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Graeme

Requiem by C James

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Requiem by C James is unusual in that it's written in second person. As such, I thought I would bring it to the attention of the writers here for comment.

I looked at this and in my opinion the story, as written, wouldn't have the same impact if it was written in either first or third person. There are some other odd things about it, too, such as being in mainly present tense, but present tense seems to fit second person better than past tense.

I don't intend to write a second person POV story any time in the foreseeable future, but I think this is a good example of this rare form. I'd like to see what others think about it.

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I hate, hate, hate stories written in the 2nd person. It's showy, obvious, and heavy-handed.

Maybe if Ernest Hemingway or Edgar Allan Poe did it, but there's very, very few great writers who can pull this off.

I'll try to read the first page and see how far I get.

<minutes pass>

Ponderous and preachy. My apologies to the author, but this is not my cup o' tea.

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I hate, hate, hate stories written in the 2nd person. It's showy, obvious, and heavy-handed.

I concur. You are not allowed to write in Second Person. Ever. Unless you've written at least one book on the NYT list. And even then, reconsider. Please.

::shudder::

That being said I didn't even go look at the story you mentioned. Soon as I heard "second person" I winced. I gotta be with Pec on this.

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You go to look, and your first impression is that it reads like those 'descriptive' audio voice-overs, except it's telling you your own thoughts and actions, as if, somehow, you can't quite see what you are doing.

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Interesting :hehe:

My view was quite different. The second person POV gave, to me, an "unworldly" feel, which was appropriate considering the ending. Also, the use of "you" instead of "I" or "he" had me feeling like I didn't have any say in what was going on, which again felt appropriate because the Senator in question also didn't have much say in what was going on -- he was largely being dictated to by the circumstances.

Second person should be used very sparingly, and I wouldn't be surprised if I never attempted it personally, but I think an automatic "never use" is overboard. Mistakes can be made with it and it should only be used after due consideration, but I think this was a credible attempt. It may not be The Pecman's cup of tea, but I liked it.

Thanks for the comments, though. Experiments sometimes work, sometimes fail and sometimes have indifferent results. I know the author will be reading this thread since I told him I'd be soliciting comment here. Your comments are much appreciated :hehe:

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Hi guys (and gals?)!!!

This is a very interesting topic .. which person to write in. I would qualify my comments by prefacing that I have never written a novel, novella or short story entirely in the second person. I have written some successful poetry in the 'second person', but only successful because I managed to create a psychological interplay/dialogue between the minds and behaviours of the character speaking and the object of commentary. However, I could certainly envision the possibility of writing a longer piece of work in the 'second person'. The second person actually is (for me) a distant cousin of the 'first person' in the sense that the first person context enables one (or at least me) to commute between the "real" and the "surreal". I should think that the subjective qualities that can be achieved through second person-writing are somewhat similar; as long as one does not confine oneself to a mere tirade (that is, without reflecting one's own reactions/thoughts/behaviour in a collective perspective). This could -- hopefully -- lend itself to an interesting "stream of consciousness" technique, where the leading voice blends into the subconsciousness of the other voices (or objects of commentary). After all, we are both individuals and parts of different collective groups in society, as well as a collective consciousness. Just some thoughts from:

"A" (another gay writer).

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Thanks everyone for the feedback.

I know that many don't like second, and I usually don't myself. My other short stories and novels are in either first or third. I did try a few paragraphs in both third and first, but it didn't seem to work as well. Will I ever try second again? I have no idea; it would depend entirely on the story, and I'd certainly never use it for a novel. I found it difficult to use, and as we see here, many hate it.

However, second does have its advantages for putting the reader "in the shoes" of the character; that's why it's commonly used in travel guides.

I certainly can't agree with the idea of considering second person something to never be used, as there are always exceptions, though I'm certainly not claiming that my story is one of those exceptions. Second person is very much an esoteric taste; some people like it, many don't. In that regard, it is similar to the difference between verse and prose; some people just don't like poetry (I'm one of them) but I certianly don't think that is any reason to say "One should never write a poem".

