Several months ago, I wrote how using “we” voice in travel writing sucks. The story was part of a larger collection of how to avoid getting rejected when writing travel articles. At the time, I did not include second person, or “you” voice, as a problem, although I should have included it because “you” sucks, too.
In fairness, second person, done correctly, can be compelling and interesting. However, it is a hard voice to write in, as the tone of the piece always commands the reader. Examples include, “You’ll love it.” Or “(you understood) Make a left at the corner and a right into the first alley.”
My main problem with “you” voice is when I receive a story that has some second person writing in it, it likely has third person and first person in it as well. The POV jumps from place to place, usually without rhyme or reason. All this makes for some indecisive writing, which becomes tiring or confusing for the reader.
Still, I like to play with second person and I assume others do too from the amount of second person placed in stories I receive. I want to like these attempts, but I end up passing most every time. Here are a few other reasons why it might be a good idea to pass on second person.
Simply stated, it is rare to see “you” voice in a any professional publication and people are not used to reading it beyond more experimental or literary writing. Even then…
Just like “we” voice, the writer is not in position to read the reader’s mind. So sentences can usually only command the reader to accept or take action. You feel crummy. You take some Pepto-Bismol. You are also a jerk-face. It can make the reader a punching bag.
More than just jumping around in POV, articles written in second person tend to have the most misspellings, grammatical errors and writing that needs more editing. In my opinion as a reader, second person is a complicated art and misused by lazy writing.
When I was taught about writing in the fifth grade, the teacher told the class “using you” in an essay is too informal. This is still true of writing beyond the fifth grade, as well. Maybe in a personal blog, but even then most of us have had the same grammar lessons and may hang up when reading more than an occasional use of the word “you.” Almost all professional articles are written in either third or first person.
When is “you” voice good?
Using second person is appropriate when offering the reader instructions like in a recipe, “Mix three eggs and a half cup of water into four cups of flour. When mixture is smooth, you add two live cats and a squeeze of lime. Bake at 30 degrees for thirty minutes or until cats stop meowing.” Or if you are desperate to use “you” in your next great article, consider reading the writing of Lorrie Moore: Self Help and Birds of America both offer well-written stories in second person voice.
The photo is of some nice El Salvadoran performers from my trip to CATM last year. I included it, because I was thinking about papusas. These nice people have nothing to do with this article.