First person is a popular narrative perspective among both authors and readers since it allows the narrating character to directly address the reader by funneling the entire story. First-person can pull the reader directly into the story and create an unprecedented amount of intimacy between him/her and the characters. It’s a great narrative technique, but it has its pitfalls. Authors should only use the first person if they can fulfill one essential qualification.
Simply these first-person narrative voices have to be remarkable. They have to be unique. It’s your main character telling the story. So if your main character’s voice is flat, readers will have no reason to think your character isn’t flat or flawless. Why would they want to read a story about such a boring character? The third person can get away with a much more generic voice. So if you find that your character needs an exciting voice, Third is the way to go.
The question is, how do you create an engaging first-person voice? Aside from creating a snarky, spunky, generally opinionated character, here are a few things you can try. Let’s begin!
How to write in first person point of view?
First person point of view is when a novel character, usually the main character, is also the narrator. The perspective of the story is told using the pronouns I or We. For example, ‘I plunged my sword through the dragon’s chest.’ There’s also possible to have more than one first-person perspective in a novel. For example, maybe two characters narrate every other chapter in the book.
I have ten specific tips. They’re going to help you nail your first-person stories professionally. Some of these tips are more conventional and commonplace, while others are a little more advanced or off the beaten path. Let’s go!
1. Find out the reason
The first tip is to have a reason for using the first-person point of view. If you are telling a story in the first person, it helps. If you keep in mind a specific reason for using it, there can be many reasons you might want to use the first person. It’s because you like the personal style of it or the fact that it can have a conversational style.
You can portray a unique character perspective or thought process because you’re grounded in someone else’s reality. Then you can create suspense by having events happen to that character that the character isn’t aware of. There are many great possibilities for using a first-person point of view, but be aware of them and use them strategically as you tell a story.
2. Introduce your first-person narrator
Establish who the first-person narrator is as soon as possible. We need to know within the first page or to who your narrator is. If we know that, it can get clear if it’s only an eye talking back and forth or about events. Also, it can get very distracting.
Any time I see that in a story where it’s a first-person story, I don’t get clued in on who this person is or how old they are. That creates a problem! It becomes such a distraction that I can’t get into the story. So, focus on it and try to establish the first POV early.
3. Don’t use repetitive pronouns excessively
You should hold off on using the pronoun and avoid using it when you’re telling your story. That’s not to say that you should never use it, but the less you use the pronoun (I), the stronger your story becomes. Because if you do write a first-person story and every sentence begins with ‘I,’ it becomes a distraction. It also becomes annoying because it has a repetitive quality to it.
- So try to find new ways to start your sentences and paragraphs to avoid annoying your audience.
4. Make your first-person smart
Make your narrator’s voice clear, consistent, and well-defined. Voice is such a critical part of first-person storytelling. It’s one of the selling points. As a matter of fact, you want to nail your voice, and you want it to be distinct. When you tell a story from the first point of view, that voice will grab the reader. It will pull them along and make them think they’re sitting there with a friend. Remember that the first-person point of view is perfect for specific genres and storytelling styles.
For instance, if you’re telling a humorous story, a first-person narrator might be the best way of doing it. Think about books like Catcher in the Rye or American Psycho that are enhanced by having a funny narrator. Another thing to remember with voice is that if you have multiple first-person narrators, you must do the hard work and ensure that their voices are distinct.
- One other thing to remember with voice is that it must be convincing.
5. Check your tense
Decide which tense you’re using, whether it’s past tense or present tense. They have different strengths and weaknesses within the context of a first-person story. If you’re telling a story in the past tense, you have to remember that there’s going to be some emotional distance from the story. There’s going to be perspective. That distance and perspective will depend on how much time has passed since the story’s events. So if you have a narrator telling a story that happened to them 50 years ago, there will be a lot of emotional distance. There may be some nostalgia mixed in there.
On the other hand, you might have a story told by a narrator who only experienced a particular event, which would have a different emotional distance and perspective to it. There should be no emotional distance if you’re telling a story in the first person present tense. It should be immediate, higher energy, and emotional.
Remember that if you are telling a story in the present tense, your narrator should react appropriately to the events that occur. For instance, your narrator is driving a car, then a truck rams into them from the side out of nowhere, and there’s a chaotic car accident. Your narrator should not be calmly describing that accident in explicit detail.
