Writing in 2nd Person?

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spacescientist
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Writing in 2nd Person?

#1 Post by spacescientist » Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:21 pm

How do you feel about reading a story written in 2nd person? In general, and in a VN?

I'm working on a game, and despite my efforts to come up with ways to avoid writing in 2nd person, I feel like it's the choice I'm going to have to make.

The MC will be a self-insert as to not distract from the fact that the main purpose of the silly VN is to Get To Date Your Favourite Character. I don't want to make up an Original Character to act as the MC and "force" the player/reader to take the role of what would essentially be my OC. I want the player to have the opportunity to choose who they "are" as the MC, whether it's themselves, or maybe another character from the source material they want to "roleplay" as, or something else.

Now. The problem is, I have never been a fan of self-insert fanfics, or, in general, fiction written in second person.

For me, it easily feels too personal and like the story is telling "me" what to do: "You find him very interesting and handsome." — What if I, as the reader, don't?

Can you think of any tips to make 2nd Person work well in a VN?
Show, Don't Tell, obviously..? Relying on dialogue and trivial but character-building dialogue choices? Something else entirely?

Thanks in advance! (Also, I'm new so please tell me if I'm not doing things correctly, here)
Last edited by spacescientist on Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#2 Post by Project_Astro » Sun Jun 24, 2018 3:24 pm

A 2nd person writing's nice !

But well if you want the player "to choose who they "are" as the MC", you'll have to make multiples choices (each time you're telling to yourself "But if the player does/don't ?")
like this for exemple:

Code: Select all

label handsome:
    menu:
        "You find him very handsome":
            jump handsome #the label where the player will go after choosing that he's handsome
        "You find him not so handsome":
            jump not_handsome #the label where the player will go after choosing he's not handsome
label handsome_done:
Yes, this is the system you'll need. You'll have to create plenty of labels and choices plus a way to remember the player's choice ! (this is the very-interesting-but-annoying/boring-part :D )
I don't know if you know how to do this but just in case :wink: :
viewtopic.php?t=46377
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K3UA6U4PGI

I hope it helped you :)


edit : I agree with what they said below !
Last edited by Project_Astro on Mon Jun 25, 2018 2:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#3 Post by Widdershins » Sun Jun 24, 2018 4:50 pm

spacescientist wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:21 pm
For me, it easily feels too personal and like the story is telling "me" what to do: "You find him very interesting and handsome." — What if I, as the reader, don't?
I think you nail the main problem with using second person here: even without intending to, it frequently reads as dictatorial (related sidebar: the most successful use of second person I've seen in a novel is the Mussolini chapters of Corelli's Mandolin). If your goal is to make the player character a self-insert, using second person seems likely to prove counter productive, as it immediately places a remove between the player and the action: the invisible dictator acts as intermediary between what is happening, and the character it is happening to.

With that in mind: I'm not sure what precise circumstances make second person seem necessary for your story, but I'd suggest switching over to first, if you can. It's an easy, natural tool to help a reader identify with the main character, and it's far less confrontational to read. Moreover, it's still possible to let the player shape the character as their own-- it just may take a little more effort (either to provide play-responsive tone shifts, or to maintain a neutral tone in narration).

I apologise if this isn't helpful; I'm sure there is a way to make second person engaging and active in a VN*, but I don't readily see it within the general framework you're describing. That said, only you know what feels right, so trust your gut. And in either case, the more you lean on dialogue, action, and offer the player choices, the more active and engaging the story is likely to be.

Best of luck!


*Come to think of it, Amnesia is primarily narrated in second person, thanks to the Orion character-- so if you feel sure second person is the way to go, giving the 'invisible dictator' their own personality is one way to reduce the sense of remove, and still limit narration from the first person perspective.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#4 Post by Zelan » Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:25 pm

One of the best examples of second person I've seen was in the demo for the game Queen's Crown, which I was so impressed by that I actually wrote a piece of fanfiction for the game that was also in second person, even though I'm not fond of that tense, either. Their strategy, as far as I could tell, was to use many and varied choices.

