Or, more precisely, you whom?
When we write in the second person who are we talking to? Who is this undefined ‘other’, this addressee? In poetry readers often imagine that the poet is talking to a specific individual, a person and personality who the poets want to aim their words at. Or the poem is a wider ‘you’, encompassing a relevance to the reader(s), both singular and plural. Often the poet is talking to both parties at the same time, using the voice to convey past the individual to the human experience being explored.
But fiction? What then? We don’t expect that kind of individual attention, do we?
There’s the second person, present tense kind of story, the type where a narrator follows the character around, describing what s/he does, perhaps hinting at why, from a position of oversight. A sort of imposing, almost dominant voice, casting shade and light on hidden motivations. I like those, though to me they’re sometimes intrusive, invasive. There’s the kind where the narrator is speaking directly to the reader (or appears to be) – Calvino springs to mind – and I’ve used this too, at times, for effect…it’s fun also to break the walls, even if the reader won’t always notice because it’s a collective, cultural ‘you’ – ‘a large desk like you’d see in an office’, for example.
And yet. Second person, past tense. ‘You did this, you did that.’ Why is the narrator telling the character what they’re already done? The natural answer would be for the character to turn round and say ‘Yes, I know. It’s my life, remember?’
I’ve written a story in this voice, and it’s an odd experience. To me, the blurring between narrator and narratee. If the narrator is engaging directly in dialogue with the character, even in a sub- or contextual manner, this implies a relationship between the two participants: given that this narrator (or narratorial viewpoint) is an authorial construction, created artificially to relate the circumstances of the story, what does this do or say about the protagonist ? I started to consider who this character was, and whether s/he was indeed anything more than a vision, an imagined (or idealised) listener/reader. In redrafting it seemed to me that s/he was possibly only a narratee, less an active, involved protagonist and more an impression or a suggestion of a character.
I’m happy to say that the story is going to be published very soon by The Mechanics Institute Review, and will be available to be read (without a pay-wall!) here: Some of the Fountains, Some of the Time (yes, I know it’s a strange title.)
If you’ve any clues as to who this character is, or what their relationship is with the narrator, please do let me know. It’s a learning business, this.