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.

It’s All About Your Point of View

I’m happy to say that my computer is back from repairs and working just fine! I think that now, I have a deeper appreciation of a large screen, faster processing speed, and the words showing up at the same time as I type them on the keyboard. The poor little laptop that I was using as a replacement (which is quite old at this point) didn’t seem prepared for me to copy an entire extract manually from my writing book onto the computer.

All of my docs are fine, so the next time I plan on putting something from there into one of my posts it should go a lot faster. That’s not what I am going to be doing for today, however. Instead, I’ll be writing about points of view in writing.

This won’t be new information, but as a preface, there are four different POVs: first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.

First person: The main character is the narrator. The pronoun “I” is used.

Second person: The story addresses you, the reader. Likewise, the pronoun “you” is used.

Third person (limited): The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of a character, or maybe that character and a couple more. It acts as an outsider view that retells their experiences. The pronouns “he” or “she” are usually used.

Third person (omniscient): The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of every character in the story. Same pronouns are used, though.

First and third person POVs are the most common in fiction. Second person tends to be difficult to weave into a whole story. Still, each of them have their own advantages.

First person point of view has possibly the most potential to be connected to the character. It is great for inner monologues, because that will come naturally while writing, and it is also great for humour. That, or something with more emotional depth, allowing you to get close to the narrator. While all POVs (except omniscient, which would be difficult unless you restrict it correctly) can work as unreliable narrators, I feel like first person is the best for it, since it gives a lot of room for in-universe reasons that the character might be misleading. A few examples are: the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (along with the other series set in that universe), The Thief, Thick as Thieves, and a bit of A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner, the Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, etc. I’ve used it a couple of times myself, such as in Thief, and of course I’m writing in first person right at this moment.

Once again, the second person point of view can be tricky. I haven’t personally seen it in a lot of places, save for maybe some music or poetry. I think, though, that this POV has a great opportunity to be haunting, or reach the reader in an interesting way. It would probably work best in a short story or, as mentioned before, in music or poetry, instead of in a novel. One example I can think of that is easy to find on the Internet are the reader-insert fanfictions that float around, but as for published stuff: Stolen by Lucy Christopher, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, The Night Circus by Ryan North, etc. These are all novels I found from Google, however, this short post includes a snippet of something I wrote in second person as a bit of a joke.

When it comes to limited third person points of view, it is much less difficult to think of examples than for second person. It can also be said to be closer to a first person style than the omniscient POV. The narrator isn’t a part of the story (at least most of the time, although in some cases the narrator is made into their own character), but can still recount what is going on inside the selected character’s head and “see” what they are doing. I’m not sure how many characters the narrator can have insight for before it is considered to be omniscient, however, it’s safe to say that this POV is very anchored to its protagonist. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, as far as I remember, is limited third person, since it focuses on how Meg Murry is experiencing their adventures. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling includes some chapters featuring a variety of characters’ POVs, but for the most part it, too, sticks with Harry’s own inner monologue. This is the POV I tend to use lately, and the most recent example of that is the “Archers” story, here and here. The character Aylwin is the only one you ever hear from narration wise.

Third person omniscient is like the VIP of points of view, with full access to everything. It will tell you what the protagonist is thinking, what the antagonist is thinking, what the supporting character is thinking, even what that random person on the street is thinking. No one is safe. Depending on the author’s preference, which character is being fully narrated will be divided into chapters, or switch whenever it’s convenient during the story. It definitely allows for more flexibility when it comes to how the writer wants the reader to view events. The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels by Douglas Adams are great examples of this, although I’m sure they used omniscient in their other works as well. These two authors often switch who is in control, and the shift can be extremely quick. In some books it’s more present than in others. Leigh Bardugo, on the other hand, uses omniscient writing in the divided by chapters style, as seen in the Six of Crows duology. I don’t use it enough to have my own examples, though.

Four POVs, but dozens of ways they play out in stories. Each give their own subtle changes to the narrative, so often changing who the point of view is from – or even the style of it – can make it entirely different. In fact, that is said to be a great writing exercise when you’re stuck. I lean more towards third person limited, but anyone else might prefer omniscient, first person, even second person. Maybe a variety of all four.

In the end, the moral of the story is: points of view in literature are a diverse sort of thing, and writing this post with my own laptop back was like a breath of fresh air.