Point of View: Second Person

My "Office"

My “Office”

The most common points of view that writers use in fiction are first person and third person omniscient.  Third person POV is especially versatile and gives the writer a lot of room to maneuver.  I used third person in Perceval’s Secret but with a close focus in on three different characters: Evan Quinn the protagonist (spent the most time with him), Chief Inspector Klaus Leiner of the Vienna City Police, and Bernard Brown the Deputy Cultural Attache (and CIA operative) at the American Embassy in Vienna, Austria.  With this POV, I could dip into each character’s mind when I needed to or step back and look at the big picture.

First person POV is quite restricted.  When a writer chooses this POV, she can only write what the “I” character sees, hears, and experiences, and what that character already knows or learns.  There is no opportunity to explore the minds of other characters, or give the reader information that the POV character doesn’t have.  This POV can be extremely effective in suspense novels, however, and it is often found in mysteries.

The second person POV is far, far less common and can be really tricky to pull off

Book Cover

Book Cover

well.  Probably the most famous novel written in second person is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984).  Here’s the beginning of the first paragraph of that novel:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.

This is a pure second person POV. It feels like the author is addressing the reader, putting the reader directly into the novel and the story whether the reader wants to be there or not. At the time that McInerney’s novel was first published, it caused quite a stir because of the POV.  He maintains it through the entire book.  It begins to wear on a reader.  After a while, it’s “you, you, you.”  So how to write a second person POV story without irritating the reader?

Book Cover

Book Cover

Charles Stross, in his novel Halting State (2007), handles the second person POV with style and brilliance.  I highly recommend this book for many reasons, but especially as a story told in second person POV that’s highly successful.  So how did he do it?

First of all, he doesn’t overuse the pronoun “you.”  In fact, once he establishes which character is the “you” character in the chapter, he backs off of the pronoun, using it sparsely.  The reader is deep into the character’s mind, so the “you” isn’t needed very much.

Second, Stross titles each chapter and includes the name of the POV character in the title. This insures that the reader will not become confused.  Why?

Third, Stross doesn’t limit himself to only one character as his second POV, no.  He has three characters that he moves among to give the reader different experiences of the same story.  I found this to be absolute amazing. It also heightened the suspense similar to the way first person does.  So, he uses the limitations of the second person to great advantage.

Here’s a little taste, the beginning of the first chapter entitled “SUE: Grand Theft Automatic”:

It’s a grade four, dammit.  Maybe it should have been a three, but the dispatcher bumped it way down the greasy pole because it was phoned in as a one and the MOP who’d reported the offence had sounded either demented, or on drugs, or something — but definitely not one hundred per cent in touch with reality.

Not a “you” in sight!  The first time one appears is a “your” at the end of the third paragraph.  This is the work of a master….


Contest for FREE Book!

How good are your eyes?


There is an element in the Perceval’s Secret cover photo that appears not to belong.  Can you find it?  Look closely…..

If you think you’ve found it, send me a note at percevalbooks(at)gmail.com identifying/describing the element and its location on the cover.

The first twenty-five people who identify the element correctly will receive a FREE copy of Perceval’s Secret in the e-book format of their choosing (Kindle or Nook).  Then I will announce the winners here.

Have you found it yet?

Check at The Perceval Novels public Facebook page for hints.

Remember, you must send me a note at percevalbooks(at)gmail.com.  Any other communication will not be eligible to win.

Good luck, everyone!


Night Angles…!


I think this would make an interesting book cover!

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Photo courtesy usconcealedcarry.com

Photo courtesy usconcealedcarry.com

Your main character faces a life or death situation — he’s been grievously wounded and must find help or she needs to elude an assassin — how do you know what your character is thinking and feeling?  Especially if you’ve never been in a life or death situation yourself.  I’ve seen some very melodramatic answers to this question in literature and movies.  In truth, when survival is threatened, certain things happen that affect how your character will think and feel.

Humans are wired to survive.  It is a primal instinct that will focus the mind like a laser.  All the senses sharpen.  The threatened person assesses the threat in order to take the action that will most likely insure survival.  I believe people who deal with chronic illness, who must spend more time in a hospital than they’d like, and who are forced to deal with the medical community and insurance companies, often deal with life itself in a survival mode.  So, if your character has a chronic illness that he or she must deal with daily, keep in mind that your character won’t be reacting to life in the same way a healthy character would.

When your character is threatened with death, the first thing that happens is fear.  It’s very rare for someone to face a dire threat without fear.  Fear is a normal emotional response to any kind of threat and is part of our signalling system that tells us that the threat is real.

Fear triggers physiological changes.  The first thing that happens is an increase in cortisol and adrenalin levels in your character’s blood stream.  They cause the heart to beat faster and respiration to increase.  They also will cause the entire body to go into survival mode, so all non-essential processes will go on hold until after the threat is gone.  Adrenalin often feels like a tingling throughout the body.