I do feel that I learned a lot from writing the story, so I have no regrets, regardless of the outcome. Writing, like life, is a learning experiance, and sometimes it's the journey and not the destination in which you find your reward.

Thanks,

CJ

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All right. I read it at the request of someone. It's not really a story. Certain things define a story: a protagonist, usually an antagonist, and a plot. This really is missing that. There's a narrator of sorts and the recipient of said narration which is directed towards one unnamed person.

This is more like a fictional essay and reads like a lecture, a statement, or maybe a treatise even. In those cases second person works. It doesn't mean I like it or dislike it, but this my technical observation after reading it.

Did I like it? Albeit well-written, it's certainly not my cup of tea. There is no character and this no characterization which leaves me Dead Cold. It claims to be a work of fiction and I expect characters in my works of fiction. Otherwise, I read non-fiction.

I cannot like any work of fiction which doesn't have a character that I can like/love/hate. I need to be involved. This piece doesn't involve me. I might find it "interesting" but that's not what I want out of my fiction. I want good. I want to be moved, to feel, to react. In that, it fails.

(No offense to the author as this is my personal taste. Others obviously like it. But it's definitely NOT a story -- like it or not :hiya: )

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All right. I read it at the request of someone. It's not really a story. Certain things define a story: a protagonist, usually an antagonist, and a plot. This really is missing that. There's a narrator of sorts and the recipient of said narration which is directed towards one unnamed person.

This is more like a fictional essay and reads like a lecture, a statement, or maybe a treatise even. In those cases second person works. It doesn't mean I like it or dislike it, but this my technical observation after reading it.

Did I like it? Albeit well-written, it's certainly not my cup of tea. There is no character and this no characterization which leaves me Dead Cold. It claims to be a work of fiction and I expect characters in my works of fiction. Otherwise, I read non-fiction.

I cannot like any work of fiction which doesn't have a character that I can like/love/hate. I need to be involved. This piece doesn't involve me. I might find it "interesting" but that's not what I want out of my fiction. I want good. I want to be moved, to feel, to react. In that, it fails.

(No offense to the author as this is my personal taste. Others obviously like it. But it's definitely NOT a story -- like it or not :hiya: )

Absolutly no offence taken (on the contrary, I'm delighted!), and THANK YOU for reading it. You've given me a great deal to think about.

Thanks Again!

CJ

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As usual, I find myself agreeing with WBMS' observations and disagreeing with his conclusions....funny about that, no? lol

I agree that this reads more as an essay than a story, but I don't mind that. I appreciated the attempt to write something 'outside the box' and I think it was fairly successful in what it was trying to do. Second person is tough...I've never written anything worth mentioning in it, and kudos to the author on trying it. Pretty much the only other thing I'd ever seen written that way before were those execrable 'multi-possibility' novels published in the 80's...remember those? "If you choose to remove your clothes, turn to page 162. If you keep your clothes on and castigate Jonny for trying to tempt you into sin, turn to page 164." Horrible stuff.

I had this amusing vision of Strom Thurmond floating around in my head while I was reading this piece, and that all by itself was enough to keep me happy. :hiya:

Oh wait...D&D instructions were commonly written in 2nd person too, weren't they?

cheers!

aj

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While CJ is a friend of mine and I was interesting in the feedback on the story itself, the main reason I started this thread was a discussion on 2nd person. It is rarely used and I can see why, but I was trying to work out under what circumstances it should be considered and what the consequences of that decision would be.

One early consequence I found when I saw an early draft of the story was that the natural tenses change. In third and first person, past tense is the most natural for a western reader, but in second person present tense felt more natural.

In a book on creative writing I read some time ago, the author mentioned that he had seen one decent novel written in 2nd person and that worked because the novel was based in a drug culture. As such, the 2nd person had an appropriate unworldly feel that suited the story. That was what struck me about this story/essay/thingy. There was an unworldly feel to the story that suited the piece.

I accept that 2nd person should not be entered into lightly -- but when should it be considered? I don't think my writing style suits 2nd person, but I don't want to close off an option without understanding the reasoning.

