Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 18, 2011 - 10:13pm

So I'm trying to write something for a contest that's got an ASAP sorta deadline. Just getting started and I've hit a roadblock and need some quick feedback on a problem.

Starts off with some second-person very sensory description, then I want to go into first-person narrative (both perspectives describe the narrator.) The second-person bits sort of describe the effects of a sorta drug that the narrator is going through, so 2nd is to give it more of an objective weight. I know a lot of people hate 2nd in general, but that aside, do you think this would be too jarring or hokey?

BenevolentForce's picture
BenevolentForce from Los Angeles is reading 1Q84 October 18, 2011 - 11:16pm

So... boiled down (in present tense):

You aren't the kind of girl to sweat through a blouse for no reason, but here you are.  I use the margins of my math book as an opportunity to provide myself with a play-by-play. 

Thinking it out in these terms, I say go for it.  You may want to style the two narratives differently to cue the reader.  However, I really like the idea of using this technique it to reflect on a sorta-drug experience - especially since when one is on drugs, one's perception of self can change quickly. 

 

Kate Winters's picture
Kate Winters from Toronto is reading James Rollins' Sigma Force series October 18, 2011 - 11:19pm

I guess second person POV is kinda like flashbacks, use with caution, but if used effectively, can make a piece of writing sparkle. If you are convinced that it's going to help with the sensory description, then I say go for it. I can see how it would make it almost "Requiem for the dream" trippy. :)

Dr. Gonzo's picture
Dr. Gonzo from Manchester, UK is reading Blood Meridian October 18, 2011 - 11:32pm

Sorry, Renfield, this isn't constructive.  It's a no-answer.  This kinda thing depends on the quality of the work.  It could be hokey and jarring.  It could be beautiful and engaging.  Second person can be good.  I like the way Chuck does it, with the first person narrator speaking in second person.  How are you doing it?  Are you separating the shifts with scene breaks or are you just going from one to the other?  If so, could you use a word or phrase or something to help the tansition?  Plant it early and use it later to help the jump make sense.  Example, and this is off the top of my head, so no judging, you bearded wonder.

"The brain stays active for about twenty minutes after death, but you never really thought about it.  Like the time your teacher said ... [insert some weird story about detention with your teacher and she's tap tap tapping her pencil, and the light fades outside, and the hallway lights blink on and off, and time stretches out, and the classroom is small and you can't breathe] ... and eventually she let you go and when you got outside you looked at your Thundercats watch and couldn't believe she'd only kept you for ten minutes.  Ten minutes in isolation can feel like forever, so I don't know how long these twenty minutes will last and..."

Okay, that's fucked.  Too early, too much coffee, not enough beard.
 

Ben's picture
Ben from Australia is reading My Booky Wook by Russell Brand October 18, 2011 - 11:37pm

I like using second person to mix things up a bit.  It helps submerge the "I", and for me, I think it feels like you're talking to the reader directly.  So, for things like sensory details, you're almost intructing them how to feel (although "instruct" is probably too strong a word - "firmly guiding" might be a better way to put it... Anyway, you get the point).  I regularly swap throughout my prose and don't find it jarring, but I do tend to use second person sparingly.  However, I've tried starting my novel in second person, and use it for the intro, as a means of attempting to immerse the reader in the story more quickly - and I think it achieves that purpose very well.  I was using flashbacks anyway, so I just took advantage of that to get out of it:

"Rewind.  Go back a few minutes, back to when you were me..."  And from there, I switch back to first person.  I haven't submitted that to workshop yet so I don't know how people will feel about it, but I'm happy with it and I think it works.

So, overall, my advice is to go with it.  Best of luck.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 18, 2011 - 11:58pm

Thanks guys, I think I'm going to steal a piece of advice from everyone, maybe do italics and reiterate the last line of 2nd perspective when transitioning to 1st, and if that doesn't work just search and replace and see how it works in 1st. I agree, 2nd person is a good way to dominate your reader, which is why I'd thought it would work well with the super sensory descriptive scenes, which I kind of don't like sometimes when reading in the 1st person. This is sort of the structure I've got going (but with a cooler story):

'Your skin is engulfed in flames, your ears burst with the grating din of your own shrieks. Light floods your eyes, you're in a white cloud, filled with white people in white smocks.

