into sections in which the narration is built around the pronoun which is the title of the section: Je, Tu, Lui, Elle, Il, Nous, Vous, and Ils.
  • Rosamond Lehman's Dusty Answer sometimes switches to this from third person, forcing the reader to closely identify with the heroine. Could this be why it was her most insanely popular novel, leading to multiple marriage proposals? Could be.
  • Used to very good effect by Matthew Stover in the novelization of Revenge of the Sith. While most of the book is written in third person, Stover breaks out the second person present-tense narration when he moves into an in-depth character study, which he always signals with the phrase "This is what it feels like to be X."
  • "The Parable of the Shower" by Leah Bobet is written in the old style second-person singular familiar—that is, "thou." The effect is used to evoke a King James Bible-style of speaking.
  • Dave Barry in Cyberspace contains a non-comedic, English-major-y short story written from this perspective of a housewife, new to the Internet, who starts an online romance.
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick is written in second person; the you is Callie's counselor.
  • The Crimson Petal and the White, where "you" is the reader as we're told where the characters are going, what they're thinking at the time, etc. This is often acknowledged by telling the reader to pay attention, hurry up so they don't miss something, and a moment early on when a character's daughter walks into the room and the narrative says, "all this time you were following him, you never would have thought he had a daughter."
  • The Girls Guide To Hunting And Fishing, a series of related short stories collected into a novel, switches to second-person in one story/chapter for the female protagonist/narrator.
  • Roald Dahl dips into extended uses of this at times, notably in the nonfiction chapter "Lucky Break" from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, when he describes what it was like to be caned at his school.
  • The first chapter of The Elric Saga is written in this manner, as a way of establishing the title character and his court.
  • David Brin wrote a story, "Reality Check," in which you really are the main character. You're supposedly in a Lotus-Eater Machine, and the narration gets increasingly frantic as you fail to snap out of it. A clever experiment in writing, but one that can be easily defused by reading the story backward.
  • Kage Baker's short story/Framing Device "The Hounds of Zeus", found in Black Projects, White Knights.
  • Damage by A.M. Jenkins; it works extremely well as the protagonist is severely depressed and the writing style helps underscore his disconnection with himself and his feelings.
  • The first chapter of Winnie-The-Pooh uses a Framing Device in which A. A. Milne tells Cristopher Robin a story about himself and Pooh, so in the story, Cristopher Robin is constantly referred to as "you." This is only used for the first chapter, however, and the rest of the book uses conventional third-person narration.
  • House Made Of Dawn, to help give some clarity with the extremely non-linear narrative, describes all of Abel's childhood in this fashion, though it's blatantly obvious the "you" is just Abel.
  • A few chapters in Fight Club do this, in order to show that the narrator didn't live his life, but lived the life he was told to live.
  • Orson Scott Card's novel Hart's Hope is written in the second person, but the "you" in the story is not the same as the "you" reading it; rather, it is being narrated to someone else, whose identity only becomes clear at the end.
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie tells "you" all about what will happen if "you," well, give a mouse a cookie.
  • Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! is written in the second person...it's right there in the title! Even more uniquely, it's written in future tense.
  • Several stories — or the narration between the stories - in the Warrior Cats guidebooks are written this way. Occasionally it will be as if the reader is a cat interacting with the characters. Other times, it will be from one character speaking this way to another specific character that appears in the books. At times — notably the "so-and-so speaks" portions — the identity of the "you" isn't necessarily clear.
  • Cut is told by Callie to "you", her therapist.
  • The Paul Jennings story Thought Full is done like this, part of the narrator's (somewhat unnecessary) attempt to put the reader in his shoes.
  • The first chapter of Circle of Flight is done like this, as Ellie comes home to find Gavin is missing.
  • Bob Leman's short story "Instructions" - a set of instructions from unnamed aliens to humans they send through a Deadly Training Area "to alleviate boredom".
  • Several of horror writer Gemma Files' short stories are written using this tense, including "Rose-Sick", "Bottle of Smoke", and "Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars", although the latter two do in fact turn out to have named, gender-specific protagonists.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has short, page-long portions in second person, which allow you to experience the circus "first hand."
  • Harry Turtledove's short story "Deconstruction Gang". In the compilation reprint he notes that this was partly as a Self-Imposed Challenge and partly to fit with the surreal nature of the story (that literary Deconstruction could actually be used to demolish old buildings and roads, and English majors are employed to do so).
  • Georges Perec's The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise is a textual representation of a flowchart explaining all the ways you'll never get a raise, and consequently written entirely in the second person.
  • Gene Wolfe's "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories": in this case, "you" is likely the writer's younger self.
  • Austin Grossman's You is mostly written in first person from Russell's perspective, but when he's playing a game or the narrative is describing games and gaming, it dips into second-person. Since the book is partially about being a gamer, this makes sense. There's also a segment at the beginning that is directly written in Interactive Fiction format, commands and all.
  • Lorrie Moore's collection of short stories "Self-Help" contains a few examples of second-person narration. Stories like "How to be an Other Woman" and "How to Talk to Your Mother" exemplify the second-person style.
  • "S", by Doug Dorst has a section in the Interlude written in second person narration. However, rather than have the 'you' be a featureless protagonist, the 'you' is simply another character.
  • At least two short stories by Neal Shusterman, "The Body Electric" and "Loveless" used second-person narration.
  • Jeff VanderMeer likes to use this trope:
    • Veniss Underground is divided into three parts, the second of which is told via second-person narration (the first via first-person and the third via third-person narration). The "you" in this case is Nicola, the first narrator's twin sister and the third narrator's ex-girlfriend.
    • In Acceptance, the third book of The Southern Reach Trilogy, the chapters dedicated to the director are written in the second person and present tense, with the director being the one adressed as "you".
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, which shifts the perspective of the narration in every chapter, uses this for chapter 10.
  • "...And it Comes Out Here" by Lester del Rey is structured as a monologue from a time traveler, telling 'you' what 'you' are about to do. In this case, 'you' is a distinct character, the time traveler's younger self.
  • The Hungarian book Hajléktaland ("Homeless-land") is a documentary disguised as a tourist guide book. In the book you, the reader, are guided through Budapest and the surrounding areas with the assumption that you are homeless and you want to find safety, food, shelter, medical care, etc. The book never breaks Second-Person Narration to build the reader's empathy toward the homeless. It is an intentionally harrowing read.
  • Some chapters of Iain Banks's Complicity are written in second person in present tense. These describe the actions of a murderer. It really helps to hide the identity of the killer (even their gender) but the result is also very creepy.

