5 Tips to Mastering First-Person Point of View
From childhood you’ve been telling stories in the first-person, using I, me, and my. It’s the simplest way to relay an experience.
It can also be the best point of view for you as a beginning writer.
Read on for first-person point of view tips, tricks, and pitfalls.
- Why Use the First-Person Point of View?
I recommend this approach because it forces you to limit yourself to the mind, the emotions, and the senses of a single character .
Limiting yourself to a single point of view character is a cardinal rule of writing.
The most common form of first-person storytelling is casting the narrator as the protagonist—the main character.
They’re telling their own story.
An option is a first-person telling of the story from the perspective of someone other than the main character. I did this with my very first novel (which became a 13-title series). It was titled Margo, and thus, she was the main character. But the first-person narrator was her love interest and eventual husband.
One advantage of an orbital character narrating in the first person is that it can highlight characteristics of the protagonist that he or she might not even be aware of, or might tend to hide if they were telling the story.
Writing in first person can contribute to strong character development.
Some famous novels rotate first-person narrators (such as with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying) . This requires careful planning and practice.
You’ll want to master the fundamentals of writing from the first-person point of view before trying something that complex.
- 5 Tips for Writing in First Person
1. Avoid head-hopping
This is one of the most common mistakes I see with new authors—switching perspective characters, sometimes within the same scene.
Writing in the first person should remind you that you’re limited to your narrator’s perspective. While you can have that character speculate on what someone else is thinking, you can’t unequivocally say what’s in the other other character’s mind.
Head-hopping requires an omniscient point of view, a style currently largely out of favor.
2. Craft a strong voice
Limiting yourself to one perspective character allows you to effect a unique voice.
Resist the urge to allow your narrator to simply tell the story rather than to show it. My bed was cold is telling. I huddled under the covers, trying to hide from the draft is showing . My coffee was warm is telling. The coffee burned my tongue is showing.
3. Don’t switch tenses
Naturally this tip applies to any writing point of view, but violating it can be especially jarring in first person.
Example: I ran to my car and find I forgot my keys.
Past tense is most common, but regardless, pick a tense and stick with it.
4. Show, don’t tell
Showing, as explained in point 2, triggers the theater of your reader’s mind, while telling merely spoon feeds them information.
Your first-person narrator should suggest just enough to give readers a role in the story experience. They want to be able to deduce what’s going on without simply being told everything.
Note how Suzanne Collins accomplishes this in The Hunger Games :
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of reaping.
An amateur might have written, “My sister Prim was scared because the day of reaping meant she could die.”
But Collins gives us enough to deduce this for ourselves.
5. Allow other characters to shine
Crafting a single believable, fleshed-out character doesn’t mean the supporting cast should be ignored. Others, especially important orbital characters, will be seen through the perspective of your first-person POV narrator, of course, but they should be no less compelling.
That might mean exposing them as liars or genuine, credible or otherwise. If you’re an Outliner, you may want to take the time to map out their motives and attributes, as this will give your protagonist more interesting people with whom to interact.
- Try Using First-Person Point of View
If you need help mapping out your characters, try my character arc worksheet .
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How to Write in First Person
Last Updated: October 17, 2022 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA . Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer based in Canada. Stephanie's writing has appeared in Joyland, Catapult, Pithead Chapel, Cosmonaut's Avenue, and other publications. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Writing from Portland State University. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 105,975 times.
Writing in the first person can be a fun challenge, allowing you to explore a first person point of view on the page. You may write in the first person in a short story, novel, or opinion piece. Creating an effective first person narrative requires skill and consistency as well as a thorough revision of the writing once it is done.
Choosing a Tense for the First Person Narrative
- For example, a first person present tense narrator would be, “I open the window and yell at him to leave me alone. I close the window and try to focus on the latest soap opera on television.”
- For example, a first person past tense narrator would be, “I opened the window and yelled at him to leave me alone. I closed the window and tried to focus on the latest soap opera on television.”
- If you are using APA style, you can use the first person point of view to discuss your research steps in a research paper. For example, you may write, “I studied sample A” or “I interviewed subject B.” In general, you should avoid the first person point of view and only use it sparingly in your research paper.
Using the First Person to Build Character
- For example, if your narrator is a Latino teenager who lives in the Bronx, they will have a distinct narrative voice that may use Spanish phrases and teenage slang as well as standard English.