I was born on a Tuesday...'

or something.

BenevolentForce's picture
BenevolentForce from Los Angeles is reading 1Q84 October 19, 2011 - 5:50pm

I'd love to see how it turns out if you're up for sharing.  Good luck!

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 22, 2011 - 3:35am

When I am writing for publication, I follow the general principal that second person POV has dangers that are not encountered elsewhere. For a self-referential writer like Jay McInerney, who was an expert on spending his life drugged up in NYC, writing as the expert telling you what YOU will experience if you follow in his footsteps worked ONCE. Because it worked once, and briefly went to the top of the NY Times best seller list, writers at different schools of writing in NY universities jumped on the bandwagon and tried to make it their god du jour. This was back in the 80s when it was novel. Now it is old and hoary...like the writer himself who is no longer a thirty-something guru. It is easier to write because you set yourself up as the center of the universe and a cause celebre. Tell me, what else has he written that was successful either as literature or as a publisher's dream? Putting the reader in the middle of the scene is, to me, far easier than convincing her to jump into it of her own volition. Easy isn't what I am about. Anything obtained without effort, to me, isn't worth having...or selling.

My own preference is to write what I hope is a convincing story in  first or third person POV and allow the reader to decide for herself where to invest her emotional capital.

To me, everything I write from a story to a post on a website to a grocery list is practice for "real" writing. To me, real writing is that which someone will pay to publish. I know that most of what I write will not be published, however, if it polishes a skill I need for the next piece, the time spent and effort expended is worth it. If it is simply an ego trip, I have had enough ego satisfactions in my life to be able to say, "N'est pas por moi."

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 22, 2011 - 4:18am

Putting the reader in the middle of the scene is, to me, far easier than convincing her to jump into it of her own volition. Easy isn't what I am about. Anything obtained without effort, to me, isn't worth having...or selling.

Which part is easy?

Why not write a convincing 2nd person story if you can do it convincingly? Why give a reader so much power as to allow themselves to be invested, if they can spare a passing thought at your work, when you can make them emotionally invested? And that applies to all narrative modes. If a reader literally could not look away from my story until they finished it, I would be quite happy.

I'd love to get paid, in this particular case the risk of being boring and conventional outways the risk of alienating my audience, so it's an educated gamble to put me above however many other people involved in a genre writing contest.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 22, 2011 - 5:04am

the thing with 2nd person is that the meaning of "you' has changed (not sure when). It's not just referring to the reader directly, it also means "one" in a general sense. I've heard a lot of interviews where people refer to their own experience by using it. "How do you live with all this attention?" "You just take it one day at a time..."

I think this makes 2nd person more wieldy.

the italics is a good device to differentiate between the 1st and 2nd.

do it, do it right.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 22, 2011 - 6:41am

the thing with 2nd person is that the meaning of "you' has changed (not sure when). It's not just referring to the reader directly, it also means "one" in a general sense. I've heard a lot of interviews where people refer to their own experience by using it. "How do you live with all this attention?" "You just take it one day at a time..."

I believe Palahniuk talks about this in his essay, I think on Head & Heart authority. In Cormac McCarthy's Suttree he uses 2nd person for these nice passages of rhetoric, a good example of giving Head. In Clevenger's Dermaphoria he uses 2nd person within the larger 1st person narration to describe the main's love interest, a very endearing use inflicting the reader with powerful emotions in a seemingly subtle way. So it can direct and dominating, but it's also sort of like whispered secrets between writer and reader and very intimate.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 22, 2011 - 6:55am

@Renfield - eloquetly put - I read the Head & Heart essay but don't recall the details. I'll have to revisit it.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 22, 2011 - 6:59am

It might have been in the Q&A relating to that article, but I remember him mentioning 2nd person in that regard.