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While CJ is a friend of mine and I was interesting in the feedback on the story itself, the main reason I started this thread was a discussion on 2nd person. It is rarely used and I can see why, but I was trying to work out under what circumstances it should be considered and what the consequences of that decision would be.

One early consequence I found when I saw an early draft of the story was that the natural tenses change. In third and first person, past tense is the most natural for a western reader, but in second person present tense felt more natural.

In a book on creative writing I read some time ago, the author mentioned that he had seen one decent novel written in 2nd person and that worked because the novel was based in a drug culture. As such, the 2nd person had an appropriate unworldly feel that suited the story. That was what struck me about this story/essay/thingy. There was an unworldly feel to the story that suited the piece.

I accept that 2nd person should not be entered into lightly -- but when should it be considered? I don't think my writing style suits 2nd person, but I don't want to close off an option without understanding the reasoning.

Second person is very interesting to write in, as the tense issues are tricky (present seems to work better, though you have to shift to past for past events). Wording is difficult, otherwise you get you.. you.. you.. you...

As for what it should be used for, I firmly believe that it is uniquely useful for some applications in travel guides; I've seen it used to good effect in a few, though usually not for the entire guide.

The "unworldly" effect might also come in handy for a horror story, but thats just an opinion; I've never seen it done. In fact, I can't recall reading anything in second other than parts of travel guides.

One consequence of using second is that many readers will hate it on sight, so you will have a lower readership. :happy:

BTW, my sincere thanks to everyone! I'll be returning to this thread, but not for a month; I'm leaving on a trip tomorrow and I'll have little if any internet access while away.

Thanks again!

CJ

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I agree 100% with Wibby's comments above.

I'd also add that I almost always dislike fiction written in the present tense. Again, to me, it's showy and contrived, very much like writing in 2nd person. I'm reminded of a few movies where they tried to shoot the entire thing (or most of it) solely from the viewpoint of one character -- a continual P.O.V. shot where the camera IS a character, and people talk to it and you hear the voice of that character answers -- but that gets old real fast.

While I agree with Wibby that I think a real story has got to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, along with a character you can empathize with, there are exceptions, especially in a short story -- but that's a different kettle o' fish.

There are a bunch of magnificent short stories out there that have a great beginning and middle, but don't so much end as they do just come to a sudden stop. There's a few classic Twilight Zone episodes like that, too, where they present an incredible situation, and then the show ends before the story really stops. In some cases, this can be frustrating, but in others, it can be stunning, like the end of an classic O'Henry or Rudyard Kipling story.

So I think there are exceptions in terms of structure. But almost always, when it comes to novels or film, I gotta have a beginning, a middle, and an end, sharply carved-out characters, and so on.

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I'd also add that I almost always dislike fiction written in the present tense. Again, to me, it's showy and contrived, very much like writing in 2nd person.

That's interesting, because I immediately remembered a conversation I had with someone who had written something in present tense. They told me that it was natural to them because of the culture they came from -- they weren't from an English, western culture.

How much of the bias against present tense and 2nd person is a western cultural bias? I'll concede that I'm writing for a western, English-speaking audience, but is that a sufficient reason to look down our noses at stories that go against that 'standard'?

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How much of the bias against present tense and 2nd person is a western cultural bias?

Not a bias, as so much a preference. I have a problem with reading the work of anyone who can't speak or write English fluently. I'm certain that people in other countries have similar problems with Americans or Brits who try to write in their country's languages as well.

But I have read books by authors whose native language isn't English. For example, German author Curt Siodmak taught himself English after moving to the U.S. as a kid, and I found his autobiography Wolf Man's Maker to be very, very well-written.

Bottom-line: I cringe at present tense and/or 2nd-person fiction regardless of the country which the writer is from. It's a problem for me with the words on the page, not the writer or his native country.

As I've said before about issues like changing POV in a story, show me a major work of fiction written in 2nd person (or present tense), and I'll be very, very surprised. I think both techniques are very difficult and contrived, and 99.9% of most stories would be far more accessible to readers if they were written conventionally.

I think I read an H.P. Lovecraft story that was written in present tense, but most of his work lay in short-stories, not novels. Lovecraft was also a genius (albeit twisted), and an exceptional writer, and I think none of us here qualify.