6. Use narrative devices
Decide whether your story needs to be told through a narrative device: diary entries, notes, letters, or emails. Different stories can work if you incorporate things like a diary. Gone Girl is an excellent example of this. Certain first-person sections are told through diary entries, while other sections are told as if the narrator is speaking to the audience. So remember that you can also mix and match these types of things, and many stories benefit from using those narrative devices.
7. Create an unreliable narrator
Can your story benefit from having an unreliable narrator in most cases? When readers pick up a book, they assume that the events they’re being told about in that book happened as the narrator is telling them. But sometimes, we have narrators who we are left to believe. They need to be more trustworthy, or they didn’t see the events correctly, or whatever it may be.
Often, bias will creep into the narration and get us wondering. Did the story happen as the narrator is expressing it, or is the narrator trying to portray themselves in a different light? You have to ask yourself:
- How accurate is my narrator?
- Is my narrator biased?
- Is my narrator someone who outright lies?
- Does my narrator have any mental health issues?
All these things can create an unreliable narrator.
8. Avoid too much introspection
When we often tell a story in first person, there’s the temptation to focus heavily on the character’s thoughts because we’re right inside their head. But if we spend too much time up there, we lose our grasp on the external world. So it helps if you remind yourself now and then, how can I bring myself back into that external world? Or how can I bring the narrator back into that external world?
Ground yourself in those five senses. It’s fine to have a character strategizing events, but maybe they’re looking outside the window, worrying about the enemy coming to get them. Or maybe they’re only biting their lip too hard, and all of a sudden, they bite hard enough to draw blood and have to spit that out.
Note: Different things keep us grounded and keep the story from feeling too much in the character’s head.
9. Check the POV slip
Keep your point of view (POV) character’s perspective. I frequently see this in manuscripts I edit, especially in the first person, where there will be POV slips. A POV slip is when something happens from the perspective of a character other than the POV character in the POV character’s section.
For example, if, in a first-person perspective, the character said, “Mom thought I was skipping school again,” and the parent hadn’t said that, then that could be considered a POV slip. It’s because the character can’t know that that’s what their parent thinks. You can quickly fix this by saying, “Mom probably thought I was skipping school again.” By putting the “probably” in there, you’re indicating that it’s what your perspective character thinks their mom is feeling. Do integrate their thoughts and emotions throughout.
10. Develop a relationship with the reader
Do remember that your narrative should sound like your perspective character. Voice is essential in all perspectives, but it’s vital in the first person because the first person is the voice. In essence, in the first person, the character is speaking directly to the reader. That means all the words and phrases used in your narration should be words and phrases that your perspective character would use.
If you’re writing a multi or dual-POV book, the readers should be able to open up to any page and immediately know which character’s perspective they’re in by reading a couple of sentences. That’s how strong and distinct each first person perspective should be.
Pros and cons of the first person point of view
The first downside is voice. The story is told by a character, meaning you have to have their voice down. You must stay in and out between your personal voice and their voice. They are the narrator, not you. If you’re skilled at carrying that voice, the narration will either be consistent or flat.
The second con is the limitation. You are stuck in the mind of this character. So you only get to narrate things happening within their frame of reference. If something goes down at the villain’s headquarters, the reader will not see it.
The last con is more of a stereotype; that the first person is juvenile or annoying. First-person gets a bad rap for being whiny because the first person is the preferred point of view for young adult novels.
Young adult novels often follow teenagers, sometimes whiny ones. The root of the problem isn’t the first-person point of view. It’s the fact that authors are choosing to write about annoying characters. So don’t do that. If your main character sucks, this point of view will suck because they’re narrating the book. The reader is stuck with them. If they can’t stand them, that’s a problem.
Pros of writing in the first person point of view:
The first pro is also voice. If characterization is your strong suit, then the first person will be fun because it allows you to breathe life and authenticity into whatever character is narrating your novel. It will also make your story easy and enjoyable for readers to follow.
The second positive is the casualness. Your character is telling their story to the reader. There’s an informal, almost conversational feel to it. If this is what you’re going for, then the first person is perfect.
The last benefit of the first person is ease. Many claims that the first-person point of view is the easiest perspective to write in because you’re using the pronouns I and We, which makes it much easier to put yourself in the character’s position.
Keep your narrator active. If you have a first-person narrator, that means that narrator is a character within the story. If they’re in the story, they should be participating in the story. They should be taking action. They should do more than sit off to the side and tell us about the events they must participate in.
Do you prefer to write stories in the first person or third person? Let us know in the comment section below.
More writing tips:
Learn from books:
Table of Contents