- For example, rather than say, “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A killer spider skittered towards me and I thought, I’m dead,” focus on describing the action straight from the viewpoint of the narrator. You may write, “This couldn’t be what I was seeing. A killer spider skittered towards me. I’m dead.”
- For example, rather than write, “I tried to talk to Sara about how I felt but she didn’t want to listen to what I had to say,” you may put this content in a scene with dialogue and action. You may write instead, “‘Sara, why won’t you talk to me?’ I was determined to get her to listen to what I had to say.”
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
- "Shooting an Elephant," an essay by George Orwell
- "The Death of the Moth," an essay by Virginia Woolf
Avoiding the Pitfalls of First Person
- For example, rather than have two sentences like, “I ran down the stairs, my heart pounding. I could hear the killer spider skittering on the wall behind me,” you can write, “I ran down the stairs, my heart pounding. Behind me, the killer spider skittered on the wall.”
- For example, rather than write, “I bumped into Marsha and she told me she left her homework at home. I felt sorry for her and told her not to get so upset,” you may place the reader right in a scene.
- You may write, “As I turned the corner of the gym, I bumped into Marsha. ‘I forgot my homework at home,’ she complained. I put my hand on her shoulder and tried to comfort her. ‘Don’t be too upset,’ I said to her.”
- For example, rather than write, “I felt sad about losing her as a friend,” you may write, “Sadness filled my body as I realized I was losing her as a friend.”
- You can also often simply remove “I thought” or “I saw” in a sentence to make the first person point of view stronger. For example, rather than write, “I passed her in the hall and almost stopped to talk to her. Then, I thought, why bother, she’s just going to reject you anyway,” remove "I thought" and tighten up the action in the sentence.
- You may write, “I passed her in the hall and almost stopped to talk to her. But I kept walking. Why bother, she’s just going to reject me anyway.”
Polishing the First Person Narrative
- You should also pay attention to the tense in the story. Make sure the story does not shift from present to past tense or vice versa. It should stay in the same tense the entire time.
- You may also show the story to a writing group to get their criticisms and critiques. Be open to the feedback of others and use it to improve the first person narrator in your story.
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/verbtenses
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/verb_tenses/verb_tense_consistency.html
- ↑ https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar/writing/is-character-voice-different-from-author-voice.html
- ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/first-second-and-third-person/
- ↑ http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-writing-in-first-person.html
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
About This Article
Writing in the first person means writing from the perspective of one person or character. When writing, you’ll want to use words like “I,” “we,” or “me” to demonstrate it’s the first-person perspective. For instance, if you’re writing a narrative, you might say, “I called Marissa on the phone.” Avoid starting every sentence with “I” since this can get repetitive. You can also pepper in dialogue, descriptions of the scene, and action sentences to keep things interesting. If you're writing a first-person narrative, you'll want to make sure everything is told from the perspective of 1 character. This means that everything your character says and does should be consistent with their worldview. To learn how to polish your first person narrative, read more from our Writing co-author! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Putting the “I” in your novel–writing in first person
People seem to have a lot of opinions when it comes to first-person narrative in novels. There are people who abhor the very idea and some who even go so far as to say they won’t read a book written in the first person.
But here is a newsflash: those people are both wrong and boring.
Listen, don’t shoot the messenger.
Okay, I might be a touch biased because I personally love first person. In fact, it’s become the only POV I like to write in anymore. There is so much immediacy and emotion I can evoke from writing in first person. Personally, I think it’s more dynamic and captivating overall.
But obviously not everyone is going to feel that way. It’s hard to say where the ire for first person derives (well, I have my theories, but we won’t go there), but the good news is you don’t have to listen to those people. Because for all the people who claim they don’t like first person, there are just as many who do.
What is first person narrative?
First person narrative is when you write using the words “I”, “us”, or “we”. It’s when your story is told through the eyes of one person and we spend time in their head, hearing their thoughts and seeing what they see.
Some well-known books that use first person include:
The Hunger Games
To Kill a Mockingbird
Bridget Jones's Diary
The Hate U Give
The Handmaid's Tale
Genre and POV
Like so many things, it’s important to consider your genre when you’re choosing your narrative point of view. There are specific genres where you’ll see first person a lot. Those include young adult, romance, thrillers, urban fantasy, and mysteries, for example. Why does it work so well for these genres?