Fight Or Flight UncertaintyYour character now enters the fight or flight response.  Part of this response is the laser-like focus on the present and immediate surroundings I described earlier.  Now, your character’s personality will influence his choice.  If he’s an aggressive personality, perhaps he’d more likely fight than find a way to escape.  Or if your character is passive and you want to force him into a defensive stance, he may react very differently.  If there are other people present for whom he’s responsible, that adds another layer of pressure and stress.  Will he defend and protect them?  Will they join the fight?  Or will they find an escape while he’s fighting?  Threatening situations reveal character.

What’s your threatened character thinking?  First of all, she’ll be assessing the threat, then assessing flight or fight.  It happens very fast, almost instantaneously, this thought process.  When writing it, short sentences will give the feeling of the high speed of the thoughts.  In fact, long sentences will slow down the pace of the scene and you want it to be faster.  Your character’s mind will be focused totally on the threat and how to neutralize it or get away from it.  If you decide to have your character fight, she’ll be looking for her opponent’s weaknesses or looking for weapons.

Remember, too, that after the threat is gone and your character is safe, there is a residual reaction, especially physiologically from the cortisol and adrenalin.  It’s often called the “adrenalin crash” and it begins with full-body trembling.  It’s possible for your character to faint, especially if he doesn’t sit down and breathe deeply with his head between his knees.  EMTs and medical personnel working in emergency rooms are very familiar with the adrenalin crash — they can experience it after a particularly challenging emergency.

As an example, I recently faced a life-threatening situation: major abdominal surgery.  Surgeons take great care to reassure their patients that all will go well in the operating room, but the bottom line is that anything can happen.  I trust my surgeon to take care of me.  But I still was nervous during the pre-op preparations.  My mind was very focused on my immediate environment, the people around me, and the procedures.  Happily, the surgery was a success, but my survival response continued during my post-op hospital stay and my first month at home.  I was very much in survival mode.  Not much other activity got done.

I was thinking, however, about survival…..



They’re Back!

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

September has arrived and with it a new concert season for the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have begun with a jaw-dropping, sold-out gala concert last night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis.  Unfortunately, because I am still recovering from major surgery, I was unable to attend.  However, thanks to Classical MPR, I was able to “attend” by listening to the radio broadcast.

Soprano Renee Fleming was the guest soloist, and she has a voice that can make me cry as well as stun and amaze.  (She sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl last year.)  Her breath and pitch control made for some of the most beautiful moments in the concert.  She began with a new work, a song cycle, written specifically for her by a Swedish composer named Anders Hillborg.  He set poems by Paul Strand to astonishing music that reminded me a lot of game music — evocative, expansive with open intervals as well as strings sounding like insect wings rubbing together — and Ms. Fleming’s voice pierced through it, floated above, and fleshed it out.  What a journey.  I really want to hear this work again and again.  This performance was only its second.  Will Ms. Fleming record it?  I hope so.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Renee Fleming with Minnesota Orchestra (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

Next up for Ms. Fleming were two opera arias, one extremely famous and the second not.  The first was Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi.  The second aria Ms. Fleming described as “Carmen on steroids,”  “Ier della fabrica a Triana” from Riccardo Zandonai’s Conchita.  She followed the arias with three songs by Leonard Bernstein — two from West Side Story and one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  For me, these songs were the least successful of the evening.  Ms. Fleming’s voice was a bit too heavy, and her technique too operatic.  But she made me cry during “Somewhere.”  And the tears continued when she told the audience that she would sing “Take care of this House” in honor of all of us who treasure our Minnesota Orchestra and worked so hard to save it.

Osmo Vanska conducted the Orchestra last night and chose the Overture to Maskarade by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.  Between the Hillborg and the opera arias, Vanska and the Orchestra continued the opera theme of the evening with the sweet, peaceful Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana,” and the powerful, dramatic Overture to Verdi’s “La forza del destino.”  While I totally enjoyed these opera selections, I craved more symphonic music that would spotlight the Minnesota Orchestra.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Osmo Vanska conducting the MN Orchestra at Gala Concert (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

It came in the final work on the program: Ottorino Resphigi’s The Pines of Rome.  Ah, the precise ensemble playing, the discipline, the true ppp and the controlled fffs.  I felt like I had arrived home to the most beautiful, most familiar and beloved voice there is.  This Orchestra remains at a high level of artistic excellence that I’m certain Osmo will hone until it has reached a height far above where it was before the lockout.  We are in for a truly wonderful 2014-15 classical music season with the Minnesota Orchestra.

I was sorry not to be able to attend the concert last evening, but my surgery was far more extensive than any of us had anticipated (even the surgeon), and my recovery has suffered one major setback, slowing it to slower than a snail’s pace.  I am inching back to my former writing schedule, starting here.  As I haven’t written about the MN Orchestra for a long time,  I thought it would be fun to return with it — we are both returning to our “normal” lives…..