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There may be something else to consider. We're amateurs, and we're trying stuff out. I see nothing wrong with experimenting, with trying to write in something other than first or third person, or in past tense. It presents problems that are fun to solve, and we can do so at our own risk, and learn while we're doing so. If we feel we have something to contribute when we're done, we can post the results. We can do so knowing not everyone will like what we've done, but perhaps some will, and we'll show what we're doing and perhaps something we're kind of proud of, without expecting that's it a perfect piece of writing.

I'm always very cautious about being negative about someone else's writing. Maybe I err in doing that, because people do need critical judgments to improve. But it's so easy to stifle a voice, too, and I'd hate to be party to that.

C

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I'm always very cautious about being negative about someone else's writing. Maybe I err in doing that, because people do need critical judgments to improve. But it's so easy to stifle a voice, too, and I'd hate to be party to that.

I agree Cole. What Pecman just wrote goes against the grain of much of what we try to do here at AwesomeDude. We have several authors who write good and readable stuff who are not native speakers of English. It reminds me of a Brit friend of mine who annoys the hell out of me as he won't watch a French or other 'foreign language' film with me... even with subtitles.. because 'if they can't speak English, I'm not interested.'

Linguistic or cultural chauvinism is not a 'family value' here at AwesomeDude.

That said... I've known Pecman for some time and much of what he says is meant to provoke thought and discussion... I guess hyperbole is one way of doing that. :happy:

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I've tried writing in present tense (to those who've read my blog, it was that story in my latest entry) and this was after reading Freak the Mighty. I'm not sure if that's a major work of fiction, but it's certainly above half the published stuff out there. The plot was, to me, superb. Ordinary but superb (how could that be? :happy: ). I like the feeling that I was left in after reading it. And I think that it wouldn't have had the same effect if it was written in past tense.

One of my favorite John Grisham book, The Rainmaker, was also written in present tense. And I read that book before I knew all about POV's and tenses, but I had thought, at that time, that it was no different to what I have read of Steinbeck's books. It was only words, written to convey a message and hook readers into.

Both those books became movies.

I think a story should have a plot, setting, characters, etc. But the tense, POV should not be the basis for a writer's storytelling ability. Like Cole said, we're all amateurs and we're trying stuff out. I like new stuff, but I won't try rowing a boat across the Pacific Ocean. Of course, I shouldn't say that others shouldn't try doing that.

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I have no problem reading stuff by ESOL folks as long as it flows well. I give 'em a bit more leeway on the grammar side. I don't agree with Pec on that at all.

However second person, I'm entirely on his side when it comes to use of same in a novel, novella, short story, etc -- as I previously noted.

I think it's great someone wants to write a novel in a language other than their own to reach a wider audience.

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I happen to disagree with most previous posters, as, I must confess, I loved this story.

First of all, to denounce any bias against my being an english learner, I will say that I consider myself fluent (moreso than most 'mother-tongue' recipients). I would also like to say that, in my native language, writing in second person is an art seldom mastered by aspiring authors, but when promptly done it causes immediate admiration. It is mostly, though not exclusively, used in poetry. You can call me biased. I'll think of myself as cultured :P.

For the sole sake of contradicting and making it obvious that I disagree, I will say that I do believe this short story has a plot, and a somewhat ambiguous main character (which I believe is one of the [un]intended purposes of this narration style). I believe it is excellently written, and not once did I think of the style, nor the author's intentions, as arrogant, nor conspicuous.

This story is different, and I, for one, cherish that which stands out from the crowd, however daunting it might seem.

Maddy

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Thanks for your comments, Maddy!

It really does appear to be a case of 'you hate it or you love it'. I don't have a problem with someone disliking or liking something because of personal taste. I get more concerned when blanket statements are made, because a lot of creativity involves examining blanket statements and trying to contradict them. That could be in art or science, but it is often by examining boundaries that new things are discovered.

Graeme

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I don't hate it. I kind of like it. I agree with Wibby, though, when he said that it wasn't a story. The first half of it reads like a manuscript for an oration.

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