Because we only know what the narrator sees in a first-person story, this type of narrative works well for thrillers and mysteries where you don't want the clues to be revealed too soon. You can make use of what your narrator doesn’t know to help drive the story forward and bring your reader into the know at the same time as your protagonist.
There’s something about the depth you can get with a first-person perspective that works very well for YA. Since young adult stories center around a protagonist who’s finding their place in the world, it can be very powerful to be in their head, feeling and thinking through all their emotions.
A similar theory applies to romance novels. During a romance arc, your characters are feeling some of the strongest things they might ever experience. By telling that story from right inside their heads, you can use the first-person narrative to hook your readers directly into their plight. When that third-act breakup inevitably comes, you can have your readers wallow in the same despair and, when they finally achieve their happily-ever-after, they can be cheering alongside your main character.
A note: None of this is to say there aren’t countless thriller, mystery, romance, and YA novels written in third person that aren’t also amazing in different ways. Any book at any time can be written either way and be equally good.
Other reasons first person works
Aside from the two things mentioned above, there are a couple other reasons you might choose to write in first person.
Offers credibility and relatability
When your main character feels like they’re talking directly to readers, there’s a certain level of intimacy you can achieve that lends both credibility and relatability to your story. If you’re writing a protagonist that maybe isn’t super likable, you can make use of first person by getting into their heads and showing the reasons they act the way they do, for example.
If it’s necessary for them to be an actual expert–maybe they’re a detective solving a crime–you can also increase their credibility using first person because their actions, thoughts, and knowledge aren’t diluted by anyone else’s perspective.
A view through their lens
When you write from a first person perspective, the only opinion we get is that of your character. The only experience we feel is theirs. That includes all the things they choose to tell the reader and all the things they might choose not to tell. If you’re aiming for an unreliable narrator, using first person can work well because everything they’re seeing is filtered through their personal lens. It also makes it easy for them to leave out certain details that can trip a reader up and lead them in a direction they don’t anticipate.
Personally, I find it much easier to incorporate humor into my stories when I’m writing them from the first person. There’s just something about using the candid, off-the-cuff thoughts of your protagonist that allows for a biting and sarcastic wit that just doesn’t seem to work as well for third person narration. Maybe that’s just me, though.
True story: I once had an editor tell me she didn’t actually care for my style of humor and, ouch… I think I’m funny.
Types of first-person narration
Essentially, there are two types of first-person narration you might consider writing.
The first is first-person central and is likely the type you’re most familiar with. This is where the main character is the central protagonist and the story is happening to them.
The second type is first-person peripheral , and this is where your narrator is more of an observer in the story. They’re the ones offering background information and their own speculations as the story happens around them.
Tips for writing first person
If you want to take the plunge into writing first person, here are a few tips to help get you started and ensure your narrative is on point:
- Be up front. Let your audience know right away that this is a first-person story. Your novel should lead with your character anyway, so this is actually pretty easy. Make use of that “I” somewhere in your first sentence and you’re golden.
- Avoid distancing verbs. It can be easy to fall into the trap of using phrases like “I thought” or “I felt” a little too often when writing in the first person. These are verbs that distance the reader from your writing, which is the exact opposite effect you want when choosing to write first person. Remember that you can simply state their thoughts because you’re already in their head. Instead of “I felt the tremors beneath my feet,” you can write, “Tremors rumbled beneath my feet.”
- Avoid using “I”. Similar to the above, many writers can fall into the trap of using the word “I” too often. Obviously, you can’t write first person without using it, but be mindful of how often this little word is popping up. Especially at the beginning of sentences. Mix up the way you introduce thoughts and ideas. “I nestled back on the cushions,” versus, “The cushions cradled me in a nest of warmth.”*^
*Listen, this is a good tip for all your writing regardless of what POV you’re writing.
^But when you're doing this, also be mindful you're not sliding into too much passive writing, kind of like I did there in my example. It can be easy to fall into that habit. For more on what active versus passive writing is, have a look at this article .
A word on using italics to convey internal thoughts: When writing in the first person, you can make use of italics to convey internal thoughts… but if it’s written in first person, aren’t they all internal thoughts? There are two schools of practice on this notion and you’re likely going to find people who disagree on both sides.