    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..."

    Music 
  • "Dancing Queen" by ABBA seems to be of the perspective of a dancer singing this song to themselves, the dancing equivalent of looking in the mirror and saying "Damn, you're looking good today!".
  • "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.
  • The Beatles:
    • "For No One". ("And yet you don't believe her when she says her love is dead, you think she needs you.")
    • "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." ("Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly.")
  • "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.
  • Everclear's "Like a California King" is a song in second person written by Art Alexakis 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.
  • Leonard Cohen's "The Stranger Song"
  • "Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf" by Rob Cantor:
    You're walking in the woods. There's no one around and your phone is dead. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot him...
  • "One of Those Nights" by Tim McGraw:
    She slides in and you rode down Main Street
    You turn right when that red light turns green
    Sun sets now, you're half way to heaven
    She picks a song, you turn it up to eleven
    You say "do you wanna?" and she says "hell yeah"
    So you hit the party, all your buddies are jealous
    Someday you'll be looking back on your life
    At the memories, this is gonna be one of those nights
  • "Drunk Girl" by Chris Janson:
    Take a drunk girl home
    Let her sleep all alone
    Leave her keys on the counter, your number by the phone
    Pick up her life she threw on the floor
    Leave the hall lights on walk out and lock the door
    That's how she knows the difference between a boy and man
    Take a drunk girl home

    New Media 
  • Central gimmick of the Pseudopod episode "It's Easy to Make a Sandwich." It alternates between deep immersion and a narratorish, slightly hectoring tone:
    "Girls? Good luck. You make minimum wage and you smell like tuna all the time."

    Radio 
  • 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!")

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • The entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise, wherein the main protagonist is the quintessential Blank Slate (and a Heroic Mime and Hello, [Insert Name Here], at that). You do get quoted dialogue options, but one chilling case involves the narration describing your Evil Laugh instead.
  • 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.
  • Monster Prom: The game's Lemony Narrator refers to the current player character as "you" at all times.
  • 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 1 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?"
  • The game Shadowgate is told entirely in this form.
  • Kingdom of Loathing, although it takes itself less than seriously.
  • Undertale uses this for narration, in particular, the save points all use dialogue along the lines of "* [nearby scene] fills you with determination!" Hiding the fact that the 'fallen child' you named at the start of the game is a separate character to "Frisk", the child you're controlling.
  • The Last Sovereign: For much of the prologue, the game uses this along with present tense narration. This is despite Kai, the protagonist, being a total idiot and asshole. Once Kai dies and the perspective switches to Simon, the true protagonist, the narration also switches to third-person past tense. This was done stylistically to mimic the style of other lower quality H-games.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Several narrator sequences and in one case an entire episode ("A Story About You") of Welcome to Night Vale.
  • A Shock to the System has this.
  • The Narrator of Within the Wires Season 1's Relaxation Cassettes addresses the Institute's patient as "you" and feigns impartiality as a purely instructional, pseudo-omniscient figure in those exercises that mimic a typical guided meditation, but as her instructions deviate to become peculiarly specific, she eventually drops the façade to refer to herself as "I" at the end of the first cassette, and addresses the patient with increasing directness in subsequent installments.

Alternative Title(s): Second Person

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