What is First Person Point of View?
The first-person perspective is when the main character, or characters, narrator the story directly to your reader. The reader and the character are like old friends. The character is very open with the reader about their thoughts and feelings. It’s as if you’re reading their journal. Usually, the perspective character is the main character of the story, but not always.
For instance, in The Great Gatsby, written in the first person, Nick Caraway is the perspective character, but not the protagonist. Nick takes part in the story’s events and relays them to the reader, but he is not the main character.
You’ll know you’re reading a story in the first person when you see pronouns like I, me, or my. The character is the narrator, so that they will be speaking directly to the reader.
First Person Point of View:
- Uses pronouns I, me, my, or we
- The narrator character retells the events of the story
- Readers know what the narrator is thinking and feeling
- The reader does not know the thoughts or feelings of other characters
How to write First Person Point of View
Writing from the first-person point of view is a reliable choice if you’re a beginning writer. It’s a clear perspective that isn’t difficult to write. Choose a character like your protagonist, and write the story as if they are retelling the reader’s events.
If you choose the first-person perspective, you’ll need to know your character intimately. You want the hero’s personality to remain consistent throughout the narrative. That is unless they’re a dynamic character. Even then, changes in your protagonist will need to have a cause that develops from your plot. Remember that your character is not you, and they may not react to events in the same way you would.
Interview your point of view character. Know your character’s background, fears, and what motivates them. The first-person perspective’s challenge is keeping your character’s voice, actions, and reactions consistent and believable. You must avoid the temptation to insert your personality and reactions into the story.
Don’t change your character’s personality for the needs of the plot. What does that mean? If your hero has been even-keeled and calm throughout the story, don’t force them to blow up in anger because you need to inject some tension into a scene.
Know your perspective character, and don’t deviate from the personality that you’ve established unless you show the origin of that change in the narrative. Your reader will notice otherwise.
When writing in First Person Point of View:
- Tell the story from a single character’s voice
- Only change that POV at chapter or scene breaks
- Know your POV character intimately
- Don’t insert your personality into the character
- Changes in your POV’s personality come from events of the plot
When to use First Person Point of View
The first person POV is the right choice for writers who are just starting. The first-person perspective’s limited nature will help beginning writers avoid some common POV mistakes such as head-hopping or shifting POV without letting the reader know.
Because of its natural limits, the first person is the right choice if there are details of the plot you want to hide from the reader. Take the example of an unreliable narrator who is lying about the events of the story. Discovering new information, a narrator has kept hidden can be an exciting revelation for your reader. Be sure to foreshadow that your narrator may not be honest.
Because you’re writing from one character’s perspective, the reader can discover story details as your character does. This POV works great in genres like mystery, horror, and romance. These genres require the character and reader to slowly work through the mystery of an event and discover startling truths.
There are times when using the first-person perspective is a given, like when writing a memoir or a personal essay. Lastly, the first person POV is the right choice when writing a small, character-driven plot with a limited cast. However, it’s not the best choice for your epic, world-building fantasy.
Tips for Writing in First Person
- Create unique character voices
When writing multiple characters in the first-person, pay attention to each of their voices. First-person POV is a comfortable choice for many first time writers. However, make sure that you create a unique voice for each character. They should have their way of talking, their interests, tics, etc. Avoid having every character talk precisely alike; not only will this confuse your reader, but worst it will bore them.
2. Don’t use italics for thoughts.
In books where authors employ the use of third-person POV, we’ll often see thoughts in italics. This formatting is not required in the first-person point of view, though. If the reader has a single character’s perspective, they will know who is thinking. No italics needed.
3. Introduce your character before you do anything else
One of the first things you should do in a first-person narrative is to introduce your character to the reader. This introduction should take place in your story’s opening paragraphs to create a bond between your character and the reader.
4. Avoid an “author insert” character.
Because you are writing with the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me,’ it can be easy to feel like you’re speaking for yourself. You’re not! You’ve created a character, a different person from you, and had different experiences than you have. Keep that character voice you made consistently, and avoid taking over the character with your reactions, speech, behavior, or thought.
5. Make it interesting
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but make your character interesting. Give your narrator a compelling backstory and an exciting personality that is informed by that backstory. Your reader will be spending a lot of time with your point of view character, so make it worth their time.
Example of First Person Point of View
“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
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