Modern practice in traditional publishing is to err on the side of not italicizing inner thoughts, but there are people who love them and are going to keep using them.
Personally, I don’t care for them and am in the school that says, it’s first person–it’s all their thoughts so you don’t need it. I only use italics for thoughts when I really want to emphasize them.
But it’s your story. You do what makes your heart happy.
Do you know what else is bound to make your heart happy, though? Becoming an amazing writer. And the best way to do that is to have awesome, practical articles on improving your craft delivered right to your inbox once a week.
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Nisha J Tuli is a YA and adult fantasy and romance author who specializes in glitter-strewn settings and angst-filled kissing scenes. Give her a feisty heroine, a windswept castle, and a dash of true love and she’ll be lost in the pages forever. When Nisha isn’t writing, it’s probably because one of her two kids needs something (but she loves them anyway). After they’re finally asleep, she can be found curled up with her Kobo or knitting sweaters and scarves, perfect for surviving a Canadian winter.
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Book marketing. Those two innocuous words instill fear and loathing into the hearts of so many writers. You just want to write your books and have them sell themselves. Why do you have to tell people about it? Well, Susan, because you do. I know you want to write, but if your goal is to write, publish, and make money from your books, then you’re going to have to find a way to make them visible. Thousands of new titles are uploaded to Amazon every single day. Millions of books are being published every year, and no matter how good your story is, without marketing, there’s not much chance very many people will find it.
What kind of writer are you? Are you the sort who writes a meticulous outline that tips into the five digits or the type who sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper and lets the words pour out of you like a runaway train? Did you know there are specific terms for this kind of writing? Writers will come up with words for anything, I swear. Plotters are the first type of writer. They like to have detailed outlines that tell them exactly where their story is going. Pantsers are the other type of writer, which is kind of a weird name, but the term was coined by Stephen King (a famous pantser) to describe writing by the seat of your pants. Cute, eh? There is no right or wrong way to write your book, and I’m going to repeat this so many times. The right way is the way that works for you.
Dystopian fiction is one of the darker subgenres of science fiction and fantasy. It takes us into dark, foreboding worlds, where oppression and bleak landscapes are the norm. Books like 1984 by George Orwell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley have become classics that shine a light on political corruption, environmental disaster, and societal collapse.Why do we love these stories? Maybe it's because dystopian fiction allows us to explore worst-case scenarios, to grapple with the idea that the world we know and love could be lost forever. It's a way for us to confront our fears and anxieties about the future, to see what could happen if we continue down a certain path.
First Person Point of View: Definition and Examples
The first person point of view is a powerful writing style that allows authors to tell their stories through the eyes of a character. With a strong narrative voice, first person storytelling can evoke powerful emotions, create relatable characters, and forge a deep connection between the reader and the narrative. This article will explore the benefits and challenges of first person point of view writing, provide tips for mastering this perspective, and showcase its impact on storytelling. For more on point of view check out our article on Story Grid’s NARRATIVE PATH and the THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW .
Why Choose First Person Point of View
The first person point of view is an incredibly popular choice for writers across various genres, from literary fiction to memoirs and beyond. Some of the reasons writers might opt for this perspective include the following:
1. Intimacy and Connection
One of the most significant benefits of first person point of view writing is the intimacy it creates between the reader and the narrator. By allowing the reader to experience the story through the eyes and emotions of a character, the narrative becomes more personal and relatable. This connection can make readers feel more invested in the story and more empathetic towards the protagonist.
2. Character Development
First person perspective is an excellent tool for delving into a character’s psyche, motivations, and emotions. By giving readers a front-row seat to the character’s thoughts and feelings, writers can create complex, multi-dimensional narrative that resonates with readers long after they’ve finished the book.
3. Authenticity and Immediacy
Writing in the first person point of view can lend a sense of authenticity and immediacy to your story. This perspective allows the narrator to share their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in real-time, making the narrative feel more grounded and believable.
Challenges of First Person Point of View
Despite its many benefits, first person point of view writing can also pose challenges for authors. Some of these challenges include the following:
1. Limited Perspective
One of the most significant limitations of first person point of view is its inherently restricted perspective. Since the reader can only access the narrator’s thoughts and experiences, they’re unable to see the full picture of what’s happening in the story. This limited perspective can sometimes make it difficult for writers to reveal essential plot points or explore the thoughts and motivations of other characters.
