You Are the Star of the Show

My latest post was about the four types of points of view found in fiction, where in one paragraph I spoke of the difficulties that came with writing in second person. To review, it is the POV that features “you”, and that really is a strange position to have for a story. This can immerse the reader more deeply, but it comes with the question of who is the you? Is it the reader, in which case personalities will vary, or is it a character being addressed as you the whole time, and why would that be happening?

I decided to try my hand at writing a longer snippet of something in second person point of view. However, I didn’t have much of an idea for a small story as I went, so the quality is probably more that of a quick writing exercise. Still, it was meant to be an experiment of mine, so take a look if you will.

It had been a few weeks since you first rented the house out from the landlord. It was a modest abode, and the wallpaper was peeling in places, but you had grown to be fairly fond of it nonetheless. The only real problem was the sounds you heard in the middle of the night.

“There used to be a few raccoons in the attic,” the landlord had explained when the two of you were exploring the house. He took a broom and prodded the hatch a couple of times. “But pest control took care of them a while back.

Even so, you would lay awake in bed and listen to the skittering from above. You told yourself that it was normal for there to be noises. It could simply be something on the roof. However, the longer it stayed, and the louder it was, you gave in and called both the landlord and pest control.

A quick swoop of the attic and they could inform you that in their professional opinion there was nothing living up there. The noises endured. You deemed their professional opinion worthless to you in this situation and went to check the attic yourself.

Maybe it wasn’t your brightest idea. It certainly went up there with all of your most questionable childhood escapades, and you had the thought that it was being brought on more by a lack of sleep than your common sense, but you proceeded to the hatch, armed with your own broom, flashlight, and ladder.

You climbed the ladder. Tucked the broom under your arm. Pushed open the hatch, and managed to crawl through in nothing but your nightclothes. You were immediately hit by a wave of humid air, and as you surveyed the attic with your eyes, all you saw was a small space with a couple of boxes set off to the side.

Whereas the skittering had been going on as loud as ever before you had busted through the hatch, the attic was suddenly, and eerily, quiet. It was probably just the darkness making you paranoid, but you pulled out the flashlight and pressed forward.

You inspected the boxes out of plain curiosity. With the end of the broom, you nudged the first one open, and found an old wall clock with a rusted pendulum. There was also a quilt blanket, a bicycle in one of the larger boxes, a photo album with no photos, and food cans with large chunks taken out of them. It was hard to tell whether it all belonged to the landlord or the former owners of the house. Still, none of it explained the weird noises. You looked around, and shined your light over the very edge of the attic, where you hadn’t yet checked. The cobwebs and dust were much more congested there.

What if it’s a giant spider? a voice whispered at the back of your head as you moved closer. You dismissed it, although not entirely with ease.

When you were standing inches from the back wall, peering at the (tiny) spiders who called the attic their home, you heard the skittering again. It came from your right, among the boxes, and you swung the flashlight in their direction without a second thought. The sound stopped just as suddenly.

“Is anybody there?” you called out, even if you weren’t sure why. You were doubtful that there was a person living up there, but perhaps the sound of your voice, if it came out calm enough, would lessen the quaking that had begun in your legs. You really did need more sleep. Maybe a glass of warm milk and someone to knock you out.

No one answered your question. Had you expected anyone to? However, there was a creak in the floorboards, so you haltingly began to approach the boxes.

It was probably just raccoons again. Mice. A stray cat. Anything other than, say, a giant spider. You tried your best to assure yourself of that.

Using the broom once more, you pushed a couple of boxes to the side, and a loud hiss made you jump back instinctively. You saw the shape of the creature that time, the curve of its back as it ran behind another set of boxes. You inhaled, and exhaled again.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” you said slowly. “As long as you plan on not hurting me as well, everything will turn out…just fine.”

Then you were standing amongst a bunch of old boxes, your flashlight outlining the scene almost theatrically, and a strangely humanoid being was staring up at you with pitch black eyes. You took in all of it, your own eyes widening: the pale green skin, the elongated ears, and spindly fingers. The oddest part was the pair of iridescent wings sprouting from its back.

Whatever you thought you had been expecting, it hadn’t been that.

You began to classify the creature as a faerie, out of lack of a better name. Gremlin might have been a better choice, considering that after it had been discovered, it didn’t seem to see any point in secrecy and made itself regularly known in your home.

