A Point of View: Writing First-Person

A series looking at how to write within the different perspectives. This essay deals with first-person point of view.

Image Credit: 
© 2016 Epytome / Used With Permission

Point of view, POV, perspective, or whatever you want to call it, is one of the most important aspects of your story. There are three different types of point of view, first-person, second-person and third-person. We will be looking at how to write all of them, but this essay will cover first-person.

I have bounced around between first and third-person in my years of writing. When I started writing I wrote exclusively in first. For some reason, I moved to third-person and harboured a great hatred for first-person. I didn’t like reading it and I detested writing in it. Since then I have come to realise why I hated first-person point of view and have since gone back to it. I hated the first-person point of view because I couldn’t do it. It takes a bit of skill and knowledge to do first-person well, and when you do it badly, the reader notices.

A big problem (one that I was having, anyway) with first-person point of view is the sheer volume of ‘I’ you tend to put into the story.

I see the pain in his eyes. I look down upon him and feel a pang of guilt in my heart. I shouldn’t have done that.

This is why I stopped writing in first-person. I could see that writing like this was bad but I wasn’t good enough as a writer to be able to fix it. It was even more evident in dialogue.

”Stop,” I say.
”Never,” he says.
”I won’t ask you again!” I shout.

There are ways to overcome this issue, however.

There’s a pain in his eyes. My gaze is drawn to him and a pang of guilt erupts in my heart. I shouldn’t have done that.

You don’t want to be removing all of the ‘I’s, but keeping them to a minimal by shifting around the wording and the focus of your sentence makes a drastic difference. I took a rubbish sentence and make it passable, simply by rejigging the wording a little.

”Stop.” My heart’s beating faster now.
”Never.” He thumps his chest with his fist.
”I won’t ask you again!”

You can replace dialogue tags such as ‘I say’ with actions so that the reader still knows who is saying what and you take out the vast amount of ‘I’s that you would have been putting in there. It’s also a good idea to do that for your dialogue for other reasons, too, but that’s another topic.

Another thing when you’re working within the first-person point of view is to really nail the voice of your protagonist/narrator. They’re the focal point of the story and they’re the only person that the reader will be hearing. Their voice and their personality have to come through in your writing. The reader has to get to know your protagonist/narrator. This is a very fine line to tread, however. You can get so deep into the narrator/protagonist’s head that you forget the story. This one’s harder to overcome but it’s not a mountain that can’t be climbed. In all honesty, all I would say to do is carry on writing. It takes a little while to get to know your character, to get to know their voice and their personality. You’re only ever going to get to that stage by writing. So write. Keep going and get your first draft done so you have the structure. You can edit to fix any voice issues that you have, if either not enough voice or personality is coming through or it’s inconsistent. Having said that, what you will probably find is that by the end of your story, you would have found the voice that you’re trying to write. You would have gotten to know your narrator/protagonist inside out. So start the story again. Write it from memory without looking at your earlier draft. You know your characters really well at this point so you’ll not only produce better work, but the story itself will be of a higher quality.

All in all, I quite like first-person point of view. It really allows you to get into the head of your character and tell their story. I might bounce around between first and third but I’m finding a lot of joy in writing first-person again. Just don’t describe your narrator by having them look in a mirror. Nobody wants to read that.

 

Next: Writing Second-Person

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

Join the Discussion

Please ensure all comments abide by the Thanet Writers Comments Policy

3 Comments




  • 0

    I bowled into my first novel in first person without much thought to practicalities; I still go on instinct as to what will suit the story and main character. The big advantage is to get inside the person’s mind; it’s so delightful when they are thinking something completely different to what they are saying. The main disadvantage? You can’t tell the reader what everyone else is doing when they are away from First Person. Will your reader get fed up with endless phone calls, letters and other characters bursting into FP’s house with a long dialogue about what has been happening elsewhere?




  • 0

    For me, I love reading a first person story where the author manages, somehow, the get the readers to realise something that the main character hasn’t put together yet, even though they are telling the story. It’s in the little clues and details that the reader notices but the main character, for whatever realistic reason, be it ignorance or naivety, does not. I love first person.




  • 0

    Oh yes, my favourite kind of story; I think that’s why I enjoyed ‘Behind the Scenes At The Museum’ by Kate Atkinson. It’s not easy to write from a child’s point of view, but it makes it realistic that they don’t know what is really going on till they are grown up or at the end of the book.

Add a Comment