Five Reasons to Write in the First Person Point-of-View

To continue with my series on Point of Point-of-View, I thought I’d explore the pros and cons of writing your novel using the first person perspective. In this post I’ll lay out the strengths of using  the first person point of view, and reasons why you might want to choose it for your book.

Again, using the first person point-of-view means the story is told directly through the eyes (and thoughts) of the protagonist. Whatever your main character sees, thinks, and feels, the audience is a part of. The first person perspective will use the pronoun of “I” and it will give the audience the experience of being inside the character’s head.

Five Pro’s to using the First Person Point-of-View:

1) Immediacy and Connection with the Protagonist. Because the audience is given the experience of being “inside” the protagonist’s head, there is a direct link between protagonist and the audience. Emotions don’t become filtered through the distance of a third person narrator, instead the emotions happen in the moment, as the protagonist feels them. As the protagonist reveals his/her thoughts and fears to the reader an intimacy and connection is created. It is as if the protagonist is confiding in the reader, telling them their innermost secrets like they would a best friend.  A lot of young adult novels use first person for this exact reason, it creates an immediate connection with the reader.

2) Believability. Due to the connection created with the reader mentioned above, there is an inherent believability that is created through the first person perspective. In addition, a story told in the third person has a “narrator” and the audience (on some level) will always be aware that they are being “told a story.” The first person perspective breaks down that barrier and the reader has a sense that they are getting a direct account of the events from a primary source. Readers have a tendency to give a first person voice more authority when they hear it.

3) Helps  to Develop Character. Since the only view-point of the novel is the protagonist’s the reader is able to spend a lot of time with one character and get to know them. The protagonist is directly telling the story, therefore the “voice”  of the book is directly related to the voice of the character. The first person perspective allows for opportunities to show if the protagonist is funny, or philosophical, hyper, or laid back? The author has the choice to share these traits through word choice, sentence structure, and diction. In a way, the first person perspective allows the reader to see how the character thinks and experiences the world around them.

4) It’s “Easy” to Write. “Easy” is a misleading word. What I mean to say is that writing in the first person can seem very natural. Often it is the first instinct a writer has. After all, saying “I went to a movie. I thought it was good,” and using “I” statements relates to how we communicate every day of our lives. As one starts a novel, the first person perspective can also simplify the choices available. For example: it is usually easier for most authors to wrap his/her head around one character’s point-of-view than many. It is also a simpler way for the author to get “inside” the character’s head, and convey thoughts and emotions.

5) Creates a Clear Perspective or Filter For the Story: The choice for a first person point of view immediately tells the reader whose story this is. This establishes quickly who the reader should care about and root for.  As every event of the story is told through the protagonist’s filter,  the reader is able to create a context for events and evaluate the weight of those events and how they impact the character’s life.

It could be a good choice to tell your story in the first person point-of-view if…

  • Your novel is an intimate character study.
  • You want the reader to really understand the protagonist’s motivations/actions.
  • You want a clear hero for your story.
  • You want to create intimacy between the reader and the protagonist.
  • This is your first novel, as it allows you to focus the story on one character.
  • There are hundreds of other reasons to use the first person perspective!

Have you written a novel in the first person? Why did you choose that POV? What advantages did you find in using this perspective?

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13 Responses to “Five Reasons to Write in the First Person Point-of-View”

  1. Laura says:

    Those are all very good reasons to write in first. Many people have chosen to write in first these days. I think some people (like me) are just more comfortable in third. I prefer to write desciptions in third, but always choose third limited so my mc can insert all her thoughts and feellings in there.

  2. Lisa Bergren says:

    I’ve loved writing in first person POV for my new YA series, The River of Time (WATERFALL, CASCADE, TORRENT). In some ways it’s frustrating, because, for instance, in a romance it’d be lovely to slip into the hero’s head from time to time, but for all the reasons you’ve articulated above, I think all in all, it was the strongest choice.

  3. What great points. As a reader, I find all your points true. When I look back at some of my most enjoyable, memorable reads, they were in first person.
    So I’m curious to know … does writing in first person only limit you as a writer, in some ways? Can any other scene take place without that character’s presence?

    • Coolxii says:

      There is an author that I like to read that always writes in first person. However each chapter is from a different characters perspective. This allows for multiple things to happen in different locations with different characters. Very unique way of doing first person.