Essentially, it takes a lot of work to do second person POV really well, but when you put in the time it can make for a fantastic game experience.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#5 Post by Draziya » Sun Jun 24, 2018 10:48 pm

Second person definitely works better when there's a definite personality. Things that the player wouldn't be able to influence because that's just the way the character is. Second person also works when it's all objective description, things that don't require you to explain what emotion the character should be feeling at the moment.

I'd agree with Widdershins on moving to First person because of these reasons.

If you're still keen on using Second person, what Project Astro said is how I'd go about it. A lot of choices. This might be better for your story, since it's about dating the characters you want to, and you want everyone to get the experience they want. However it could also get messy because of all of the variables you'd have to track.

Widdershin's comment about having a seperate narrator would also work. Because you described the VN as being silly, you could have the narrator say something, only for your Self-Insert protag to object and go "hang on a minute!" This might also involve a lot of choices however.
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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#6 Post by Mammon » Mon Jun 25, 2018 8:14 am

I never really liked the 2nd person for a lot of the same reasons as already listed above: unless the character really resonates with me I'll be annoyed by the VN telling me what I do. The first person has that issue far less, if I don't like the MC I read the story like a journal they wrote.
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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#7 Post by spacescientist » Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:06 pm

Oh! Thank you all for your replies, insight and opinions! I'll definitely check out the links!

I probably should have mentioned that the setting is going to be a very contained location, and the cast is just three characters (the possible romantic interests) and the MC. In a few words: the characters are thrown into a Situation, and the MC's role is mostly to get everyone working together to solve the situation. And of course to find romance!
Project_Astro wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 3:24 pm
But well if you want the player "to choose who they "are" as the MC", you'll have to make multiples choices (each time you're telling to yourself "But if the player does/don't ?")
Would relying on a point system make things easier, as the plot is very simple? With certain decisions counting towards "Main Quest" points and others towards the romance options, total points of each leading to different endings? I have dabbled with Python in the past, but I haven't yet touched Ren'Py. Programming is something I think (hope) I can figure out once I have a script and a flowchart of possible "routes".
Widdershins wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 4:50 pm
I'm not sure what precise circumstances make second person seem necessary for your story, but I'd suggest switching over to first, if you can. It's an easy, natural tool to help a reader identify with the main character, and it's far less confrontational to read.
Mammon wrote:
Mon Jun 25, 2018 8:14 am
I never really liked the 2nd person for a lot of the same reasons as already listed above: unless the character really resonates with me I'll be annoyed by the VN telling me what I do. The first person has that issue far less, if I don't like the MC I read the story like a journal they wrote.
I feel like first person would require more character than what I intend to write for the MC. Plus I just really want to avoid creating a possibly obnoxious Original Character to act as the POV character, since this is a fangame. I'll need to write a bit more and re-think, but for now I'd maybe go for second person, despite its "dangers".
Draziya wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 10:48 pm
Second person definitely works better when there's a definite personality. Things that the player wouldn't be able to influence because that's just the way the character is. Second person also works when it's all objective description, things that don't require you to explain what emotion the character should be feeling at the moment.
Just explaining the characters' feelings doesn't appeal to me, it would be ideal if I could make the reader feel things instead of telling them to feel this or that. Though that will require really good writing... maybe I can get there.
Last edited by spacescientist on Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#8 Post by Project_Astro » Sat Jun 30, 2018 7:52 am

spacescientist wrote:
Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:06 pm
Would relying on a point system make things easier, as the plot is very simple? With certain decisions counting towards "Main Quest" points and others towards the romance options, total points of each leading to different endings?
Yeah, I think so :) . It seems to be the best way to do it, if you want different endings. if the player has >50 points, it's a good ending. Else, it's a bad ending. Or something like that ^^
But maybe there are other solutions for it !

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#9 Post by Katy133 » Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:05 am

There's also other ways to use 2nd person narration, regarding the narrator's relationship with the player character--the narrator doesn't have to be talking about the player character.

