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Joe Moxley, Founder, WritingCommons.org

Joe Moxley

Founder
WritingCommons.org

Dear Colleagues and Students,

At Writing Commons, we are happy with the overall success of our project. Since 2011, when we launched at WritingCommons.org, we have hosted 6,315,882 users who have reviewed over 11 million pages. We are thrilled that students and faculty find our site to be helpful. Our ongoing mission is to be the best writing textbook possible. We also happen to be free. While we cannot perhaps claim yet that we are the best possible textbook for technical writing or creative writing courses, we are working on that.

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The Beginning of Your Journey

You are writing for a class.  You realize that you have no idea what point-of-view is appropriate for this piece of writing.  You quickly text a friend but discover that she does not know.  Your teacher is currently teaching subject/verb agreement to a nest of talking dragons and is not available.  Desperate for help, you head into the forest to the fabled Point-of-View Castle. Dodging past giant spiders, enormous werewolves, and cute little pixies (who are surely up to no good), you arrive at the castle to discover that you can choose from one of three bridges across a moat filled with ravenous alligators. On each bridge stands a wizard who wants to talk to you.  All three wear long, flowing robes and have the required gray beards and mystical staffs of power. Each robe has a word written on it. What do you do?

If you decide to approach the wizard with “First Person” on his robe, see First Person below.

If you decide to approach the wizard with “Second Person” on his robe, see Second Person below.

If you decide to approach the wizard with “Third Person” on his robe, see Third Person below.

First Person

You approach the wizard.  On second glance, he appears a little self-absorbed.  He stares into a mirror and talks to himself.  Every word out of his mouth is “I” or “me” and he insists that everything is “mine” as soon as he sees it.

You try to start a conversation.

“I want to find the right point-of-view for what I’m writing,” you say.

“You can’t go wrong in talking about yourself. I always do it. My opinions are very important. They are important because they are mine.”

You try to resist rolling your eyes at him.

“I hope you don’t find this insulting but you seem a little full of yourself. You seem to think that your impressions are what really matters.”

“That’s my point-of-view. First person is an excellent choice for a personal narrative. I’m telling a story about me.  First person can also be a good choice for describing my individual thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I can make excellent arguments, too, if my own experience or opinion is particularly important on the subject.”

You want to deflate his ego a bit. “I see how first person could be useful for telling a story about myself but couldn’t that be awfully informal? Sometimes people want to hear about the world outside of your head and your own experience.”

“I could tell them about what other people think. For example, after you leave I am going to tell people that you were rather rude and called me conceited.  However, I would have to refer to what you said, since I cannot read your mind.”

“Are you certain you can’t read my mind? You are a wizard.”

“I am not a very good wizard. I can only read my own mind. Sometimes I could read my identical twin’s mind. We were always together. We thought alike. We acted alike. If you want a broader perspective on the world, you need to go to someone else.”

You give up on this conversation. Filled with despair, you need to make a choice.

If you decide to persevere, go back to The Beginning of Your Journey.

If you decide to give up, see You Give Up.

Second Person

You approach the wizard. For some reason, you feel instantly comfortable with this wizard.

“You are very welcome here,” he says. “You are my favorite person.”

You consider this very flattering.;

“You are all that I talk about all day long,” the Second Person wizard stresses. “You are fascinating.”

“I agree. However, it does seem a little strange to talk to someone with ‘you’ rather than saying his or her name. Why do it?”

“You have a good point. You always do. There can be good reasons for it, though. For example, imagine that you are writing a set of instructions. Tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

You consider this for a moment. “First, you would make certain that no one had a serious peanut allergy.”

“You are very considerate. Notice how the word ‘you’ fit so naturally in that step, too. You give orders like a professional.”

“I can see that part,” you admit. “Does ‘you’ have any other uses besides instructions or manuals?”

“It can be used to paint a picture for people or to make it clear that a situation is personally important to your reader. I could say, ‘imagine that you need to finish a piece of writing for class and keep getting frustrating advice from crackpot wizards.’”

“Yes, the ‘you’ does make it clear how that situation could affect me. Are there any other common uses?”

“Sometimes role-playing games use it. For example, your character will be going on an adventure and you will suddenly be presented with a couple of options. ‘You turn left.’  ‘You turn right.’ I hear those games can be very fun.”

“That does sound interesting,” you say. “I think I have all of the information I need now. I can write for my class.”

If you decide to visit the other wizards, see The Beginning of Your Journey.

If you decide to go back to your room and write, see Your Glorious Achievement.

Third Person

You approach the wizard. On closer inspection, he seems rather detached and distant. He is gazing into a crystal ball. He seems to be reading someone’s mind.  You glance into the ball to see your own room and your journey through the woods. You realize he is reading your mind.

“How can you do that? How can you get into other people’s heads?”

“The Third Person wizard is very good at that.”

“It would really help me out if you could read my teacher’s mind.”  

“The Third Person wizard can only do that sometimes. Sometimes he has a skill for any he, she, it, or they that happens to pass and he knows everything. He knows your thoughts. He knows what happened in distant places and far off times.”  

You look again at the crystal ball to discover that it is showing a group of cave people discovering fire.

“Sometimes, though, his knowledge is more limited. He knows only the thoughts of one person.”

“That’s a neat trick,” you say. “So you can know and talk about what people besides yourself and what you have experienced? I can see how that would be very useful. You could report on someone else’s research. You could write a story in which someone else went on an adventure. Is there anything you cannot do?”

“Unlike the First Person wizard, the Third Person wizard cannot use a personal pronoun to describe himself.”

“Don’t you mean ‘I cannot use a personal pronoun to describe myself’?”  

“Now you see the problem.”

You give up on this conversation. It is too weird talking to someone who can read your mind.

If you decide to keep searching, go back to The Beginning of Your Journey.

If you decide to give up, see You Give Up.

You Give Up

Unable to make up your mind, you return to your room and cry. Miraculously, this does not help you finish your writing. You receive a failing grade. Sad and distracted, you wander back into the forest only to be devoured by one of the passing giant spiders.

Your Glorious Achievement

You go back to your room and write. Rereading the assignment sheet, you discover that the assignment was to write a self help book entitled Second Person Point-of-View and You. You guide your reader on a fantastic journey through the uses of second person and receive the highest grade in the class.

Cassandra Branham, Editor-in-Chief WritingCommons.org

Cassandra Branham

Editor-in-Chief
WritingCommons.org

Dear Colleagues and Students,

Welcome to Writing Commons, an open-education resource for instructors and students of writing across the disciplines. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, cost free resource to support students in the development of writing, research, and critical thinking practices.

This summer, we have been working on a site redesign in an effort to increase the usability of our site for both instructors and students. Our most significant change has been the inclusion of additional categories and subcategories to create a more intuitive hierarchy within the site.

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