2. Reliability and Bias
First person narrators are, by nature, subjective and potentially unreliable. This can be both a strength and a weakness in storytelling. On the one hand, an unreliable narrator can create suspense and intrigue, leaving readers questioning the truth of the narrative. On the other hand, an overly biased or untrustworthy narrator can alienate readers and undermine the story’s credibility.
3. Overuse of “I”
Writing in first person point of view can lead to an overuse of the pronoun “I,” which can become repetitive and tiresome for readers. Writers must find ways to vary their sentence structure and avoid falling into this trap.
Tips for Mastering First Person Point of View
1. develop a strong narrative voice.
A compelling narrative voice is essential for first person point of view writing. Consider your character’s background, personality, and goals when crafting their voice. Make sure their voice is consistent throughout the story because point of view slips can be jarring for readers.
2. Balance Inner Thoughts and External Action
While the first person perspective lends itself to introspection, it’s essential to balance the character’s inner thoughts with external action. Too much introspection can slow the pace of the story, which is the bigger concern. Too much action can leave readers feeling disconnected from the character. Finding the right proportion will keep readers engaged and invested in the story.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
Showing and telling is a related concern. While it may be tempting to rely on the narrator’s thoughts to explain the story through “telling,” it’s crucial to “show” readers what’s happening through vivid descriptions of carefully chosen details. This allows readers to experience the story alongside the characters, making it more immersive and engaging.
4. Enlist Supporting Characters
Even though the first person point of view focuses on the narrator’s perspective, supporting characters still play a vital role in the story. Use dialogue and interactions with other characters to reveal additional information about the narrator and the world they inhabit (CONTEXT). This can help enrich the story and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the protagonist’s experiences.
5. Experiment with Unreliable Narrators
Embracing the potential unreliability of a first person narrator can add depth and intrigue to your story. By subtly hinting at the narrator’s bias or gaps in their understanding, you can create an atmosphere of suspense and keep readers guessing until the very end.
6. Vary Your Sentence Structure
To avoid the overuse of “I” as a sentence opener and maintain the reader’s interest, vary your sentence structure by incorporating different sentence lengths and styles. This can help create a more dynamic and engaging narrative.
First Person Point of View in Different Genres
The first person point of view is versatile and can be used effectively in different genres. Here are just a few examples of how this perspective can enhance different types of stories.
1. Literary Fiction
In literary fiction, first person point of view can be used to explore complex themes, ideas, and emotions through a character’s subjective experiences. This perspective can provide a deeper understanding of human nature and the human condition.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The novel is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, who becomes involved with the mysterious, wealthy Jay Gatsby and his circle of friends and acquaintances. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
2. Mystery and Thriller
First person perspective can add tension and suspense to mystery and thriller novels, as the reader is limited to the protagonist’s knowledge and experiences. This can create an atmosphere of uncertainty and anticipation, as readers eagerly await the story’s resolution.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
In this story, Nick and Amy share their own versions of events that lead to and followed Amy’s disappearance.
“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.”
“Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teenage girl talking on the phone with my hair in a ponytail, the bubble above my head saying: I met a boy!”
3. Memoirs and Autobiographies
Memoirs and autobiographies naturally lend themselves to first person point of view, as they are personal accounts of an individual’s life experiences. This perspective allows readers to connect with the author on a deeper level and gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
Patchett tells the story of her relationship with her friend Lucy Grealy.
“As I sat in the audience, watching, I believed we had something in common even though I wrote short stories. People liked my work but had trouble remembering me. I was often confused with another writer names Anne who was in one of my classes, and with a girl named Corinna who lived downstairs from me. Unlike Lucy, I had a tendency to blur into other people.”
4. Young Adult Fiction
First person point of view is prevalent in young adult fiction, as it allows readers to closely identify with the protagonist’s emotions and experiences. This perspective can be particularly effective in capturing the unique challenges, insecurities, and triumphs of adolescence.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen narrates her experience representing District 12 in the titular games.
“In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. “District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.”
Other Examples of First Person Point of View
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee The story is told from the perspective of young Scout Finch, who narrates her experiences growing up in the American South during the 1930s. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.”
