1st person or 2nd person when writing a bio?

I once read somewhere a long time ago that, according to an “expert,” a person should write their biography in the 2nd person, though I can’t recall the reason(s) given. Might any of you seriously brilliant people know why the second person perspective is the way to go (if true)? I would think it awkward, but then what do I know.

Also, can any of you tell me if it’s legal to write a bio and insert lots of quotes from a book that is no longer in print (though said references will be attributed to the book in question)?

Thanks VERY MUCH(!!) in advance for your comments, if any. :slight_smile:

The second person is “you.” As in, you went to the store and met with your political manager to test the waters about your political candidacy."

I can’t imagine you meant that. Nobody writes a biography that way. Even worse, when you say “a person should write their biography” it almost sounds as if you’re talking about an autobiography.

That leaves first person, “I” and third person, “he or she.”

99.999% of autobiographies are written in the first person. For good and obvious reasons.

99.999% of biographies are written in the third person. For good and obvious reasons.

Out of print is not at all the same thing as out of copyright. Only books that came out pre-1923 are certain to be out of copyright.

You can certainly quote books if you attribute them. You are limited in how much of a copyrighted book you can quote. There is no exact formula for this, however. Too much is too much and this will be pretty apparent to everyone. How much is too much? That’s a question for philosophers. Just don’t overdo it.

But the exceptions can be a lotta fun: I love The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein.

A best-selling novel written in the second person: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984):

Mapcase, thanks!!

Exapno Mapcase nailed it.

The only “biography” that you would write for yourself should not be in any person.

Born: date

Schools attended: Miss Manners College of Baloney - etc.

If you need to personalize it, use the first person: “I was born…” in which case you are now writing an autobiography. Pretending that you are someone else writing about you would be silly or deceitful or pretentious.

I was taught to remember “person” with this little saying… "I am the first person, you are the second person and he is the third person. Using your name can also be third person. If you and I are talking and you say (about yourself) “Benny73 is a great guy” then that is speaking in the third person because you are speaking about Benny as someone other than you or me. People who speak of themselves in the third person are universally recognized as idiots.

If you go to the bathroom and snort coke, turn to page 46. If you offer the girl a ride in your DeLorean, turn to page 78. Reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure books from the same time.

I remember the book, but I never read it. It is interesting to know that it was written in second person.

I skimmed over a few pages of a novel by Edna O’Brien that was written in the second person, many years ago. Can’t remember which one, it’s not like I’m an authority on Edna.

The songwriter Al Stewart does seem to be able to do this.

Year of the Cat
On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

Flying Sorcery
With your photographs of Kitty Hawk
And the biplanes on your wall
You were always Amy Johnson
From the time that you were small.
No schoolroom kept you grounded
While your thoughts could get away
You were taking off in Tiger Moths
Your wings against the brush-strokes of the day
Are you there?

Sand In Your Shoes
You always were a city kid
T hough you were country raised
And back in some forgotten time
W e shared the cold north days
But the simple life was not your style,
And you just had to escape
So it’s goodbye to my lady of the islands

Not The One
And so you sit there in the middle of the carpet
With her suitcases around you
And it comes to you she journeyed to the center of your life
But she never really found you
Just another girl in a raincoat
Who shared the passing of the days
And you’re glad of the warmth that she gave you
And you hardly need to say
That she’s not the one you’re thinking of
No she’s not the one you really want
Just a point along the line you’re leaving from

Hey, thanks EVERYBODY!!!

I’m going to read 'em all a few more times and let it all soak into my tired head. I knew this place had smart, friendly people, and you proved it. Thanks!!!

Ray Davies of The Kinks, seminal Brit rock band of the 60s and 70s, managed to write his own Unauthorised Autobiography X-Ray by creating a situation in which the author (Ray Davies), as a flunky of a future corporation, goes to interview old rocker Ray Davies.

Pretty clever really.

Oh, I know of numerous works of fiction in the second person. Bright Lights, Big City is a stunningly good debut, no doubt. There are many examples. And writers do odder things than that. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is a first person account of his life that starts with his conception. It’s the first postmodern novel. From 1767.

But the OP asked about biographies. I don’t doubt that somewhere, sometime, somebody wrote a biography or an autobiography in the second person. People do things to be different, noticeable, weird, perverse, experimental, arty, or an asshole. That’s why I threw in the 99.999% CYA. I just have never come across one in real life.