The First person point of view can be a powerful way to tell your story. First person writing can be intimate, immediate and deeply engaging.
In this article you’ll learn what the first person point of view is, when you should use it and how to do it well.
What Is The First Person Point of View?
Using the first person point of view means writing your story from the perspective of “I” or “we.” This point of view is useful when you want to get inside a character’s head — typically your main protagonist — and reveal what they think, feel, believe and how they react emotionally.
Writing your story from the first person point of view also lets readers better understand your characters’ state of mind as well as their thought process — something that cannot be easily achieved with the use of third person narration or dialogue.
Why Choose It Over the Third Person Point of View
The first person point of view has several advantages over third-person. First person is better suited for stories in which the protagonist’s emotional state dominates the plot. The third person is better suited when your plot line centers around events or places.
Also, the use of first person narration can help your readers establish a stronger bond with your characters, allowing them to live vicariously through them.
These are key advantages when you want to create an emotionally driven story that goes deep into your character’s psyche instead of focusing on external circumstances.
While dialogue and descriptive writing are more suited for painting a picture or capturing the dynamic between characters in a given situation, a first person narrative gives your readers insights into what your main character thinks and feels about the situation from their point of view.
The Importance of Using the Right Point of View in Your Story
The point of view of your story should align with the genre you are writing. For example, the first person POV is not always best for genres that involve a lot of action or that hinge on the interaction between different characters, because it limits the amount of information you can share with your audience.
Also, the first person point of view can sometimes become monotonous and difficult to read if used for dramatic scenes, if you use it to depict intimate relationships (it may become too isolating), or when you need your audience to see the bigger picture in your story.
In these cases, a narrative from multiple points of view may be more appropriate to convey your plot.
Another example of a genre where the first person point of view can enhance your story is suspense. Suspense stories rely on concealing important information from the reader until the protagonist discovers it through their own experiences, and this can be easily accomplished by narrating suspenseful chapters from a first-person’s perspective.
By using this writing technique, your readers will first become emotionally involved with your protagonist and therefore discover significant plot twists through your character’s eyes.
How To Write in the First Person
In order to create an engaging first person narrative, make sure that your protagonist is interesting and has qualities that are relatable to your audience.
Also, you should make sure that your writing reflects the way your character “thinks” and not the way they “speak.” While this may seem obvious, many writers get caught up on writing dialogue and forget to make this important distinction in the flow of their narrative.
Finally, in the first person point of view there’s just one character who’s telling their side of the story so your reader only hears from them.
If you feel the need to have your readers hear the point of view of two or more characters in the first person, then dedicate a chapter to each instead of mixing them in the same narrative, which will be very confusing for your reader.
Examples of Famous Books Written in the First Person
As a reference, here are some examples of epic books that have made use of the first person point of view in a memorable way:
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
5 Tips For Writing a Book Using the First-Person Narrative Voice
Tip 1: Use the correct pronouns
This goes without saying, but make sure that your writing is focused on the use of “I” (or “we”) while minimizing the use of “he, “she,” or “they.”
Although it’s perfectly fine for your main protagonist to refer to other people in their narrative, the idea is to focus your writing on their own state of mind, feelings and emotions as much as possible, so that your readers can develop a strong bond with them.
Tip 2: Be descriptive but focus on “being” instead of “things”
When conveying the thoughts, feelings and experiences of your main character through the use of the first person POV, use descriptive words that create a vivid internal world that your readers can personally relate to.
Try not to over describe places, objects or circumstances externally because doing so will switch the focus away from your protagonist, diluting the connection with your reader.
Tip 3: Try to minimize dialogue
While it may be tempting to intermingle dialogue with your first-person narrative, this should be done sparingly because it’ll take away from your reader’s bond with your protagonist.
Tip 4: Avoid trite language
When writing in the first person, avoid making generalizations or using cliches, like “I killed two birds with one stone…” — instead use language that conveys the same idea but that sounds more authentic and relatable.
Tip 5: Learn from the pros
Finally, make a point of learning from the pros by reading popular books written in the first person before attempting this style yourself, so you can “hear” what it sounds like before you put pen to paper.
In closing, the first person point of view can be a very powerful narrative tool when used correctly and for the right genres.
It’ll work best when your writing is meant to be intimate and personal, allowing your readers to accompany your main protagonist on their emotional journey throughout your story.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.