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë This classic novel is narrated by the protagonist, Jane Eyre, who recounts her life from childhood to adulthood, including her love for Mr. Rochester. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question. I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.”
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath The story is told from the perspective of Esther Greenwood, a young woman experiencing a mental breakdown as she navigates the challenges of her personal and professional life. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers—goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive along your nerves.”
How can this benefit your writing today?
The first person point of view is a powerful and versatile writing technique that can bring your story to life in a unique and intimate way with engaging narratives that resonate with readers across different genres. By understanding the challenges of first person writing and using the tips provided in this article, you can craft compelling stories that showcase the power of this distinctive narrative voice. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just beginning, writing from the first person perspective can unlock new possibilities and help you level up your craft.
Run an experiment. Change the existing point of view in a passage from a story. You could use a paragraph from a story you love or a sample from your own work in progress. Consider what needs to change (beyond the pronouns) to make the shift. For example, context details and the way they are expressed depends on the point of view. Identify what’s lost and what’s gained by altering the perspective. How does the new version change where you focus the reader’s attention? Choose another example and run the experiment again.
This is just the start of what you can learn about point of view. Dig deeper by exploring Story Grid’s Narrative Path.
Point of View: Why Narrative Device Can Make or Break Your Story by Leslie Watts
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First Person Point Of View A Comprehensive Overview For Writers [Including Examples]
Writing in first person point of view can be one of the most engaging and rewarding narrative viewpoints. This perspective allows the reader to 'see' the main character's world in a way that the third-person perspective doesn't allow.
In this point of view, the narrator is a character within the story, and the story is told from that character's perspective. You can see that this story is told from the narrator's viewpoint. Stories written from the first person point of view will use pronouns such as 'I' and 'we'.
When writing a novel, you must choose which narrative viewpoint will work best for you and your book. Though your instinct might be to use a third-person point of view, it is always worth considering is a first-person point of view is a better option for your story.
In this article, you'll learn about first person point of view. You'll discover the strengths and weaknesses of a first-person point of view and find out when it best fits your next writing project. In addition, you will discover then first-person perspective is a better choice than third person point of view.
Table of Contents
What is Narrative Viewpoint?
What is first person point of view, advantages and disadvantages of first person point of view, types of first person point of view, types of story, criticism of first-person viewpoint, frequently asked questions.
To fully understand the first-person point of view, we must first look at the narrative viewpoint in general.
We must take one step further back and consider narration as a whole. Wikipedia describes narration as 'the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience'. [ source ]
In other words, it is how a story is told to the reader.
Narration is split into three elements:
- Narrative point of view: the grammatical person used by the narrator to refer to the character being narrated.
- Narrative tense: the consistent use of the grammatical tense of either past or present.
- Narrative techniques: methods of conveying the story.
Of these three elements, it is the narrative point of view that interests us.
The person who tells a story is known as the narrator; this might be a character in the story, but it might also be a separate 'voice' independent of the other characters.
The narrative viewpoint is determined by 'who' tells the story and 'how the story is told'.
There are three common types of narrative viewpoints:
- First-person point of view.
- Second-person point of view .
- Third-person point of view .
First-person uses the pronouns: I, me, my, mine, myself, we, our, ours, ourselves. The second person uses - you, your, yours, and yourself. Third person point of view uses - she, her, hers, herself, he, him, his, himself, they, them, themselves, their, theirs.
This means a first-person narrator will use words like 'I,' 'me,' and 'mine.'
Third person point of view is the most common choice for writers. If you are interested in third person point of view, you can find out more here .
If you would like to learn more about the specifics of all different points of view, this extensive article called Mastering Point Of View In Writing: A Comprehensive Guide will prove to be an effective resource.
In the first person point of view, the narrator is a character within the story, and the story is told from that character's perspective.
For example, look at the extract below from Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain ; this is written from a first-person point of view.
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom's Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
You can see that this story is told from the narrator's viewpoint. Stories written from the first person point of view will use pronouns such as 'I' and 'we'. You can see from the extract above that 'I' is used several times.
The following example is the opening paragraph from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee . You can see that the use of 'my' in the opening sentence indicates this is written from a first-person point of view.
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.
Perhaps one of the most famous opening lines from one of the most famous novels comes from Herman Melville's Moby Dick .
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time tozz get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
The simple three-word opening sentence, Call me Ishmael, clearly indicates this is a work written from a first-person point of view.
