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Notes, tutorials, exercises, thoughts, workshops and resources about writing or storytelling art

Types of Narrators (5): The Second-Person Narrator

TThe second-person narrator, though not very common, is present in literature and media. For example, the posts I publish online are directed at my readers. This is why I resort to the second-person narrator.

Types of Narrator

This type of narrator is also typical of the epistolary form; in fact, many novels contain letters or emails the characters send to each other. Nevertheless, the addressee of the second-person narrations I want to analyze in this section are not characters, but the readers themselves.

For instance, in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, the second-person narrator acts as the master in a role-playing game attempting to get the reader to identify with the main character. A much more recent example is Paul Auster’s Winter Journal. This fictionalized autobiography is written in the second person as a way of putting the reader in the writer’s shoes. Through this technique, the author wants to show the emotions and experiences he has gathered throughout his life could be those of any other person in the world. The opening line of the book is a clear declaration of intent:

“You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you in the same way they happen to everyone else.”

After this introduction to the second-person narrator, here is a list of his main features:

1. The reader is the protagonist.

The narrator has to make the reader feel that he (or she) has become the story’s main character.

2. The narrator describes and senses.

This type of narrator must show deep psychological insight. Like a good role-playing game master, he has to describe in detail what happens in the story so the reader can visualize himself right in the middle of the action. Furthermore, he must anticipate the reader’s reactions, emotions, and thoughts in order to avoid discord. Your second-person narrator can write “now you’re feeling excited,” but that will be of little use if the story’s events leave the reader indifferent.

3. The setting is very important.

The setting is fundamental to engaging your reader’s interest and making him read your story as if he were part of it. Your story’s atmosphere will have to be powerful enough to hook your reader.

4. The story is written in present tense.

When your potential reader is the story’s protagonist, you must address him in present tense as if you were writing a script. After all, the reader is the actor who plays the role you have chosen for him.

Anyway, think twice before starting to write a second-person narration. It’s not an easy task, and if you don’t do it well, the story will be confusing for the reader. Unless your story requires it, I recommend you to select first-person or third-person narrators.

If you feel like trying out this type of narrator despite the difficulties, I recommend you read some books where this technique is used so that you can discover the pros and cons. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Winter Journal are a very good place to start.

Related Posts:

The Narrator and The Point of View in Storytelling
How to Write a Book: The Importance of Secondary Characters
How to Choose the Setting of Your Story

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