A Comprehensive Guide to Writing in First Person Point of View
1. Introduction to First Person Point of View (POV)
When you pick up a book, often the thing you'll immediately notice is its point of view. First person point of view is when the story is narrated by one of the characters in the story, and is often used in novels, short stories, and memoirs. (It's uncommon for auto-biographies to be written in anything but first person POV.) Writing in first person point of view can be a great way to connect with your readers and give them a more intimate look at your characters and their inner workings. But it's not always the right choice for every story. With that in mind, we'll take a closer look at first person point of view and how to know if it's right for your story.
2. What is first person point of view?
First person point of view is when the narrator of the story is one of the characters in the story. Often they're the main character that the story is following, but not always. The story is told from their perspective and uses "I" or "we" pronouns. Where as third person point of view tends to have a more neutral dialect, first person stories may lean heavily on accents and regional vernacular and slang as a way to demonstrate authenticity.
One of the big powers of first person POV is that the narration itself can have a very distinct style and feel like a character all of its own.
For a deeper guide and comparison of writing stories in first person and third person, check out our guide to the differences between first and third person point of view.
3. Examples of books written in first person point of view
Here are a few examples of books written from a first person point of view:
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
4. Why do some writers choose to write in first person?
There are many reasons why writers choose to write in first person point of view. One reason is that it allows readers to get a more intimate look at the thoughts and feelings of the main character. First person point of view can also be used to build suspense or create a more immediate connection with the reader.
Can I write my first novel in first person point of view?
Of course! You can write your first, second, twentieth novel in first person! Some of our biggest literary classics are written in first person, as well as some of our most basic popular fiction, which is only to say that the chosen point of view isn't a marker of quality.
Is it harder to write in first person than third person?
No, it's not. You might find that your personal style tends more towards first or third person, or that you have a natural affinity for one style over the other, but there isn't anything harder or easier about either choice. You might find that different projects lend themselves better to different voices, that that's a different question. For instance, a deep, personal drama that closely follows a character going through many internal struggles might work really well in first person, where as a story with lots of physical action and changes point-of-view characters alot might work better as third person.
5. How can writing in first person help you connect with your readers?
It might not immediately be obvious, but one of the big benefits of writing in first person point of view is that it can help you connect with your readers, and for your readers to more easily (and more intensely) identify with your characters. When you write in first person, your readers will feel like they're right there with your characters, experiencing the story firsthand. They feel every emotion and hear every thought, for good or for ill. And it's a great way to draw readers into your story and keep them engaged.
6. What are the benefits of writing in first person point of view?
In addition to helping you connect with your readers, there are other benefits to writing in first person point of view. First person point of view can be used to build suspense, create an immediate connection with the reader, and give readers a more intimate look at your characters.
You can also employ a trick called the "unreliable narrator". For instance, if John is our first-person narrator, and - half way through the story - we learn that John is a liar, we will call into question everything we've learned up until that point! Maybe John had told us that Mr Baker is a nasty old man, or that Mrs Hiller stole from the church. After learning that John is a liar, can we still believe that? Can we believe anything else he tells us? Questions like that can build a lot of suspense for readers.
7. Are there any drawbacks to writing in first person?
There are several drawbacks to writing a book in first person that you should keep in mind.
One drawback is that it can be difficult to maintain a consistent voice throughout the entire story. This can be especially true if your character speaks with a thick dialect or accent, or uses a lot of slang. You can usually fix this up with a dialogue pass after a draft or two, and/or with an editor.
Another drawback is that first person point of view can limit the scope of your story. For instance, it many third-person POV stories, the "narrator" is omniscient and knows all. But your first-person narrator probably won't have knowledge of what other chracters are thinking, they might not have high levels of education with which they can explain technology or magic.
First person can also be jarring for readers if there are multiple poing-of-view characters (such as in A Song of Ice and Fire and The Expanse) and your book head-hops between characters.
8. How do you know if first person point of view is right for your story?
If you're not sure whether first person point of view is right for your story, there are a few things to consider.
First, think about whether or not you want your readers to experience the story first-hand. If the answer is yes, then first person POV will be a good choice. For example, personal dramas would work well with this, or if the main character is stuck in their head alot.
Second, consider whether or not you want to limit the scope of your story. Meaning, how much should the narrator know about what's going on? For example, in a mystery novel, the detective narrator doesn't start out knowing who the killer was, so first person POV can work great here! (And, of course, this doesn't limit these types of stories to only first-person.)
And third, think about whether or not you feel comfortable maintaining a consistent voice throughout the entire story. Writing in the character's dialect for 80,000 words might become tedious and draining!
You might even want to write a few test scenes for your characters (even if they won't be included in the final book) in both first-person and third-person, and see how they turn out.
9. Tips for writing in first person point of view
If you've decided that first person point of view is right for your story, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be consistent with your voice.
- Use "I" or "we" pronouns sparingly.
- Avoid using words like "me," "us," and "our."
- Be aware of the limitations of first person point of view.
- Experiment with different points of view to find the one that's right for your story.
First person point of view can be a great way to connect with your readers and give them a more intimate look at your characters. But it's not always the right choice for every story. If you're not sure whether first person point of view is right for your story, look back at the points we've listed and see how you feel. At the end of the day, there isn't a right or wrong answer for this, just what feels right to you and the style you'll enjoy writing.