There are advantages and disadvantages to writing from a first-person point of view.
The main advantage is that the viewpoint presents the reader with the narrator's mind's eye view of the fictional world. This means that the writer can provide the reader with a direct insight into the thoughts and feelings of the main character/narrator. It also means that the 'gap' between the narrator and the reader is almost non-existent. The reader can know and understand everything the narrator knows and understands. Therefore, if the narrator is sad, the reader can see this through the narrator's thoughts.
This advantage is also a disadvantage since the reader is limited to the same view of the world as held by the narrator. The reader is only able to understand what the narrator understands. The reader can only see and experience what the narrator sees and experiences. Therefore, if the character is in a room, and there is a noise outside the room, the reader cannot know what made the noise until the narrator finds out.
Storytelling in the first person point of view is often narrow in scope, focusing on the internal dialogue of one character.
This limited knowledge of the world has been used to significant effect by many writers.
Since the narrator and reader are so closely related, it is possible to tell a story that the narrator heavily influences. In many of the best novels written in the first person point of view, a further element is created by making the narrator unreliable. In short, this means that the narrator cannot be trusted. The information being passed to the reader has, in some way, been altered by the narrator.
In some cases, this might be that the narrator is not openly lying but presenting the world to the reader through their internal lens. However, in many cases, the narrator openly lies with the first-person point of view, telling the reader what they want them to know. The reader is forced to trust the narrator's version of the world.
In the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, the main character is a psychopathic high-flyer banker that kills for pleasure. It is written from a first-person point of view. Throughout the book, the reader sees the world filtered through a killer's mind.
Look at this example to see how the writer is using first person point of view to influence the reader:
Outside this cab, on the sidewalks, black and bloated pigeons fight over scraps of hot dogs in front of a Gray's Papaya while transvestites idly look on and a police car cruises silently the wrong way down a one-way street and the sky is low and gray and in a cab that's stopped in traffic across from this one, a guy who looks a lot like Luis Carruthers waves over at Timothy and when Timothy doesn't return the wave the guy—slicked-back hair, suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses—realizes it's not who he thought it was and looks back at his copy of USA Today. Panning down to the sidewalk there's an ugly old homeless bag lady holding a whip and she cracks it at the pigeons who ignore it as they continue to peck and fight hungrily over the remains of the hot dogs and the police car disappears into an underground parking lot.
It is also possible that the writer will use the first-person point of view to withhold vital information from the reader, limiting the available knowledge. This is common in specific genres, such as detective fiction and horror. One famous example of this approach is Iain Banks's excellent novel The Wasp Factory . In this story, key plot points are unknown to the narrator/main character and, therefore, the reader. The result is a shocking revelation at the climax of the story.
First-person point of view can be written in several forms. It is possible to use an interior monologue, in which the narrator tells the reader their thoughts. Some writers, such as Albert Camus , use a dramatic monologue approach, where the narrator interacts with others to a limited extent. The final type is an explicit voice, where words, actions, and thoughts are described. We saw this above in Huckleberry Finn .
It is also essential to consider how the story is being told. The narrator might be writing it down (and we, the reader, are reading these words), the narrator may be speaking the words, and we are 'listening', or it might be that the words are the narrator's thoughts.
The reader must also consider why the story is being told. For example, if the words are being written down, why is the narrator doing this, and who was the intended reader? Are the words part of a diary, always meant to be private, or are they a letter with a known recipient? The way the first-person narrator relates the story will affect the language used, the length of sentences, the tone of voice, and many other things. For example, a story presented as a secret diary should be presented differently than a public statement.
First-person viewpoint lends itself to telling 'small' stories based on a limited number of characters. The focus tends to be on the narrator's internal landscape and is often more about how a character feels and thinks rather than broader actions and events.
This means that the most successful novels in this viewpoint are those in which the narrator is the central character.
First-person point of view is less commonly used than third person.
Stories that involve many characters across multiple locations often need better choices for this viewpoint, which is why genres such as epic fantasy tend to use a third-person viewpoint.
It is possible to tell a 'bigger' story using a first-person viewpoint but with multiple characters. This approach sees the story in first person but by two or three different characters. This is a more modern approach to writing but can be very effective. One of the most well-executed examples of this approach is Caroline Smailes' The Drowning of Arthur Braxton .
