I know that a first-person narrative is written from the point of view of the narrator, relaying events from their own point of view using the first person (i.e. I or we, etc).

Is there a name/term for each of the related specific "sub-types" of perspective where you are speaking to the reader, either in the past tense or in the present tense, like the examples below?

Example 1: Past Tense:

When our train arrived in Paris, I asked you if you wanted start sight-seeing right away, or wanted to go drop our things off at the hotel. You thought about it and then told me you were hungry and that you first wanted to get some lunch.

Example 2: Present Tense:

When our train arrives in Paris, I ask you if you want to start sight-seeing right away, or if you want to go drop our things off at the hotel. You think about it for a while and then you tell me you are hungry and that you first want to get some lunch."

I am an amateur story writer and I want to learn more about this style by searching for existing stories in those points-of-view, but I can't search for them if I don't even know what it's called.

  • 1
    You don't seem to be having a specific writing related problem. Questions about literary terminology are better suited for Literature.SE, I believe.
    – user29032
    May 8, 2018 at 8:33
  • 1
    There is a precedent for questions like this. Take for example 1 2 and 3. If we close this, we probably need to revaluate questions like this in general. May 8, 2018 at 14:04

3 Answers 3


Your examples show a narrative with mixed first- and second-person narration.

Second-person narration

But let's clear up second-person narration first.

Second person narrative is what it is called when the main character is being addressed directly. It is marked by frequent use of the word "you." (Chris Sunami)

A clear example of pure second-person narration is Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney which begins:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.

The novel continues to be told firmly in the second-person. (Go to Amazon and read the first two chapters in the preview to get a feel for what second-person narrative can be.)

Your examples

Now that we know the difference between third- ("He went ..."), first- ("I went ..."), and second-person narration ("You went ..."), let us analyze your examples.

Your example shows a mixed perspective. There are two characters here, the one narrating from a first-person perspective and the other person, addressed in the second person, who is being asked and who answers.

It is important to note that in your examples the second person is not the reader! The reader does not take part in the story. The narrator can address the reader ("Dear reader, ..."), but the reader cannot act in the story. In your example, the "you" takes an active part in the story: "You think about it for a while and then you tell me you are hungry and that you first want to get some lunch." The reader cannot tell the author that they are hungry. So this "you" cannot be the reader.

I don't know how this story continues. It could be that the first-person narrator steps back from the story completely and tells the adventures of the second-person viewpoint character ("you"), turning this into a second-person narration. Or it could be that the second-person character sits down over lunch and remains there while the first-person viewpoint character goes on an adventure, turning it into a first-person narration. Currently it is a mixed viewpoint narration, and it could well be that both the narrator and the audience go on an adventure together.

Narrative instances

However that may be, the general schema for a narration is this:

  author            reader
    |                  ^
    |                  |
 (writes)           (reads)
    |                  |
    v                  |                                   real world
 narrator          audience    <----+      "frame"    fictional world
    |                  ^            |
    |                  |            |
(narrates)          (hears)     may or may not be identical
    |                  |            |
    v                  |            |
1st-person         2nd-person       |
viewpoint  and/or  viewpoint    <---+      "story"
character          character

The author writes the book in the real world. In the book, the story is told by the narrator. The narrator may or may not explicitly appear in the book. If he appears, it can be in a framing narrative (such as someone telling a story to an audience or someone remembering his past), as the protagonist (who narrates the story as he lives it), or as a side character (who observes the events from within the story, for example as a companion to the protagonist or as the antagonist). The viewpoint character is a part of the story, either as its protagonist or as a side character. The viewpoint character can be identical to the narrator ("I went ..."), to the audience ("You went ..."), or a different person ("He went ..."). Like the narrator, the audience can explicitly appear in the narrative (as a second-person viewpoint character or as the listener in a framing narrative) or he can be implied. When the narrator addresses a reader ("Dear reader ..."), in fiction this "reader" is not the real world reader of the book, but the audience: an instance of the text. (Only in non-fiction does the author actually address the reader directly. In non-fiction there usually is no narrator and audience ["I'll explain to you how to bake cake. You take a cup of flour ..."].)

