Second Person POV Writing Styles

There’s a lot of writing advice online that will let you weigh the merits of 1st person vs 3rd person limited vs 3rd person omniscient and so on, but advice for writing 2nd person tends to be ‘don’t do it’. Obviously that’s not very helpful for us here, so I thought it might be good to see if we can come up with any thoughts about writing in 2nd especially for IF.

I think there are some distinct narrative styles that I’ve seen in various games (and some mixing of these!):

  1. Talking to Yourself
    This is most like 1st person with ‘you’ instead of ‘I’. The narration is coloured with the MC’s thoughts and opinions, with the narrative ‘voice’ being the same as the MC’s as if they are monologuing to themselves. The player is not told anything that the MC could not know.
    This can give the MC more personality but requires the MC to be less of a blank slate, which might make the player feel less involved.

  2. Talking to the Narrator
    This is similar to 3rd omniscient. The narrator is distinct from the MC, and has their own ‘voice’, sometimes expressing their own opinions and replying to the player’s choices (e.g. ‘Oh really? That’s a nice name!’). The narrator might know things the MC would not know.
    This centres the player more.

  3. Talking About You
    The narration describes what is happening to the MC but does not display a distinct personality or talk back to the player or MC, and avoids ascribing thoughts or feelings to the MC. It might talk about things the MC would not know, especially when it comes to exposition.
    This may be better for a ‘blank slate’ PC.

If you think of any others please comment! What style do you use?


I think I use a mix of 2 and 3, with quite a bit of banter between the mc/player and the narrator
(i think CuCu is the first game on here where people asked if the narrator is an RO, but I might be wrong, and I digress)

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On IF and fanfic I tend to PREFER 2nd person POV because, I don’t know, it feels weird for me to read and then suddenly, “I looked at him lovingly.” Like I love the character, but something about it makes me feel wildly uncomfortable with it. I feel more comfortable reading something that says, “you looked at him lovingly.” It’s probably really weird but that’s just how I feel.

Generally though, I don’t like a sassy narrator when I’m reading. Sure it can be done properly, but when it’s not, it makes the story feel more childish and annoying rather than cute and quirky. Like everything you do is suddenly questioned by the narrator like, “oooo aren’t you so cool?? Sarcasm!”


I much prefer the ‘talking to yourself’ method here, most of the time. Though yes, as mentioned: it does require the character to be less ‘customisable’, if you will, since there needs to be a preset personality. I think this is the one that usually works fine for CYOAs/IFs; if done well can even make the player feel more involved than the ‘I’, which is hardly better sometimes.

And if we’re talking about interactive literature in general, a narrator with a personality is somewhat easier to do — though that requires building another character, and one that always stay with the player at that (which can always go wrong!).


We’ve had some good discussions on perspectives and tenses before, so definitely give the forums a search and you’ll probably find some quality advice in the archives.

I don’t know if I’d call it a thought experiment, but I think it helps if the writer visualizes him/herself as a storyteller. Say your in a tavern and there’s a group of kids listening to you. Imagine yourself reciting a story to them:

  1. “I entered the room, and growling before me was a rabid dog!”
  2. “I enter the room, and growling before me is a rabid dog!”

1 sounds more natural than 2 does coming from a storyteller. In 1, he/she is retelling a personal experience. In 2, the storyteller is hallucinating in the bar room! It can be an engaging hallucination, but imagine being a kid listening to this weird storyteller give you the play-by-play like he/she’s actually there. Though some modern writers manage to make it work, when we consider the many centuries of storytelling, it’s just not a natural way to tell a story.

  1. “You entered the room, and growling before you was a rabid dog!”
  2. “You enter the room, and growling before you is a rabid dog!”

As opposed to 1st person, 2nd person perspective does much better with present tense. 4 sounds more natural to 3, especially if you have experience with pen & paper, Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games. You can almost hear the line right after 4: “What do you do?” You and all the other kids shout out your replies and the story/game continues from there.

Important to note that the storyteller sacrifices the ability to define the protagonist in return for putting the reader “into the story”. This can help immersion but it comes at a serious price, and every IF writer has to figure out what approach works best for them.

  1. “Joe entered the room, and growling before him was a rabid dog!”
  2. “Joe enters the room, and growling before him is a rabid dog!”

If we consider the entire history of mankind and all the stories ever told, probably something close to 99% of them were 5: third person, past tense. It doesn’t lend itself to being interactive, because of the disassociation of the main character and the reader, but I’ve always wondered if it was possible to bridge that gap. I wonder if it’s possible without the player coming across as God or a stage director or (like in the recent Neflix show Bandersnatch) an entity from the “future”.


People do tell (spoken) stories in present tense though: “So I go up to him, right, and ask him what he thinks he’s doing, and you know what he says?”

Sometimes people switch tenses too… I think that in the case of my example present may be used for dramatic emphasis.

I agree there are definitely use cases for the first-person present: jokes are a great example. But I think it falls short in long-form narration. Anyhow, I know this topic is about 2nd person–so I’m sorry about derailing it into 1st!

I think 2nd person perspective writers shouldn’t be afraid of writing with a distinct tone: just because you have limited control over the protagonist doesn’t mean your writing has to sound like it comes from an AI. Though I think as @Memo mentions, a lot of writers trying to spice up the story fall into the snarky, sarcastic style featured in The Stanley Parable or any Bioware game where there’s a middle option between Good and (laughably) Evil!

There’s definitely a lot of room still to explore in 2nd!


I once wrote a book with dual protagonists where “I” was one main character and “you” were the other.

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in my story I usually go with ‘‘She walked upstairs , she dropped her bag…etc’’ . The one style I have a hard time reading is the ‘‘I saw her smile and lower her eyes , then she blinked back tears…’’ . I just don’t know…feel like…invasive…like I’m entering someone else skin…and looking trough their eyes and its kinda unconfortable . Also not used to reading much in that style…so often I get easely confused to whom I’m talking now ? .