Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: The Second Person

Boy bands love the second person.

Have you ever written in the second person? (By which I mean the narrative addresses some sort of “you.”) It’s not a particularly popular style but there are some good examples of it out there. Cherry by Mary Karr is an entire memoir written in the second person. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore uses the second person in short stories. And then there’s What Would Your Mother Say by Laura Ender–

Wait, you haven’t heard of that one? Oh, right. Not published. (Yet. Adding the word “yet” will make me feel better.) That’s my novel, which is sort of on hold at the moment after a long period of submissions (Thank you, Kate! I love you! I mean, I’ve never met you in person and I don’t know your favorite color or if you have a dog or anything but you took a chance on my novel so I love you.) because I’ve had some creative epiphany/realized it just isn’t good enough.

Anyhow, my novel is written entirely in the second person. A risky choice, I know, and certainly something that has made certain editors hesitate, but it’s right for the book and I will stand by it. But I’ve been away from my second person novel for a long time, writing in the first and third like a normal person. So I need to get back into it. So this exercise is completely self-serving but maybe you’ll enjoy it, too.

So that’s the brief: write in the second person. Take it wherever you want to. Five minutes. Go.


Give yourself a break; you’ve never done this before. Perhaps you took a lipstick from the grocery store or sampled trail mix when you weren’t supposed to but grand theft livestock is an entirely different game. You can’t be expected to walk in , take a rope off a hook on the wall as if you were the one who put it there, loop it around Rita’s neck and casually walk away. You can’t expect her to follow you like a dog, accustomed to walking on a leash–she’s a goat, for goodness’ sake!–and think she won’t stop to chew some weeds or bleat for rescue. It will be difficult. She will look at you through those unnerving goat eyes and you will think the fires of hell might descend upon you even if you don’t believe in hell or demons or whatever goat-god-idol-thing you once heard about in church. Baal. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaal. You bleated like a goat and danced around and Miss Henning made you stand outside the classroom until Sunday school was over and your mother never brought you to church again, perhaps because she was embarrassed. You never asked.

“Hey, why did we stop going to church?” you say, wrapping Rita’s rope round your fist and yanking her away from a patch of nettles. “Was it me? Did I embarrass you?”

Your mother looks at you like you’re crazy. “We never went to church. We couldn’t have stopped going because we never went in the first place.”

“Yes we did. I got kicked out of Sunday school.”

“You’re misremembering.”

“Did I go with Whitney or someone? Maybe Sylvia had a churchy phase?”

This makes her laugh, and rightfully so. The idea of Sylvia in church–you can only imagine the church would spit her out.

“Not to my recollection.” She crosses her arms. “Hit her on the butt.”


“The goat.”

“Does a goat have a butt? Or is it a rump? Like how pork shoulder is the butt and pork butt is the shoulder?”


“Sylvia watches a lot of cooking shows.”

“Just hit the damn goat.”

You’ve flustered her. Whatever she is–a ghost, a memory, a symptom of your own failing brain–you’ve gotten her goat. Gotten her goat because of the goat. You swat Rita and yank her lead but you can’t help giggling. That same Sunday school feeling that you’re oh-so clever and it had to have happened because how else would you know the name Baal?

“What?” she says. She won’t look at you now. She digs a stick of gum out of her fanny pack.



Okay that was more than five minutes. But thanks, internet! You’ve got me revved up and writing again.

3 thoughts on “Writing Exercise: The Second Person”

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