Examples to explain the narrative instances

In your examples, the "I" is the narrator and the "you" is the audience. Let us look at some other examples to hopefully explain the narrative instances better:

An author writes a story, in which a storyteller sits down with some children and tells them a tale. The storyteller is the narrator of the tale, and the children are the audience. Both are fictional characters inside the framing narrative, and both do not take part in the story that the storyteller/narrator tells. You, the reader, read the book. The storyteller will address the children with "you" and speak of himself as "I":

Listen, children, I am going to tell you a story.

In that example, the "you" refers to the audience (the children) not the reader, but both narrator and audience are not part of the story.

Listen, children, I am going to tell you a story. There once was a man and he ...

Now we can change this book so that the narrator tells his own story to the children. He will tell the story in the first person, and the "you" is still the audience, and neither the reader nor a character in the story. (And the narrator is not the protagonist either! He tells his own story, but looking back on it, so there is a temporal difference between the narrator and the protagonist.)

Listen, children, today I am going to tell you a story. Yesterday I went to ...

But now we can go a step further and imagine that the narrator, on August 31st, 1953, tells the children the story of how he and the children went to Coney Island on August 30th, 1953 (and you write about that and I read it). Then, both the "I" and "you" are characters in the story as well as characters in the framing narrative. They are both protagonists – a first-person and a second-person protagonist – in a mixed first- and second-person narration.

Listen, children, I am going to tell you how we went to Coney Island and you ran away and I had to search for you.

And of course you can leave the framing narrative away, and then we have an example similar to yours, where the narrator and first-person viewpoint character are identical and the audience and second-person viewpoint character are identical as well:

Yesterday we went to Coney Island and you ran away and I had to search for you. You all cried, because you were afraid, but when I came, you smiled, because I brought you ice cream. Then we got on the bus and rode home.

Difference between mixed first-and second person narration and first-person narration

The previous example (and your examples) are not first-person narration! The following is first-person narration:

Yesterday I went to Coney Island with the kids and they ran away and I had to search for them.

Mixed first- and third person narration is rare

Whether it is mixed first- and third-person narration will depend on whether we have a head-hopping narrative in which the third-person has its own viewpoint (with an internal view of the third-person character: "I thought/felt ..., and she thought/felt ..."; this is rare and generally considered bad writing) or merely a side character (with only the first-person viewpoint character's outside view of them: "I looked at her and wondered what she thought."; this is common first-person narration).


There are no different terms for second-person or mixed narratives in different tenses. You could say: mixed first- and second-person narrative in past tense. But that is not a term but merely descriptive.

Different kinds of narration can be distinguished by point of view – that's what you are asking about –, voice, and time. They are all explained in the Wikipedia article on narration.

  • 1
    "Second person narrative is what it is called when the main character is being addressed directly. It is marked by frequent use of the word 'you.'" It may seem elementary, but clearly that is what the OP is confused about. May 8, 2018 at 16:04
  • @ChrisSunami You are right. I have quoted you in my answer. Next time you better go get those rep points yourself, instead of coaching me to write your answer for you ;-)
    – user29032
    May 8, 2018 at 16:12
  • I don't think this is quite second person--there's no "I" in second person. See their second example--the perspective is still from that of the narrator. This is still a type of first person.
    – Kitkat
    May 8, 2018 at 18:18
  • @Kitkat You are right and I have addressed your concern in an edit.
    – user29032
    May 8, 2018 at 19:09

This would be an Epistolary-First Person, where the narrative voice has direct first hand experience in the story and are relating the facts to the reader who is personified in some way in the story. It was famously used in a number of classical horror stories. Dracula was a series of letters addressed to various characters that the reader was somehow allowed to read (either they played the recipient or they were reading a historical document) as was Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Frankenstein was told by the titular doctor to a person who gives him room for the night on his quest to stop the titular monster. It's basically him explaining why he's so far from home. Watson, in Sherlock Holmes serves this role by documenting Sherlock's adventures and his experience with the man.


Other writers on here may pitch in with a different answer but I know of no such term.

You can Google:

Novels "first person" "present tense"

and get results like:


But I don't know that any specific term exists. One describes Point of View and one describes Tense, two completely different things that aren't encompassed under one umbrella as far as I'm aware.

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