Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Oddity of a Second-Person Narrative

You write a story in second person, and you think you will have your audience experiencing all that you desire, bending to your every whim, tripping old folks on the subway, eating aged Gouda and drinking three martinis without ever feeling a buzz.  You direct your character to enter a house, which you don't explain is that of his ex-wife, and you don't tell him that she will soon chase him around with a meat cleaver and demand child support because otherwise, why would he have entered the house in the first place?

Your reader is pissed that you are making him do such horrific things.  The Gouda was bad, his stomach hurts, he has a fresh cleaver wound two inches above his navel, and now an outrageous sum of overdue child support is being taken from his Starbucks paycheck.

You tell your reader that it's too tempting to not give his customer 2% milk in her "skinny" latte because it's already steamed, and she'll never know the difference, right? But she does know. She is a regular customer and her eyes narrow as she rolls the slightly-too-thick liquid around in her mouth before spitting it out in your character's face, and he's angry at you again.

He thinks he won't read any more, but you tell him that things are about to turn around in his life. You tell him that he had a bad childhood, and this is his reasoning for tripping old folks, for slighting his barista oath to give the customer what she wants.  You tell him that once he begins therapy, everything will be better--life will blossom and he will find love, find himself, find purpose.

But, you can't think of a good ending, one that won't seem contrived, so you have him show up to the psychiatrist's office late.  A prescription drug salesman is just leaving, having left pamphlets for the newest, greatest anti-depressant on the market.  It is the one that the FDA got a big payoff to fast-track to this very office, and the payoffs have trickled down to the new psychiatrist, who presses it on your poor reader's character.  You tell him to take the pill, to see what happens.  And, because he's at your whim, he wants to see what happens, he does.  He takes the pill and, you decide, he becomes addicted.  After seeing three women with boob scarves on, he quits his job and takes up the medication full-time.  When the stuff shows up in advertisements for lawyers offices, as an opportunity for group lawsuits, he begins to feel tight pains in his stomach that double him over in front of the TV.

The drugs make him feel better, you decide, and so you have him take more.  His head spins with the possibility that he will ultimately be happy, if only he can get off these drugs, get his life back.  His cleaver wound throbs, but he can't afford to go to the ER because his money is all spent and even if it weren't, his prescription is running low, and any money he would inevitably go to refilling it.

You decide that the drug is now illegal, and your character is forced to live on the streets.  He must sell his body to get a fix, and some of the elderly people he so loved to trip on the subway drop coins into his hand when he asks them for spare change.  You tell him to think about his situation, how it all came to this, and then you leave him.  You think his story is over because it's come around full-circle.  But you forget that he never reconciled his past, he never found awakening, and so you tell him to get clean, to give back, but then your ending is too sappy, and you can't stop there.  You tell him to seek revenge on his ex, that her mark on his gut cannot go unanswered, and so, you have him kill her.  He is not caught, and you decide that he must pay.

You allow that the court system placed his six children, who to this point have not seen ink or page, back into his care.  They are bad kids.  He is a good father.  He is miserable, and yet, he has purpose.  You end the story during a highly symbolic parental moment that reminds him of his own childhood, and you end with this image because you are tired of your character.  Does this mean you are tired of your reader?  Perhaps you should revise.


  1. You should always write about writing in 2nd person.

  2. Jen, your writing is gorgeous. But that pic was a hoot. I was cleaning up the blogs I follow when I saw it and said... what the... and so here I am to find out it is YOU! LOL. I love it!

  3. That was an amazing post. Indeed fun to read, though some really valid points here.

  4. Great post... I never work in second person but you seem to have it down! :)


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