I’m writing a story using the second person perspective. You know, the “you did this” “you went here” perspective. That’s right, like the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Except this isn’t a choose your own adventure. This is a horror story.
I don’t write a lot of horror stories. Over the last few years, I think that I have only written two. I started writing this one and nothing worked. It wasn’t scary or unnerving. I think I am going for unnerving, really. Unnerving is my center. That’s the pivot point for most of my stories. Even if the story is about something relatively mundane, I will always veer toward unnerving. Something fundamentally disquieting.
I was writing this story, and none of it worked. The images were supposed to be grim and upsetting, but they just seemed camp and pseudo-scary. Like ‘Spirit Halloween’ scary. Until I changed the perspective to second person.
Second person can be a gimmick. I don’t think it works for most stories. It works for games and game books, because, well, you are the one making the choices. For most stories, it doesn’t really land. The use of ‘You’ can be jarring. I think there are very few examples of it working.
There are a few rules that will make second person work properly in fiction. First, the narrator voice must be a character in the story, and the person being narrated to can’t be the reader. The reader knows who they are. The characters must be separate from them, and exist fully within the fiction of the story. There needs to be a little distance there.
If you follow those rules though, second person can be very unnerving. And that works well for horror.
I don’t know if this story will be successful, but I’m near finishing it. I guess I will find out when it’s all done and submitted.