Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

Write: Playing With Second Person

with 2 comments

If you like to write and you’re online at all, chances are that you belong to a microblogging service called Twitter. Twitter has a huge writing community, most probably because writers are often by nature physically isolated. Twitter has a whole variety of “Live Chats” allowing writers and readers to chat about things of mutual interest. Most live chats have an associated blog, and many post transcripts of the chats. The one I’m having the most fun with at the moment is called #Story Craft because it has (besides interesting participants) that little bit extra: the storycraft challenge. Something the participants can do in the week between chats.

This week’s Storycraft Challenge was particularly interesting to me because it had to do with a narrative voice I was previously unaware of, one called “Second Person”. Since a few of my beta readers started out telling me how much they disliked first person narratives, but went on to be surprised at the fact that my “first person various” narrative voice actually worked, I couldn’t resit giving the exercise a try.

So here it is, an excerpt from “Inconstant Moon” that isn’t really. First person converted to second person. I’m not quite sure if it works.

” You will leave, so let yourself out the back door into the service hall and lock the deadbolt behind you. Walking toward the back entrance. Don’t worry about the fact the store was so quiet tonight.  Listen to your heels echoing eerily on the tiles as you pass the trash compactor they keep for cardboard and packing. Be thankful the garbage in this wing is just paper and dust. You know how much it reeks in the cafeteria’s back hall.

Wait, didn’t you realize that the reason the store was so quiet tonight was because of the attack? That’s why you haven’t seen a lone woman walking anywhere all day. Only you you bimbo. There it is, right in front of you: the exit door.

Thats right, it’s the door that opens out into the faculty parking lot. Push it open and take a good look, girl. The EMPTY faculty parking lot. Are you out of your fucking mind? You aren’t really going out there. By yourself. Are you?

Of course it’s empty at this time of night silly. All the faculty are home in bed or out carousing. And you can even probably guess which are which. But none of them are out there. Just the odd oil stain for company, girl. Oh yeah, and those lovely bushes on the side. Trees.   Trees are not your friends here girl. Clearly they are your enemy. They’ve increased the danger a thousand times. They’ve made the lights almost useless because the heavy foliage hasn’t fallen from the trees yet.

Maybe it wasn’t a big deal when the trees were twigs, but now they are all as tall or taller than the light standards. Are you scared yet? You should be.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the shadows. Great dark expanses you could easily hide a dozen Jason the Rippers in. Shadows, Lots of shadows. Of course you don’t need a dozen. One bastard predator is all it takes. And you’re fucked. But not in a good way.

So is that why you’re standing there like a lump? Staring at an oil slick and s bunch of litter.

What happened to the brave girl. The self assured one. The fearless writer of iron principles. You’re just a wretched little mouse after all, aren’t you girl. No guts, eh?

Legs of Jello. Don’t be a wimp.

Don’t you want to step out there? Score one for our side. No? Uh uh.

Maybe you know that if this was a movie you’d be yelling ‘Go back you idiot!’

But it isn’t a damn movie. There is no music to warn you that Jason is just through that door. Scary music, go back. Happy music, take the usual route.

Stay on the Road. Keep clear of the moors. Moors. Wait a minute you goof. This is Ontario, there are no moors. Where did that come from? Oh, right… American Werewolf in London. God, your mother was right. You watched too many horror movies when you were a kid.

Don’t you know that it doesn’t matter? It doesn’t matter if you’re oblivious. It makes no difference if you’re scared half to death. Because you know damn well that he’s out there waiting for you Or he’s not.

The only way to find out is to step through that door. “


It seems to me that it came out funnier than suspenseful. This is not how it will appear in the book (yes, I’m still messing with it… polishing it, making a reproof.) Definitely a narrative voice to keep in mind for the future though.

And now it’s time to head on over to #Storychat — maybe I’ll see you around.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

August 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

2 Responses

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  1. This is an interesting experiment because what you’ve actually done here isn’t second person, which should still be present tense, by using the near future, you’ve actually put it into the imperative mood (which uses the second person construction, usually.) What you’ve now got is the narrator instructing the protagonist, almost as another character, which is interesting in itself.

    For example second person would be “You let yourself out the back door, into the service hall and lock the deadbolt behind you. Walking toward the back entrance, you try not to worry about the fact the store was so quiet tonight. Your heels echo…” See how that’s present tense and almost as immediate as first person (possibly more if the reader buys into it)?

    Your offspring is right, though, it is the perspective used in gaming but, again, present tense for the immediacy.

    I can see that you really struggled with the parts which, in first person, would have been your character talking to her/himself – very interesting to try to think of how to deal with this in actual second person, you may have to just delete them entirely. That’s the beauty of the different narrative perspectives, some scenes, thoughts etc… simply can’t be used depending on your choice.

    You certainly succeeded when it comes to the point of the challenge, which was to get us to think more originally and your imperative mood piece is even more interesting/original than second person would have been!

    Danielle

    August 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    • Drat. I was afraid I might have missed the boat. (And I must confess I started having fun with the narrator.)

      Does anyone know of any other books written in second person beside Bright Lights Big City? I saw the movie back in the day, but have never read the book. I’m more likely to get a new idea from reading examples.

      It was fun, and it made me think (always bonus).

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      August 8, 2010 at 8:17 pm


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