When making a choice between using first person's point of view and third person point of view, you must have a deep understanding of the type of story you are trying to tell. If you are looking at telling a story with a tight focus on a single character, with lots of internal dialogue, then first-person point of view will be a good choice. However, if your story involves many characters, then third-person point of view might be a better option.
While the first-person viewpoint can be a powerful tool for storytelling, it is not without its criticisms. One of the main criticisms of the first-person viewpoint is that it can be limiting for the reader, as they only get to see and experience the events of the story through the eyes of one character. This means that they may not get the full picture of what is happening in the story and may miss important details or perspectives.
For example, if the main character is not present for a key event, the reader will not get to see what happened and may have to rely on the main character's interpretation of the event. This can be frustrating for the reader and can make it difficult for them to fully understand and engage with the story.
Additionally, the main character may not always be the most reliable narrator. They may have their own biases, prejudices, or agendas that influence their perception of events and how they are presented to the reader. This can make it difficult for the reader to determine what is really happening in the story and can even lead to misunderstandings or misinterpreting the events of the story.
One example of a novel that grapples with the issue of unreliable narrators is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this novel, the main character, Nick Carraway, is a biased and unreliable narrator, which contributes to the reader's difficulty in understanding the true nature of the other characters and events in the story.
Here are some resources for further reading on the first-person viewpoint in novels:
- "First Person Narrative: Advantages and Disadvantages" by Jane Campion for Writers Write: https://www.writerswrite.com/first-person-narrative-advantages-and-disadvantages/
- "First Person Point of View: Definition and Examples" by William Gipson for The Write Practice: https://thewritepractice.com/first-person-point-of-view/
- "The Pros and Cons of First Person Point of View" by J.M. Northup for The Writing Cooperative: https://writingcooperative.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-first-person-point-of-view-b1f5864fc9f7
- "The Power of the First Person Point of View" by K.M. Weiland for Helping Writers Become Authors: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/power-first-person-point-view/
- "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner - This book is a classic guide to the craft of fiction writing and includes a chapter on the use of the first-person viewpoint in novels.
- "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King - In this memoir, bestselling author Stephen King shares his thoughts on the writing process and offers advice on how to craft compelling stories. The book includes a section on the use of the first-person viewpoint in storytelling.
- "The First Person: How to Write a Memoir" by Benjamin Maurer - This book is a guide to writing memoirs and personal essays using the first-person viewpoint. It includes tips on how to craft a compelling narrative and how to create a strong connection with the reader.
Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.
How do I know if first person point of view is right for my story?
Deciding whether or not to use first person point of view in your writing depends on a number of factors, such as the type of story you're telling, the genre you're working in, and your personal writing style. To determine whether first person point of view is the right choice for your story, consider experimenting with different narrative techniques and getting feedback from beta readers or an editor.
How can I make my first person narrative more compelling?
There are several strategies you can use to make your first person narrative more compelling, such as developing a strong and authentic narrator, using sensory details and vivid language to immerse the reader in the story, and creating tension and conflict to drive the narrative forward. It can also be helpful to work with a beta reader or editor to get feedback on your writing and identify areas for improvement.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when writing in first person?
Some common mistakes to avoid when writing in first person include overusing first person pronouns, failing to establish the narrator's voice and perspective, using first person as a crutch instead of developing a strong plot and characters, and neglecting to revise and edit your writing for clarity and consistency. It can be helpful to work with a beta reader or editor to identify these and other common mistakes in your writing.
First-person point of view is a narrative perspective in which the narrator is a character within the story, and the story is told from their perspective using pronouns such as "I" and "we." This perspective allows the reader to experience the story and the world of the main character in a way that the third-person perspective does not. When writing a novel, it is important to consider which narrative viewpoint will work best for the story. Although the third-person point of view is the most common choice for writers, the first-person point of view can also be a strong and effective option.
There are three common types of narrative viewpoints: first person, second person, and third person. First person point of view uses the pronouns "I," "me," "my," "mine," "myself," "we," "our," "ours," and "ourselves." Second person point of view uses the pronouns "you," "your," "yours," and "yourself." Third person point of view uses the pronouns "she," "her," "hers," "herself," "he," "him," "his," "himself," "they," "them," "themselves," "their," and "theirs."
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