From Fan Fiction to Original Fiction: On Second Person (Excerpt)

Concept cover by Glass Knife Press.

Concept cover by Glass Knife Press.

There’s a lot of advice out there saying not to use second person, ever. Like any absolute rule, it’s wrong.

Decades after reading it, I still remember the chapter about arrest and detention in the first volume of Solzhenitsyn’s GuLAG Archipelago. It’s written in second person, and the effect is to plunge you into a brutal and inescapable situation.

I notice that I switch into second person for scenes of extreme stress and dissociation. No, this is not happening to ‘me’ or ‘him’ or ‘her’ or ‘they’; it’s happening to some unspecified ‘you.’

Interactive fiction uses ‘you’ for the same reason that Solzhenitsyn chose it in his nonfiction narrative; it’s ‘you, yes, you’ who’s in the story.

Does it work? It all depends on the writer’s skill. Just because it’s been done poorly (cheesy ‘choose your adventure’ books or bad role-playing games) doesn’t mean that you should avoid it. For that matter, ‘choose your adventure’ and role-playing games, like any literary form, can be cheesy or transcendent. Dismissing an entire form as crap is as lazy-minded now as it was for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics who ranted about the evils of novel-reading, or (a bit later on) the dissipation of ragtime, movies, jazz, rock-n-roll, selfies, or video games.


Excerpt from forthcoming From Fanfiction to Original Fiction (Vera Rozalsky with E. P. Beaumont)

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2 Responses to From Fan Fiction to Original Fiction: On Second Person (Excerpt)

  1. Yes, I absolutely keep the option to use second person in my memoir writing, especially when I am separating voices; I use it deliberately and in clear knowledge that it could “go bad” but it serves a powerful role. P.S. I cannot WAIT until this book comes out! I have been looking forward to it for years. It will be a real service to fan-fic and other, very serious, writers.

  2. bastienz says:

    Reblogged this on bizartre and commented:
    I love it when the norms are shattered — they are there to instigate resistance! Great content as always 😀

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