Cover of The Fall by Albert Camus

You and the Story

‘Second-person narration, in which the author uses the pronoun ‘you’ to seemingly address the reader and draw them into the story, can be a bit of a high-wire balancing act. Or, to apply an analogy more suited to my West Coast background (I’ve never tried any circus stunts, let alone a high-wire act), writing in second person is like attempting an audacious snowboarding trick. If you pull it off, for the audience it’s breathtaking and exhilarating. If you get some wobbles, become disorientated and lose control, there’s the risk of an embarrassing fail, with melodramatic results: tumbling and flopping, flailing all over the place, leaving a chaotic mess behind you on the slope (or on the page). For that reason, fledgling riders should best avoid trying such stunts, just as fledging writers are often advised against using second person. At least, that’s traditionally been one of the standard (and overused) ‘rules’ of Creative Writing programmes, along with other gold-minted mantras like ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘write what you know’. I’m one of the culprits: I can recall instances of guiding students away from writing in second person. But rules, as we all know, are made to be broken.’

Tyler Keevil takes us through the technique of second-person narration in this blog post from Bookanista, in which we meet Albert Camus, Mohsin Hamid and Italo Calvino.

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