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Everything You Need To Know About First Person Point of View

First Person POV. Girl. Thought cloud. Dark colours. drawing illustration by Katherine M Kennedy

Jump Ahead:

What Is POV?

Point Of View or POV is the perspective a story or narrative is being told from and how it is being told.

When it comes to writing, there are four primary kinds of POV:

  • First-person POV: "I walked down the hall."

  • Second Person POV: "You see, dear reader, Mark walked down the hall."

  • Third Person POV: "Mark walked down the hall. He didn't know why."

  • Omniscient POV: "Mark walked down the hall, not knowing that a sharp knife was waiting at its end."

What is First-Person Point of View?

In first person POV the narrative is told directly from a singular, personal view point. If your primary character relays the narrative using pronouns* like I, we, me, or us, then you are in the first person. i.e., I went to the shop to buy milk.

*This excludes dialogue where all characters refer to themselves in the first person regardless of the POV type.

Why Do Writers Write In The First Person POV?

First-person POV is one of the most common approaches to writing. It's a good way for the reader to access the character's thoughts and feelings. It engineers a sense of closeness. And it's much easier for the writer to develop characters and the reader to get to know him, her, or them. First-person POV characters can also say whatever they want. They can lie, omit, bend the narrative to their whims, whatever they want. They have all the power. For writers, the rules and guidelines around first-person writing are also the simplest to follow, unlike other POV types, which can be murkier.

I write in the first person for these blogs—primarily because I find the topic of writing highly subjective and don't want to falsely portray what I say as objective facts. I also write in the first person because it's easier. Being a completest, I did my due diligence on all the POV types, checking into the various styles and dabbling in each before landing on my own preferred POV—omniscient third. Although I often use first person when I'm trying to get into a character's head, I re-write in third, it's tedious, but it works.

Many POV rules and guidelines are universally applicable. Others are POV-type specific. It's helpful to have some understanding of each type, its characteristics, and the ideas that govern the style. Know the rules so that you can break them.

What Genres Shine In First Person And Why?

  • Mystery books where the protagonist's information needs to be kept away from the protagonist and the readers.

  • Memoirs and Autobiographies where the narrative is told from a singular point of view.

  • Fiction books where the author wants the reader to have a close connection with the primary character or characters

  • Self-discovery books where the primary character goes through substantial inner turmoil and change.

  • Subjective Narrative where liable might be applicable.

  • Any book, so long as the author feels it's the right POV.

Common First Person Point of View Rules and Tips:

1. Always use I, me, we when referencing your main character

"As we walked down the street, I scuffed my new shoes on the uneven paving."

2. Your main character cannot know what other characters are thinking unless they are told that information or surmise it from body language, personality clues, etc.

Technically correct: "The way he looked at me, I could tell he thought me a fool."

Technically incorrect: "John thought me a fool and wondered why I had said such a silly thing."

The problem: How does the POV character know what John is thinking?

3. Stick to your POV lens. Your character can only see their field of vision, they cannot see people and thing around the corner.

Technically incorrect: Outside my window, a horse nipped at the overgrown lawn, and four clowns danced in the sunlight. Two blocks away, a grey tabby hid under a bush, a bright green triangle on its forehead.

The problem: How can the POV character see that cat?

4. Avoid Filter Words. i.e. I thought, saw, I felt, I heard

Technically incorrect: I saw the bird sweep into the air and heard its cry.

Technically correct: The bird swept into the air and let out a cry.

The problem: The argument against filter words is that ads an unnecessary layer/ distance between the main character and the reader, increasing narrative distance. The reader doesn't feel as though they are watching a bird and hearing it themselves. Instead, they are watching the central character experience these things. Filter words can also create a telling rather than a showing environment. "I felt sad," rather than describing the emotions and allowing the reader to conclude that the snot-nosed, weeping main character isn't exactly happy.

5. Keep your POV character's narrative voice consistent

Your character's actions, dialogue, and thoughts should remain the same or similar throughout the length of your writing. Any changes should come as a result of the narrative. If your POV character doesn't like drinking, then they should have a darn good reason to take a start downing whiskey and taking shots.

