First Person Point View – Why Use The First Person Perspective?

Define Purple Prose In Novel Writing

Point of view in a novel is an indication of who is telling the story. A story has to be told by someone who is a character or an observer who isn’t involved in the plot at all, a bit like the proverbial fly on the wall.

In first person point view the narrator is someone in the story and he’s telling the reader about events from his point of view – he’s the ‘first person’ we are referring to.

The reader can recognise this POV by the use of ‘I’ or ‘We’. The narrator could be the main character or a minor, support character.

Why Use The First-Person Point of View?

One of the best reasons for using it is if your writing is largely autobiographical and you want the reader to experience your world as you see or saw it. The advantage of first person point view is that it brings the reader closer to a specific character and see things through their eyes, which also shapes the reader’s perspective, coloured as it is by the narrator’s opinions about the events in the story.

It’s easy to use as a beginner, because we are used to telling other people about things that happen in our lives, obviously from our own point of view.

On the other side of the coin, it can be limiting. The reader can only know what the narrator knows, so the overall plot and information about the other characters must be presented in other ways. However, this does allow for the narrator to be surprised by plot twists, which tends to make it more convincing for the reader.

A More Detailed Definition Of First Person Point View

first person pov narrativeIt isn’t that important if a main character is telling the story (Jane Eyre) or a support character (The Great Gatsby or Catcher In The Rye), the idea is that the reader’s get to see the whole Universe through their eyes, but beware – this kind of narrator is imperfect!

They can’t be objective at all, as their observations are distorted by their own opinions and wishful thinking about possible outcomes. For example, they could ascribe motivations to another character out of ignorance and prejudice rather than factual evidence.

The first person narrator’s background may also taint his awareness of events and things around him; a person from a poor upbringing will undoubtedly see world events in a very different light to a wealthy socialite.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The author can use these variations to colour the story and also vary the narrator’s style according to the of the novel. The narrator may be searching his memory for events in the distant past, or from that morning, in which case his recollection would be fluid and more complete.

The First Person Plural Point Of View

This is easily spotted as the narrator uses the form “we” when recounting the story. This isn’t very common because the narrator isn’t a person but a group, or at least, a couple. It can be effective with care, but isn’t recommended for a beginner’s first novel. William Faulkner was a master of this (and all the other) POVs and his works are recommended.

Benefits Of Using The First Person Narrative Perspective

It’s more intimate than using the more common third person POV and readers tend to get into the story more easily, particularly if they like and can relate to the character who is talking. The reader is inside the head of the narrator, so there is a felling of immediate contact and everything is happening ‘now’.

This lack of distance and objectivity can make the experience more human and real as we can almost hear the thoughts as we are drawn into the novel. We learn secrets. We are friends, if you like, in a special relationship with the narrator.

It comes pretty easy for us to write in the first person, after all, we do it all the time! Whenever we meet a friend and start telling them about a problem or some mundane thing happened yesterday, we are using the first person POV.

Even if we’re not talking about ourselves in our fiction, telling a story from the point of view from a fictitious character as the ‘I’ is quite seductive if only for the fact that the perspective never changes throughout the novel (as long as you stick with that character’s POV!) It’s a very easy way to convey emotions in your story – after all, the reader is inside the narrator.

Pros & Cons of First Person - Definition

You Can Believe A First Person Narrator

Readers tend to believe one person telling about a series of events from their own experience, rather than from the third person, where a god-like overview is given, bereft of emotion, at least from the third person perspective. Any internal turmoil as to be described third-hand, whereas in the first person narrative the reader has direct access to the thoughts and emotions of the character.

There’s a sense of authority that comes over to the audience. The character is there, experiencing the events, so he must know what he’s talking about. It doesn’t matter if the narrator is ignorant of some things. This is the mirror of real life, and in any case, all will be revealed in due course …

First person perspective is great for letting your readers get to know a main character, because they are with him or her all the time. It’s not only the things that happen in the story that enthral, but more the reactions of the main characters to them, particularly if they involve serious or dangerous challenges.

Even heroes don’t react in the same way, because every single person has a different temperament. Some are very serious, others always joking; some anxious most of the time and others accepting everything and going with the flow.

Isn’t It Easier For A New Writer To Use The First Person Point View?

pov point of view explainedWell it might seem that way, but beware! At times, it can get downright difficult! I previously said that we all do when we tell someone else about us, what we’ve done or what happened to us, but these are generally short stories – what about keeping it up for 350 pages? This is a fish of a different color, or a whole new basket of horses.

Remember that narration is all about keeping the reader turning the page, releasing information that intrigues, sets the scene and also introduces gradually increasing conflict and tension into the story.

The narrator is a character in his own story and therefore will be undergoing major internal changes (character arc) if the novel is well-crafted. In fact, they must undergo these changes if they are going to succeed at their quest.

It’s been understood since Aristotle’s time that ending chapter’s with a cliff-hanger, which is easy to do if you’re narrating from the third-person perspective.

It’s much harder to put yourself in danger at the end of each chapter, unless the author starts to narrate in the first person, but changing the character who is talking periodically. This is tough to do. It gets complex and tends to lose the reader if not done well, so definitely not for the new author, I’d say.

Unseen Dangers Of The First Person POV

Imagine if you began every paragraph of your novel with the word “I”. Don’t laugh; it’s an easy trap to fall into. On top of that, first person authors can ramble on and on, spouting their particular jaundiced view of the world without due regard to the story and the character who is supposed to speaking. It’s important to keep the character’s voice unique and not recognisable as the author’s, or anyone else in the book.

This character may be nothing like the author and may not hold the same views, so there’s a real danger of allowing the author’s personality to steal into the pages to the detriment of the yarn.

The writer can get so absorbed in the style that much of the prose may be introspection and not balanced with action and dialogue, the two elements that serve to drive the story forward.

 

Novel structure - Prose

 

2 Replies to “First Person Point View – Why Use The First Person Perspective?”

  1. Hello Derek,
    Thank you for the article. The concept of ‘first person’ and ‘third person’ POV is not new to me, but I never thought that telling a story that is in fact not autobiographical from the first person point of view could be easy. I appreciate your thoughts on that. I was always amazed by how good authors could keep themselves in a role of a character of the novel and not mix own personalities with those of the character. You showed both benefits and danger of using first person point of view. Is there any more detailed advice on a safer style to start writing your first novel? Would a level of complication in using first or third person narrative depend on a genre, the plot or something like that?
    Thank you very much,
    ~ Julia

    1. Hi Julia

      From my contact with other writers it seems that pure first person point view is the favored perspective, because we’re so used to it. I must admit that the whole subject of POV in story writing didn’t mean much to me at the beginning – I just started to write.

      It was very interesting to go back to my first novel to find that it was written in third person omniscient mostly, but Id slipped in 3rd limited as well as the modern style of deep third person without really planning it! As far as the impact of theme, plot and genre on the POV, well yes, I reckon it does. A novel with a global view of the world or Universe might be suited to 3rd person omniscient, while a creepy horror (or paradoxically a romance!) would benefit from a more intimate first person narrative feel.

      Thanks for your comment,
      Derek

Comments are closed.