First Person Point of View

first person point of view

Ah, first person point of view. Many of the books that cross my desk are written in first person. The reader gets to experience the story inside a character’s head. I find that many first-time authors choose first person as their chosen point of view, at least in the books I edit.

I peered into the bassinet. There was a tiny person, wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket. She squirmed, threatening to wake. I squirmed. What would I do if she cried? I was afraid to touch her. I heaved a sigh of relief when she seemed to settle. How could they send her home with me? I had no clue what to do with her. How could I take care of her? What if I dropped her? What if I failed? It wasn’t like I could just find another home for her, like a puppy. She was supposed to be mine. I swallowed hard. My daughter. It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be real. 

One of the great things about first person point of view  is you really get into that person’s character. The narration is in that character’s speech pattern, we get the immediacy of their experience, and the reader feels as if they are feeling what the character feels. First person offers range that can be awkward in third person. You can wander through impressions, feelings, memory, opinion as they pass through the character’s head. This is one of the great strengths of this point of view. There are, however, equally strong weaknesses that you need to keep in mind if you choose to write in first person.

  • You can’t include a scene in which your character is not present. Likewise, you can’t include any information your character wouldn’t have access to. If you must include crucial information your character doesn’t have direct access to, you must be creative in finding ways to make it accessible, like letters, overheard conversations, and so on.
  • You must include any information you character does have. This is especially important if you’re writing a mystery. Suddenly springing a clue upon your readers that your character already knew about is bad form.
  • As the author, you’re limited to your character’s view of the world. If your character is a Pollyanna, then s/he must see the good in everyone, no matter how evil they are. Their evilness must be shown in other ways.
  • Don’t confuse yourself with your character. It is so easy to do. If you feel a certain way about something, make sure your character doesn’t feel that way just because you do. You need to remain objective. If your character has a strong political pull to the right or left, for example, and you’re the opposite, you can’t let your own leanings color your character in any way. You need to be able to become the reader enough to judge what you put on the page. This is why many authors consider first person to be extremely difficult. It is the also what many beginning authors forget when they choose to write in first person.

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