Those of us who write fiction or poetry often struggle in choosing the most appropriate person for our narrator. I chose the first person when I began the initial draft of my first novel. A few years later, when the first draft was all but completed, an agent at a writer’s conference told me that agents and publishers no longer wanted first person, that I would get nowhere with it. Being a naive newbie, I spent a year or more changing it to third person, and then began the arduous task of submission. The feedback I got with my many rejection slips was that the protagonist lacked feeling, was not sympathetic. One morning I woke up with the keen realization that I needed to change it back to first person in order to allow the reader a more intimate and emotional connection with my protagonist. So, one again, I revised. These shifts of person probably cost me three years…perhaps more, because in the meantime I put it aside and wrote another novel in first draft.
My story is to remind us all of the importance of making a careful choice when it comes to first, second or third person. As you know, second person point of view uses the pronoun “you” and its variants to address the protagonist, the reader or a specific person or object. First person point of view allows intimate insight into the mind and emotion of the protagonist but limits the same for secondary and minor characters. It also confines the writer to a specific time and place. Third person, on the other hand, presents the story from the writer’s point of view, allowing her or him to comment on the story and giving omniscience into all the players. A downside is that it restrains the reader from a deeper emotional connection with the protagonist whose reactions always seem just a bit beyond our reach
As for second person point of view in fiction, there are authors such as William Faulkner who may include short sections or chapters in the second person, but I can’t remember reading an entire novel in this voice, although I suspect it has been done. A few years back, an MFA student in my writing critique group wrote quite effective short stories in the second person. Her stories gave me the impression, as expected, that she was speaking directly to me and, at times, instructing me.
It is less rare to encounter poetry in the second person. As poets, we love to address our “audience,” celebrity figures, other poets or teachers who have an influence on us, people we love (or hate), God, mythological figures, people from our past. Consider this poem by the well-known 17th Century poet, Robert Herrick.
TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
– Robert Herrick
The poem is written in the imperative form, instructive to the reader or listener. I read it recently under the title “To Young Virgins,” which gives a sense of his intended audience, though his underlying message applies to everyone, reminding us that time passes quickly. Another example, this one by Walt Whitman, addresses a city.
CITY OF ORGIES
CITY of my walks and joys!
City whom that I have lived and sung there will one day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you–not your shifting tableaux, your spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships at the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learn’d persons, or bear my share in the soiree or feast;
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own–these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.
– Walt Whitman (from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, it became City of Orgies in the 1867 edition)
And so, for March’s prompt, I invite you to write a poem, flash fiction or even a paragraph in the second person. Many of you do this routinely, so I challenge (not confine) you to a more specific prompt. Consider addressing: • Your favorite poet, one who has influenced your own writing; • A celebrity you would invite to dinner if you had a choice; • An inanimate object; • An entity such as time, a holiday, an event from history; • Rewriting one of your own poems from 1st or 3rd person into second. If you would like to participate in the community opportunity: • Write your poem or prose and post it on your blog or website; • Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and add your name and the direct URL to your submission; • Enjoy your time writing and reading poetry. I will look forward to reading those who drop by. And if you would rather not be a part of the public forum, I hope you’ll try anyway. This is not a contest; it’s only to tickle your muse!
Please share YOUR work in response to the prompt by clicking on the Mister Linky sign (below in green) and then enter your name and paste in the URL to your post. Victoria will visit and comment and so will Jamie Dedes. We hope you’ll also visit one another to read, comment and encourage. Thank you!
VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page. Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done. Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October.