6. Mange your present and past tense carefully

Past tense: I walked through the front door and threw my bag onto the table.

Present tense: I walk through the front door and throw my bag on the table.

Technically incorrect: I walk through the front door and throwed my back on the table.

Technically correct: I walked through the front door and threw my back on the table.

The problem: Navigating tenses is a challenge. Often it is a matter of being grammatically correct. Some writers and readers prefer the immediacy of the first person present, while others find it jarring.

The Drawbacks Of First Person POV

1. First Person can be more limiting than second, third and omniscient POV

There are some difficulties associated with writing in the first person. For one, it's limiting. Every word, action, and detail has to be filtered through your character's POV. If he, she, or them didn't see or hear about it, did it even happen? The POV character has to see and acknowledge it, and then the writer can feel free to have them misinterpret it entirely. Leaving the audience with the knowledge that the main character doesn't have, which is very satisfying.

2. Foreshadowing Is harder to get right in first person POV.

Plotlines, arcs, and revelations can feel like they come out of nowhere. It's much harder to foreshadow from one POV without giving the game away or making your POV character seem like an idiot. Frequently, first-person POV characters can come across as almost clairvoyant. The author wants the reader to know something, so they force the POV character to practically read minds. It's not great. The thoughts and feelings of non-POV characters need to be subtly implied through body language, tone, and dialogue. This can make your writing a lot stronger regardless of POV.

3. POV characters have to be extremely likeable and interesting to engage the reader

When you write in the first person, your reader will spend all their time with your main character. So that character has to be excellent. Many people interpret that as 'likable,' but that's not necessarily true. When you write in the first person, you battle the intangible, that strange quality that makes a reader want to hang out with your protagonist for a whole book.

4. First-person point of view can be biased, leading the reader to mistrust the narrative.

There is an innate bias in first-person POVs, and most readers are aware of that. This goes hand in hand with one of the egregious first-person POV pitfalls: the self-indulgent main characters. It's a tough line to navigate, and I sympathize to the bottom of my soul, but whiny main characters that can't stop harping on about all the feels is so frustrating to read. Some first-person POVs use internal weeping and bemoaning in lieu of plot. Plot first, snot and sniffles later.

5. Exposition and background information is harder to convey to the POV character and the readers.

It's harder to provide background information because you are stuck in the POV character's head. This can result in lots of info dumps in monologue form, which can be dull. Writerly ingenuity is required to keep things interesting.

6. Describing your POV character's appearance is weirdly tricky in first person.

One of the strangest, yet most common problems a first-person POV writer will have to face is describing what the characters look like. It's ever so slightly absurd, but it's a problem. I've dabbled in first person enough that I have felt the sting of this issue myself. We have all read that horrible scene where the character breaks into an unlikely monologue about their looks. Female characters, in particular, will suffer from this, walking the impossible line of not being allowed to be vain but also not being allowed to be ugly. There's a lot of "my hair is just too silky, my eyes too massive, and I wish my lips weren't quite so big." Yuk. Many people advise that writers avoid the dreaded, looking into the mirror with a grimace and describing what the character sees there trope. Personally, I don't care. I've read a few books where I can actively feel the author struggling to casually drop in the POV character's big eyes and brown hair. Just give the gal or guy a mirror and have done. Get it over with.

When to Break First Person POV Rules

The thing about rules is that they are made to be broken. As long as you have a good reason, then go wild.

  • When your main character can hear the thoughts and feelings of others, allowing her a broader insight than your standard first-person POV character.

  • When the narrative voice changes throughout the length of a story to represent the way the character grows and changes.

  • Use filler words to engineer intentional narrative distance. Filler words can add an out-of-body feeling to a scene where your character isn't quite feeling like themselves. Or perhaps, like myself, you don't like to be too close to the character. You prefer a bit of narrative distance.