For example, in the novel, You by Caroline Kepnes, the narrator, Joe, is also one of the two main characters. The other protagonist is Becky, whom he refers to in the narration as "you." Joe refers to himself as "I," like in first person narration.

So if we were to translate this to a visual novel, the player character (the character you control a make choices for) is narrating, referring to themselves as "I." Meanwhile, there's another character, whom they refer to in the narration as "You."

Note that in the novel, You, the narration style is used to give Joe an Unreliable Narrator quality: He tries to guess what Becky is thinking (which we, the reader, can tell from other cues--such as dialogue--are incorrect), and describes her as being obsessed and in love with him. 2nd person narration inherently has a possessive quality: The narrator having power over the "you" character, whether it's the player character or another character.
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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#10 Post by StellaPurple » Wed Jul 18, 2018 1:47 am

I found this amazing website a while back that I think might be beneficial for you: https://thejohnfox.com/2016/06/writing-in-first-person

It's not easy to like a story with a 2nd POV, but I once read this fanfic that I think really nailed in captivating its audience (I tried to find the story again, but I've lost it).

The important key is to:
  • minimize the overuse of 'you'
    make sure you're still able to explore the world around through this POV
Of course, you can also use a mix of 1st & 2nd POV as to not confuse the reader. For example: use 2nd POV to address the player, use 1st POV for the character/avatar/player's action.
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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#11 Post by isak grozny » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:59 am

I wrote two short IF/textgame pieces in second person before switching to first person for my current project. It was an interesting challenge, though my approach was to make the PC a concrete, established character that isn't easily malleable by player choice—the second person gave it a hallucinatory kind of ambiance. Ultimately, I decided second person blurs the line between player and player character too much for me to be comfortable telling morally ambiguous stories, or stories that involve uncommon experiences.

I think second person could work pretty well for a malleable player character—but you'd have to provide a lot of choices and even if you use a stat-based branch-and-bottleneck structure for the story, the combinatorial explosion resulting from the amount of choices might not be worth it.

I recommend you look at some Choice Of Games, they're all written in second person and the player characters are malleable.

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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#12 Post by Kuiper » Fri Sep 14, 2018 4:41 pm

spacescientist wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:21 pm
For me, it easily feels too personal and like the story is telling "me" what to do: "You find him very interesting and handsome." — What if I, as the reader, don't?
You can describe something a certain way without ascribing feelings to the reader.

Instead of saying, "You find him very interesting and handsome," say "A handsome man walked into the room. Something about the way he talked seemed to imply that there was more to him than what was visible on the surface."

Instead of saying, "You saw a man cross the street," simply say "A man crossed the street."

Or to generalize it a bit more, instead of saying, "You saw X," simply describe X.

And instead of saying, "You felt X," tell them about something that will make them feel X. Like, instead of saying "You found him off-putting," describe the character as being rude or having an unpleasant odor or other things that will make the reader decide for themselves that the character is off-putting, without you having to tell the reader, "You found him off-putting." Instead of saying, "You found him intriguing," describe a person who is actually intriguing.

I'll second isak grozny's recommendation for Choice of Games. At the very least, I recommend browsing among the Choice of Games titles on Steam and just looking at the screenshots to get some short samples of the kind of writing they contain; you might recognize some styles or writing choices that could be useful as examples for how interactive second-person narratives are commonly delivered.

Also, to plug a podcast that I was a part of, The Buzz did an episode all about viewpoint and tense that deals with 2nd person POV a bit (though most of the conversation is focused on more common viewpoints like first person and third person, that part of the discussion might be useful to provide context for what makes second person POV different).
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Re: Writing in 2nd Person?

#13 Post by spacescientist » Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:37 pm

Sorry for not responding to your wonderful replies, it seems my notifications failed me..

All of your opinions and thoughts have been really valuable and given me insight. I'll read/watch through what all of you have linked. Thank you so much for all of these resources!

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