Fourth Walls and Second Person

Alt Title: how to make Erin cry while reading your works

You’re reading the blog post titled “Fourth Walls and Second Person”. It takes you a minute to process it, to distill it down to something manageable–you click the title in your reader to see it better. And. Yes. Now you can see it and read it and…

What’s second person? You understand Fourth Wall well enough, or at least Urban Dictionary does and explains it with minimal sarcasm, but this second person? Is someone watching you?

You look over your shoulder and I just have to say that’s a little silly. We all know second person is the nonexistent tense–or so English teachers have you believe–where “you” are the perspective from which the story is written. No one is watching you.

Do you understand?

You suppose you do. You continue reading.

Did you like that introduction? That was my sad attempt at integrating the title in a cunning and interesting fashion into the post. I hope it worked.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about fourth walls and second person lately. Mostly it comes from reading fanfiction and having my heart torn out over and over again. Sure I get a little teary-eyed from time to time, but the last few I had read really made me consider boycotting fanfiction for life (or at least until the weekend).

Then I realized why I was losing my head over these stories. While they were well-written, there was something that dug so much deeper than what I was used to. There was something that just skipped all the callous layers of jaded sarcasm I tend to cocoon myself in. The stories were written in second person.

Now, I know it’s not odd that they were–it’s always been used, especially, and trust me on this, in fanfiction–but I just always kind of demeaned it. I mean, my english teacher always expounded on how it was bad writing. No major best seller was written in second person. But, if it’s so silly as everything had me believing, why did it hit me so hard?

Second person has the magical property of tossing you headlong into the character. While First Person can get you geared up well enough, you’re privy to every thought and stray emotion, second person forces you inside. You bypass the author entirely and it’s you watching your world fall apart or get built up or continue on as if you weren’t standing on it. It’s you inside that character, feeling every inch of scar tissue and feeble quivering muscle of every smile, and there’s no author guiding you along.

Because it’s “you”.

In regards to the fourth wall, it’s broken in reverse with second person. Rather then the character acknowledging the author is writing them, you just break that fourth wall and step inside.

While I would never suggest writing a novel in second person, I definitely think it’s something to be considered for shorter works. Also, if you ever plan to make me cry, go on ahead and send me some second person sadfic. I will cry like a blubbering baby seal (supposing seals can cry, which I don’t know).

What techniques do you guys think hit hard in writing? Certain words? Themes? Relationship types? Let me know in the comments!

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