It liked to fill up your bathtub with water and splash around in it, greatly increasing your water bill. It also liked opening boxes of cereal, crackers, or anything it could get its hands on, and shaking the contents across the kitchen and living room. You imagined it was what it was like having the type of dog that loved to tear up every cushion available.

That thing, however, wasn’t a dog. You could tell it understood you, but it couldn’t speak back and would purposefully ignore you most of the time. It might have been best if you had left the scuttling noises to be a mystery.

What were you supposed to do? Call the landlord? Pest control? The police? You doubted you could successfully keep it locked up anywhere for a long period of time, and then whenever someone arrived the faerie would have disappeared, making you look insane. After a couple of failed attempts trying to lure it into the attic and stick a padlock on the hatch, you reluctantly turned to the Internet for help.

There were a few simple points that supposedly helped when faeries were involved. Telling them your name was a bad idea. Saying “thank you” was a bad idea. Most things, it would appear, were bad ideas.

You shot the faerie a dirty look where it was huddled in a corner chewing on the contents of your recycling bin. It noticed you staring, hissed, and pressed further against the wall as it continued its snack. You figured you might as well give another try at communication.

“Hey,” you said, shifting in your chair to face the creature. Its dark eyes fixed on you calculatingly. “So. You’re a fan of plastic.”

The faerie swallowed a pop can whole. You pressed on.

“Do you eat batteries? It would be great if you ate batteries.” You released a snort. “Or my junk mail.”

It still didn’t respond, but it seemed to be listening. You tapped your fingers on the table a couple of times.

“All right, we’ll use the classic. I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and if you want to be cooperative, you can stomp your foot once for yes and twice for no.” You paused for a moment. “Are you getting this?”

The faerie tilted its head. It continued to eat the recycling, and you were just beginning to think that you weren’t going to get anything out of it when it tapped its foot against the floor twice.

“Oh, ha ha,” you said, sounding somewhere between annoyed and relieved. “Okay, so you do understand English. Have you been in this house for a while?”

One tap.

Not a newcomer. You wondered how the landlord couldn’t have noticed. “And you’re the only one here?”

One tap.

“I imagine that must be lonely.” Silence. “Are you ever going to stop being a little pest around here?”

Two taps, and something that resembled a grin. You had to give her some points for honesty, you guessed.

You took a moment to gather your thoughts, and released a breath. “I’m not going to pretend like this situation isn’t extremely weird for me. I wasn’t expecting a roommate, let alone one with wings that keeps chewing on the plastic.”

She gave you another one of those grins.

“But if you can promise that you won’t cause massive trouble for me,” you continued slowly, “I won’t get anyone else involved. I’ll keep you a secret.” It still seemed unlikely that anybody would believe you if you revealed you had a faerie living in your new house, but she looked like a creature that wanted to stay in hiding as much as possible. “Deal?’

The faerie considered you for a long while. Then, she brought her foot down, making one resounding thump travel through the kitchen.

For all the talk of complications with faeries, they were known for keeping to their promises.

Somewhere along the line while making this post my laptop started acting up again, but I wouldn’t peg that as why it was later to come out. It’s more due to the fact that I was writing the extract from scratch. Besides that though, and my delving into an abundance of research on both landlords and attics, there wasn’t a lot of problems that came with writing a second person point of view.

Despite my own thoughts on this POV, it wasn’t super different from writing first or third person. In the context of this story it was easy to avoid using a name, and I didn’t look to deeply into the person’s history so that it was relatively left open what their, or your, life was like.

I guess when it comes down to it my biggest qualms is with personality. It may not be the case that the “you” in a second person narrative is meant to be the reader, but if it is, the immersion can be thrown off if the character voice is different from the individual. Some people would have gone up to check the weird noises in the attic, some wouldn’t, some would have immediately moved out of the house. If the goal were ever to tailor the story to a wide range of personalities, then one is likely to come up short.

That being said, there are definitely instances where second person POV can work. Aside from this quick excerpt, there are whole novels that have been made using it, like I mentioned in my last post: Stolen by Lucy Christopher, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and The Night Circus by Ryan North, among many more. I have yet to look at any of them myself, but it would be an interesting read.

Note: If you do, by any chance, find a faerie-like creature in the attic of your new home, this is not a professional guide of what to do. Please keep them away from recycling.

2 thoughts on “You Are the Star of the Show”

  1. For someone who doesn’t write short stories you sure write interesting short pieces. I always want to read more of the story.

    1. Thank you. I usually end up wanting to write more of it too, which can be a little tricky at times

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