Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Experimenting with POVs ~ SHORT STORY EXCERPT

I read a book recently that switched between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, and I was captivated by the 2nd person narrative. I'd never read fiction written in the 2nd person before (and then in another book I've read recently, Stolen, I felt as though it was in 2nd person since the character is addressing someone by "you" the whole time--but really it was in 1st person).

Anyway, inspired by what I'd read, yesterday I was bored at work and started writing a short story using the 2nd person just to experiment with the style. I wrote a bit more when I got home ... voila.

(I'm not really sure what I think about it yet. I think the question of appropriate POV depends on the story itself--3rd is more detached and allows for a subtlety that 1st doesn't, and can give a sort of dramatic irony at times that is difficult with the 1st person narrative. But 1st has its advantages too, and can feel more intimate and personal. To me, 2nd person feels very hypothetical, and I am liking that. It's personal yet at arm's length simultaneously.) 

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

Imagine you’re sitting on your bed in a two room cabin in the woods. It’s late, not too late, but late enough that it’s dark outside and shadowy inside. There’s one lamp glowing by your bed, and you’re reading some paperback from the airport you had a layover in yesterday. You’re sleepy, kind of hungry, and ever so slightly pissed off because this stupid cabin doesn’t have hot water, and what kind of vacation doesn’t include a steaming shower or bath at the end of the day?

But you’re overall glad to be here, in the middle of Nowhere Mountains of USA, and you’re trying to read and ignore the bellowing of frogs outside your window.

You were watching TV while your parents drove to the grocery store at the bottom of the mountain, but there was a news bulletin about a bank robbery or escaped convicts or something, and you got scared and turned it off. Now you’re skimming this boring book and trying to keep your mind off of all the things that could go bump in the night out there.

You realize something isn’t right and you look up from the page, but it takes you a second to pinpoint what has tripped your subconscious radar. What has made you pause.

You figure out what it is—the frogs have gone deathly silent—just before someone kicks in the back door.

BAM. Splintering sounds. Crashing. It’s the most terrifying noise you’ve ever heard. You know immediately. You know. Somebody is breaking into this cabin and you’re here all alone and they are going to probably kill you.

Of course, you panic. You’re seventeen and in high school. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know self defense. Adrenaline shafts you in the heart, pushes you off the bed. Your hands are shaking and your vision is blurry because you can’t breathe right and you’re trying to be quiet. You run towards your window because the only thought in your head is ESCAPE.

The window doesn’t have a latch. It’s one of those ones that isn’t made to open. You hit it with the heels of your hands, and that hurts like fire. The window makes this awful shuddering sound, but the glass doesn’t break.

You start crying, the sobs are crawling out of your throat around the tightness squeezing your breath away.  You kick the glass so hard you fall on the bed. When you push yourself up, somebody’s in the doorway.

Everything slows down and becomes painfully distinct. The man is a dark, ugly shape, foreign and wrong like a spider in the shower or a roach in the closet. He’s blocking the other room, and behind him you can barely hear the shatter of things falling in the kitchen over the roaring of blood in your ears.     

He’s looking at you, and you’re looking at him. You drop your hands to your sides. Your mind jumps ahead to the part where they kill you. You hope they’ll do it quick. But then you stop thinking that because you aren’t going to give up yet.

He says something to you but you can’t understand him. Your brain has stopped processing language. You back up. You’re cornered. There’s no door out except the one he’s standing in and you can’t run through the walls. You reach behind yourself and grab anything—a hairbrush. It’s the most worthless weapon in the world, but you clutch it to your chest like it’s a knife. You’re thinking WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE? Except you don’t get signal up here anyway and besides it’s probably in the front room where the other people are. You are shaking so bad you almost drop the hairbrush.  You feel like you can’t breathe.

The guy walks into the room until his legs hit the side of your bed. He stretches out his hand. His mouth moves.

You scream something at him. Maybe it isn’t even words. Maybe you said dontyoutouchmeillkillyou but of course you can’t do that because he is much bigger and much stronger than you are.

Another guy comes in the room, breathing hard and bleeding a little on his forehead. He looks at you and he looks at the other guy. He laughs in a mean way. The kind of laugh that says he is annoyed.

You’re so terrified you think you might crawl out of your own skin and claw your way through the wall.


The prospect of your own death is like a black hole and you’re being sucked towards it.


  1. Hmmmm... I'm going to be honest. I don't really like it. I liked the details of the story and some of the turns of phrases you used, but I felt a wall there. It's like I'm 7 and you're a teacher trying to really, really involve me in a story. I zone out.

    That's just me. I think the story would be a more involving in 3rd person. Interesting experiment.

    I wonder if there's a way to do 2nd person that's more subtle? My friend read a book in 2nd person. He said it was okay. I can't remember the title. NO WAIT, that's a lie, he read a book that was 1st person plural. It was about people in an office. "Then we decided to eat at Subway and we talked about the changing corporate environment" stuff.

  2. I agree with Jaime. You're writing itself is fab, but yes, there's a bit of a wall. I've written in 2nd person before but from the 1st person POV, if that makes sense. Like saying something like this:
    "I clutched his chest and screamed out for you."
    But it wasn't all about the "you." It was just thrown in there, and more about the 1st person narrative.

  3. Interesting ...

    Now the book I read WAS actually in 2nd, not 1st masquerading as 2nd. I was curious to see what it'd be like to write in it. Interesting enough, I found it easier than writing in 1st. I wonder if I could write in 2nd and switch to 1st later?

  4. But actually upon reflection I think you are both bringing up the point I was trying to make. 2nd is like 1st in my mind in that it's a more "personal account" style, as if someone is actually having a conversation with you, but it's more removed than 1st person, or like I said, more hypothetical.

    I guess in my mind someone who was talking about a time when they were sexually abused might be more likely to tell it in 2nd person to make the whole incident seem detached. (In my experience that can be much easier, like when abuse victims are sometimes asked to draw a picture of what happened instead of describing.) Some things are very hard to talk about as if they really happened to you.

    What I'm saying is... POV is an aspect of the greater story as a whole. So does that detached aspect/feel enhance the storytelling in terms of voice, or hinder?

    Just my musings...

  5. Personally I like it. I've read so many books in 1st and 3rd that something in a new perspective is interesting. I also like how it pulls you into the mindset of the victim.

    I feel like it is very intimate, like someone is trying to make you feel what they felt when they experienced the story. You get to be in the head of the protagonist because you are the protagonist.

    I think you'll be able to provoke a stronger emotional reaction writing in 2nd person. I do wonder how it would work out in a long story. For a short story it is perfect. If you were going to write a full length novel it might be emotionally exhausting for the reader.

  6. I'm not too crazy about it. It remains me too much of gaming.

  7. It is a different approach that would take time to get used to. I thought the excerpt was good, but reading a whole book from this perspective may be a challenge.

  8. @Slamdunk I agree with you about the whole book thing ... the book I was reading had only bits and pieces in 2nd. I think an entire book would be daunting.

  9. @Holly I does make me thinking of gaming ... good call.


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