I believe that a first person POV can create an intense emotional connection for a reader, possibly more so than in other POVs. It allows the reader to relate to the protagonist from the beginning. There is immediacy and no adjustments between POVs for the reader.
Not every story is right for first person POV
However, not all stories are right for first person. Ask yourself these questions: Will your story be enhanced if it is told only through your character’s point of view? Does your character have a unique perspective that will make the story work? Is it mostly his story or is the story wider and need more viewpoints to tell it well? One of the drawbacks with first person POV is also one of its strengths: the story is seen completely through the narrator and colors everything the reader experiences. Meaning that the POV character can tell only one side of the story—and only as he understands it. The narrator must be present at every major event. If you are going to be doing a lot of plot manipulating to get the character where they need to be (and possibly have no place being), maybe third person is a better choice.
Multiple first person POV
One way some authors have kept a first person POV and successfully worked around this is to have several point-of-view characters, using first person with all of them. Usually this is done in separate chapters with the name of the character under the chapter heading. If you choose this method, you will need to make sure each character establishes his or her own separate voice. You can do this is the same way you would establish one POV character’s voice. What does she sound like? How does she express herself? Is she sarcastic? Funny? Does she express herself well? How old is she? How does someone of that age speak and view the world? Can you show a hint of her ethnicity through her dialogue?
Maintain your character’s voice and viewpoint
Whatever you decide for your character, you must maintain her voice. Look out for slips in the narration, for things she wouldn’t say or couldn’t know. Also, choose your language carefully. Don’t slip into an omniscient voice. Omniscient voice simply means that your character, like God, sees and knows all, including what other characters are thinking. This is not a first person point-of-view, which, as I said above, is limited only to what the narrator thinks and feels—and her interpretation of events. Simple example: Instead of saying something like “My face turned red” you’d say “Warmth flooded my cheeks.” Could she see her cheeks turning red? No, she can’t. But she can feel the warmth.
Remember, your character can’t know about the man hiding in the closet until he jumps out. He can’t know what the person opposite him is feeling except by facial clues or dialogue. He can only guess. On the flip side, don’t withhold information that your character really should know. Though this can work if done well (think Sixth Sense), usually it just makes readers upset.
Description of the your first person character
Another difficulty in a first person POV is in providing a description of the viewpoint character. This can be done through dialogue from other characters, but a writer can also build an image through the character by using actions and behavior. But make sure you don’t have character saying, “I fluffed my auburn hair” because when you fluff your hair, do you think of the color? No. Instead in a murder mystery you might say: “I raked my hair back from my face, and several auburn strands fell onto the keyboard, reminding me of the drying lines of blood on the carpet.” (Okay, so that’s a lot of prepositions, but you get the idea.) Don’t describe your character while looking in a mirror, though this can be done if you have another purpose in mind, a reason why the mirror and looking into it is important.
Be careful of repetition
You also need to be very careful of the repetitive “I” in first person. Some beginning authors will use “I” far too heavily. Try to break these up. So, instead of saying, “I saw the car pull up in front of the house” you might try a variation like “The car pulled up in front of the house.” Or change “I went to the mailbox but the letter still hadn’t arrived” to “The empty mailbox meant the letter hadn’t still hadn’t arrived.” Try to reword enough of these that you don’t irritate readers.
The last thing I recommend is to make your character active and interesting. There’s nothing worse than a boring narrator. That doesn’t mean you must make him insane or overly quirky, but be sure he’s compelling and flawed. Give him dimension so he’ll be someone readers care about. For more about creating characters in general, see my post about Making Imaginary Characters Real.
Now stop reading this and go write. Well, leave me a comment first!
Copyright 2013 Teyla Rachel Branton
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4 Responses to “Writing a Compelling First Person POV”
this article will surely improve my narrating skills. I actually could’nt believe describing the first person is to be done in such a peculiar way. But it really helped. Thank you for it.
Writing a compelling first-person POV | Toni Kennedy : A Writing Life
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Oh my gosh! Thank you! You don’t know how this has been a big help to an amateur writer like me 🙂 I was having problems about the repetitive use of “I”‘s in my story since it’s on a 1st person POV (I know it might sound too ambitious for a newbie like me but I find it easier to work with instead of a third person POV)
Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the help! Keep it up 🙂
Teyla Rachel Branton
You’re welcome! Thanks for posting!