What is the first-person point of view? Well, the answer is pretty simple. We all use the first-person point of view daily. If you’ve ever recounted a personal story to your friends, then you’ve used the first-person point of view. At least, I hope you did because it would be strange to tell a personal story from a third-person point of view, or stranger, second. Today, I will define the first-person point of view, give some examples of the first-person point of view, and finally some tips on using it.
What is First Person Point of View?
The first-person point of view is when the main character, or characters narrate the story directly to the 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 Pronouns:
There are certain first-person point of view words that will hint to readers the story is in first-person POV. When reading a first-person point of view, you’ll notice the narrator using the following pronouns.
These pronouns indicate that the narrative is written in the first person. Suppose you find yourself using the pronouns frequently in your writing. In that case, you’re probably more comfortable writing from a first-person point of view.
Characteristics of 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 story’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 challenge of first-person perspective 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 which means shifting your POV character 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 own way of talking, unique interests, tics, etc. Avoid having every character talk exactly 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 use the third-person POV, we’ll often see thoughts written 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 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 who has had different experiences than you. Keep that character’s voice consistent, 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
Now you’re probably asking, “what are some examples of first-person point of view?” Well, lucky for you, I’ve got three of them! Plus a list of novels and stories that use first-person POV, but I won’t detail all of them. I encourage you to pick up a few titles and read them yourself.
Many classic novels use the first-person perspective. The first-person point of view gives the reader a sense of familiarity or even intimacy with the narrator. For that reason, the first-person POV is often used in novels with a small cast of characters and insular plots that deal with interpersonal conflicts. One of my favorite books in the first person is F. Scott Fitz Geralds, The Great Gatsby.
Our narrator, Nick Carraway, is detached from the story’s drama, the unrequited love between his friend Jay Gatsby and aristocrat Daisy Buchanan. Jay’s unnatural obsession consumes him and ultimately leads to his murder at the hands of Daisy’s husband, Tom. It’s Nick who is left to contemplate the havoc wrought by Tom and Daisy:
“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
Another classic example of a first-person narrative that we all read in high school is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I won’t say much about the plot (because it’s been years since I read it), but the book centers around a young girl named Scout. Our protagonist discovers that there is much more to her world and her father, Atticus than she could ever realize:
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
I’ll end this with a more contemporary example of a first-person point of view from 2005’s breakout teen romance, Twilight. There’s plenty of opinions on the book, so I won’t bother giving mine. Still, Stephenie Meyer does know how to capture the feeling of being a teenager and discovering your first love:
“Even more, I had never meant to love him. One thing I truly knew – knew it in the pit of my stomach, in the center of my bones, knew it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, knew it deep in my empty chest – was how love gave someone the power to break you.”
― Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
Books written in First Person Narrative:
- The Catcher in the Rye
- The Fault in our Stars
- The Hate You Give
- The Hunger Games
- The Perks of Being a Wall Flower
- Jane Eyre
- The Martian
- Gone Girl Ready
- Player One
- The Bell Jar
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