  4. roh morgon says:

    Just found your blog, and I must say, it’s awesome.

    I’m working on two series right now.

    The first is an adult paranormal trilogy, with Book 1 and half of Book 2 complete. The main POV is first person present; the secondary character is first person past.

    The other is a YA paranormal series. Each book is first person present, but they each follow a different character.

    In both series, the characters deal mainly with internal conflict that also expresses itself externally. The only way to convey their strong emotions was first person present. Past tense lost the urgency, and third person was too isolated from the emotions of the characters.

    First person present is the best for writing tortured characters – something I love to do!

    Great topic!

  5. Hi Ingrid:
    I enjoyed this article, especially as it does not discourage writers from writing in the first person. It is a challenge, but, as your article suggests, one that is worth the extra effort. With my first novel, I tried everything — first person, third person, a short stint of second person where I addressed the reader directly. In the end, first person felt natural. I also tried out both past and present tenses and ended up with first person present. In my first novel, The 29th Day, the POV character is an awkward researcher trying to make sense of a child’s strange behaviour and a family’s reaction to it. In my second novel, A Wicked Problem, I’m writing in the first person present (on purpose, right from the first draft) but using alternating POV characters. The plotlines weave in and out, with neither character knowing the whole picture (while of course the reader does). In both novels, I’ve tried to build in a sense of surprise that mimics human experience — we never know what lies around the corner or what meaning particular events hold. And therein lies the comedy and tragedy of my novels, and life.

  6. Miguel says:

    I’m gone to convey my little brother, that he should also go to see this weblog on regular basis to get updated from latest news.

  7. Jamie says:

    This is awesome. a very detailed explanation. I appreciate the breakdown in examples.

  8. Ron Hagg says:

    I’ve written a novel with mostly first person POV. My other novels are in third person. Some people have read it – no one commented on the POV. I was told by an editor that it is confusing. Not one person who read it thought it was confusing. I do change the narrater as the narrator in the first section leaves our story.
    It’s like a train ride. Dave and Sally get off and the remaining passenger, Henry continues on his journey. Dave and Sally are a precursor to what happens to Henry. I know this sounds corny, but the story is about people overcoming overwhelming odds to find their hearts. Title: “To Keep From Drowning” ron hagg

  9. Missye says:

    I always writer my longer works in 1st POV, flash or acrostic pieces in 3rd. I grew up on books in 1st POV, so it was a natural pull for me to read / write in what I loved. The listed points why writing in 1st are all true, but i add two others

    • I, as the author, share the adventures with the characters. I do anyway as the writer, but it’s the author (me) along for the ride without being named in the story I love most about being in 1st POV all the time. I’m there, but I’m not there, if that makes sense.

    • Someone once said when you’re writing 1st, you’re writing in 3rd, too (when anyone else speaks but the “I” person). To me, that’s the best of both worlds. Or, if you’re skilled enough to pull this off, writing a dedicated chapter in 3rd POV in an otherwise 1st POV story can be done, but should be seamless.

    For me, I find alternating 1st POVs distracting; how does the end meet up? Inevitably, you’ll find somebody being out in the cold in having the final chapter, and in my mind, I could never reconcile that. So i stick with 1st throughout.

    In my Adults-Only urban fantasy mysteries, my 2nd book will be told in 1st, but from my male half of my sleuthing team (I’m in the story, too, and did the first book from my POV, also in 1st). This is an adventure, this, and were it not for reading many books in 1st POV growing up, I don’t think I’d love it as much as I already do.

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  10. Aaron J says:

    This was very interesting, however it is wrong to assume the character who tells the story in first person is the protagonist. For example, in the novel The Great Gatsby it is through Nick’s point of view that the story is told but Gatsby is the protagonist. Similarly many of Raymond Carver’s stories that are in first person are really about a character other than the Narrator, Nobody Said Anything and Collectors are two I can recall.

    • Ingrid Sundberg says:

      I agree that the first person POV character isn’t always the protagonist. You’re correct that we shouldn’t assume that is always true, though it is often the case.

      I disagree that Nick isn’t the protagonist of The Great Gatsby. However, this all depends on how you define a protagonist. I define a protagonist as the character who is changed the most by the story. Gatsby may be the subject of the story, but Nick – in my opinion – is the one changed by it.

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