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I've been writing a work of non-fiction, specifically a motivational/psychology piece. It's my first book. The book is written primarily in second and third person, but also first when I feel the need to speak directly to the reader. For my writing process, I'm a fan of letting it flow and worrying about stuff like tenses/phrasing later.

Is it inconsistent or unheard of to use all three perspectives? Or is it more usual to edit and remove second person in favor or third?

Example: when we let go of our ego...blah blah blah. Every time you release this, a new part opens up. I've seen the changes in my life when....blah blah blah.

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A note: 2nd person writing is more than addressing the reader directly by the narrator. Your example piece seems to be all 1st person, narrator talking in general, addressing the reader or speaking of own experiences. For 3rd person your text must follow someone else. For 2nd person you claim direct actions and states of the reader. –  SF. May 8 at 9:06

2 Answers 2

Just don't fall into the trap of multiple perspectives and tenses for multiple perspectives' and tenses' sake. In the hands of a good writer with a concrete vision, these are effective techniques. Otherwise if your vision isn't concrete, probably best to channel some Strunk and White and focus on simple, serviceable writing that tells a story.

2nd-person perspective is almost never used outside of experimental fiction, flash fiction, or episodic sections within a larger piece. Similarly, you probably won't publish many stories written in the future tense.

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I wholeheartedly agree. Rules of good writing require consistent perspective and tense. Excellent, experienced writers break these rules for specific effects. Poor, beginning writers break these rules and make a mess of it. What you do seems very convoluted to me, and considering this is your first book, there's more than a bit of a chance you'll make it an awkward, repulsive mess, instead of something with strong impact. –  SF. May 8 at 8:05

It's not entirely clear, but from your description and example, I'm not entirely sure that the issue is "perspective."

When we talk about "narrative 1st/3rd/(rarely)2nd person," it generally refers to the narrator of a story, and is a bit more complex than exactly what pronouns you use. Your description and example seem to indicate that rather than a story, you are writing or have written more of a discursive, flow-of-consciousness piece; in other words, you're explaining something to your reader, rather than detailing a series of events.

"Perspective," or what we call "narrative person," as in "first-person narrator," only applies when you are a narrator describing events which have happened, are happening, or are going to happen. Discursive writing has no narrator; it's you talking directly to the reader, not to detail something that happened, but to give them information or an opinion.

To look at your example:

when we let go of our ego

This could have two meanings, since the fragment is short enough to be ambiguous. It might mean "After we (the characters of the story) let go of our ego, X happened."

What seems more likely, though, is that you are saying "When we (humanity; the reader and the writer treated as a unit) let go of our ego (a hypothetical situation), X happens." It that case, you're not being a narrator at all, so there is no "person" or perspective. What you're actually doing, in that case, is using a corrupted form of the technically more correct "When one lets go of one's ego...", rather than using the plural first-person "we".

(Not that it's incorrect the way you've used it; you've used the colloquial version, which sounds a lot less pretentious, and only a very strict English teacher would ever really complain. I was just explaining what form of writing you are technically using)

Every time you release this, a new part opens up.

This is almost certainly the same as what I thought happened in the "we" example; I seriously doubt that you are telling the reader about a specific event in their own life.

The "correct" (but, again, unnecessarily pretentious) way of writing this would be "Every time one releases this, a new part opens up."

I've seen the changes in my life when...

This one is a bit of an odd one out, because it does have a narrator. What you've done here is, in the middle of your discursive writing, you've jumped into a small section of narrative writing to provide evidence for the point you're proposing. It could be a sentence of narration, or a paragraph, or a chapter, but it now have slightly different rules.

In this fragment, you're using 1st-person narrative voice ("I did X"). So long as while you're telling this particular story you stick to 1st person, you're fine.

What's important to note is that in a different story within the same piece of writing, you are entirely allowed to write in a different person. If you finish the anecdote you started with the quote above, and move on to tell another story entirely about your Aunt Polly, you can (and probably should) use 3rd person narrative to tell her story. If you want, you can present a different, hypothetical story "about" your reader in 2nd person if it helps to make your point; so long as each story is internally consistent, you're good.

Summary: You probably don't need to worry about which "perspective" or narrative voice you're using if you're writing discursively, giving advice, information or an opinion to the reader instead of telling a story.

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