Tech writers love imperative sentences. They use them to instruct, advise, and command readers to follow directions: Go there, do that, insert Tab B into Slot A. As a follower of said directions, I love them, too — unless the writer is a non-native speaker. Then imperatives become secret missives designed to make me pound my head in frustration as I attempt to decipher the true meaning behind “Place your shelf on the foot being.” while assembling a new bookcase.
We all recognize the value of imperative language and second person point-of-view in the cut and dried world of written instructions, but what about its value in creative writing?
As readers, how we connect to prose is directly affected by which pronouns the author chose to use. A team of psychologists studied how different pronouns influence the way readers envision a scene and the action within it. They found that when volunteers read sentences in the second person (You) they pictured the scene as it would be viewed through their own eyes. But, if the same information was presented in first or third person (I/He/She), the reader imagined the scene from an external point of view.
When used in creative writing, this subtle shift in perspective adds intimacy to prose. As the reader, You are in the midst of the scene. You perform the actions. You share the experience with the author. You live the prose.
As an example, read this brief excerpt from Into the Winter by Stephanie White:
“Step out and into the cold. Don’t hesitate. Walk into the chill and let the door slam behind you.”
Now, as a comparison, read a first-person revision of the same example:
I step out and into the cold. I don’t hesitate. I walk into the chill and let the door slam behind me.
Notice how connected you feel to White’s original passage in comparison with my revision?
This weekend, your assignment is to craft a piece of prose using second person POV and imperative sentences to help the reader walk in “your” shoes.