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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