  • Include grammatical errors intentionally to showcase personality quirks, family backgrounds, and other valuable pieces of information. If you are utalizing first-person POV conveyed through a diary or journal, it's not uncommon for people to make spelling mistakes and to write in casual English. Grammatically correct dialogue can be stilted and jarring. In first-person POV the narrative voice is supposed to reflect that of the character.

A List Of Books Written In First Person Point Of View

I don't read many first-person POV books, so I won't offer up a long list of titles written in first that I've never read. When I do decide to read a first-person POV, it tends to be on the lighter, fluffier side. I need a witty protagonist that doesn't take themselves too seriously. Otherwise, I can't hang around with them for the book's length. The best way to get to know a POV type is to read books. So this is a list of the books I can remember reading that are in the first person.

Side note: I've attached affiliate links to some of the books below, which means I may receive a commission if you purchase by clicking the link. I have no idea how this works; this is the first time I've done it. Thanks though!

I almost forgot these, which would be horrifying as The Farseer Trilogy books go on my top ten list. These books are full of magic and dragons, but they also get pretty dark. The writing and story are so well executed that they are some of the few darker books I’m willing to read. I’ve read each at least twice and the Farseer Trilogy more than I can count, taking small breaks because I need them.

Meg Cabot is the lightest of light read. I’ve read Meg Cabot since I was a kid and will always enjoy her quirky characters. Her books tend to be a quick read that can be swallowed whole. Best for kids, her Mediator series. Best for adults, her size twelve isn’t fat series, actually called Heather Wells Mysteries. If you don’t warm to the POV character, Heather, by the end of the sample, then don’t grab the book. She’s an acquired taste.

while I sometimes find her plot a little lacking, W.R Gingell's characters are fantastic, and her twists keep me turning pages. I recommend her City Between Series. As of the time of writing this, you can get ten books for free on Kindle Unlimited. There's also a moody Korean vampire. The City Between Series also has the benefit of being in the first and second person. Occasionally the protagonist addresses the audience directly. So if you are looking for a second-person POV, this book is also for you.

This series got a bit grim for me, and given the fairy-tale quality it starts with, I wasn't expecting it. Her protagonists are well-rounded and enjoyable, and the story is intriguing. I also love her cover designs.

Holly Black is another author I've been reading since I was a kid. I enjoyed her The Folk Of Air Collection. The protagonist starts off a little bit annoying be she grows on you as the story progresses.

I never got into the Hunger Games, but they aren't bad, so if you're on the lookout for a light, easy read (which I always am), give them a go.

,. It's,

I read Divergent and even vaguely enjoyed it. Insurgent and Allegiant are a bit of a slog. I always equate reading these books with reading the first Harry Potter only to find out that book two leaves Hogwarts and never returns. Why so much world-building on to dip out? Why?

I found Bridget Jones's Diary on a shelf of free books in Thailand. I had watched the movies, so if figured, why not? It was okay, from what I remember. If you want to investigate the diary format, this is as good as anything else.

How could I forget the Adrian Mole series? Well, I didn't, but it was a near thing. I read most of the series in high school, and they were great. All Adrian Mole books are written in a diary format. And once you've finished the teen angst of being thirteen, you can follow up with the adult angst of being thirty in Cappuccino Years, where Adrian is all grown up. Sue Townsend's style is primarily satirical, but there are some nice, heartwarming moments too.

Townsend's series on the Royals, The Queen and I is also a brilliant read—Although it's not written in first person, so it doesn't strictly speaking belong on this list. I completely forgot about Sue Townsend, and now I'm keen to see what books I may have missed during my years of neglect.

Sherlock Holmes is so good, it's inspired TV shows like House, Elementary and... Sherlock Holmes. And I can see why. The book is built out of short stories, so don't expect a fully developed narrative. As an added plus Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works are out of copyright and often available for free download.

I don't enjoy biographies, and I can list the number of them I have read on five fingers. I gave Tina Fey's book a shot based on recommendation, and I didn't regret it. It's laugh-out-loud funny. The book isn't nearly as good as the audiobook, narrated by Tina Fey; it hammers her jokes home.


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