POV Breakdown: First Person

I love to write in first person and I love to read a first person POV novel. So talking about this POV is comfortable for me.
Writing Tip for Today: First person POV uses the “I” voice. Of all the viewpoints (aside from that pesky second person), first person seems to be evenly divided between those who love it and those who hate it. Until a few decades ago, writers were often discouraged from using first person POV, shuttled instead to third person limited. But times have changed and these days first person is more accepted, even in genre novels. But there are advantages and disadvantages:

  • Role Playing Score! The first person POV provides intimacy and immediacy. Readers feel as if they are living the story, and they tend to identify with the character, paying less attention to the character’s looks–they’re getting to actually view the world from this character’s eyes. Sometimes readers don’t even really know the first person POV’s name. Nor do they care.
  • Where’s the Camera? In first person POV, the camera is sort of embedded in the protagonist’s (POV character) belly, looking out at the world. This means that unless your character looks at herself in a mirror (this is generally instant fiction death–screams amateur!), we may never know the character’s looks. This character cannot see herself blush, see her own expression (but she can feel it) or enter the thoughts of anyone one else in the scene. The simplest way to remember is to “be” the character as you write. You need an outside person to tell you that there’s broccoli stuck in your teeth and so does your character.
  • First Person POV Limitations. The main disadvantage to using first person POV is that all the action must take place while your character is present. In order to write a scene in which this character is absent, you must switch to another POV. Multiple POV novels are popular, but I advise first-timers to write a complete story in only one or two at most. Multiple POVs are far more than merely rehashing the events from different characters. It takes skill and practice to master the woven tapestry a multi-POV novel requires. In genre fiction such as murder mystery or romance, first person can be tricky. And in every kind of fiction, switching first person to first person requires the writer to label sections or scenes with character names–after all, they’re all “I.”
  • Try It. If you are beginning a novel, you may want to experiment with first and third persons. Try writing a scene from each of those viewpoints and then read aloud to see which one sounds more natural to you.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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