31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 10 – What Is First Person Point of View?

Wow, we’ve reached Day 10 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”, which means we’re basically 1/3 of the way through the month! How’s your prepping been so far? Do you feel at least a little prepared for next month? Where are you at in the planning process? Let me know! If you aren’t caught up and haven’t read the other 9 posts in this series, you can check them out here, or you can watch the corresponding YouTube videos here.

Today we’re kicking off a three-parter on Point of View (POV). In case you weren’t aware, there’s three different points of view that you can choose from when writing… anything, really. Point of view is basically the eyes through which your reader is able to see the story unfolding. In this post, we’ll be talking about First Person POV, which is the point of view where the narrator is a character with an active role in the story. They will use pronouns like “I,” “Me,” and “Mine” when referring to themselves, and pronouns like “He,” “She,” and “They,” when referring to other characters in the story. They might also break the fourth wall and address the reader as “You” every once in a while, though never in a way that would include the reader in the story. It would be more of a general you, like the phrase “you know?” Examples of some popular first person POV novels are:

  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

A first person narrator can be the protagonist, like in Twilight or The Fault in Our Stars, but they don’t always have to be. In The Great Gatsby, the narrator is a man named Nick Carraway, but the story is actually about Jay Gatsby. As another example, a young girl named Scout is the narrator in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, but the real protagonist is her father, Atticus Finch. This POV is favored especially in YA fiction, probably because it’s an easy way to make the narrator more relatable to the reader.

If you’re not entirely familiar with first person, then you may be wondering, “Can a novel have more than one first person POV narrator?” The answer is a resounding yes. The novel Gone Girl is told through two first person narrators, as well as Thirteen Reasons Why (in a way). The key is to make sure that it’s the best way to tell your story.

So what makes first person POV better or worse than second or third? Well, first I’d like to point out that no one point of view is actually better than another. They all have their pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which pros outweigh which cons when considering the story you’re looking to tell. I can, however, list a few of the pros and cons of first person that I can think of in order to help you make your decision.

There’s three major pros of writing a novel in first person that I can think of. The first is that, like I mentioned earlier, this POV helps your reader feel closer to and more sympathetic toward the narrator. It makes the narrator more relatable. When you’re in a character’s head and you’re privy to every thought that goes toward making a decision, it’s easier to understand why they’re making the decisions–stupid or otherwise–that they are. Also, let’s face it: We’re funnier in our heads than we are in real life. So writing a novel in first person can make that character seem more likable because almost all of us like funny people, and being in a character’s head provides more opportunities for humor.

The second pro is that a first person narrator is an unreliable narrator. Technically, this could also be a con (and also technically, all narrators are, in a sense, unreliable narrators), but for the most part I find that a first person narrator being an unreliable narrator helps more than it hurts. When a reader is experiencing a story through one specific narrator’s eyes, they only get to know what that narrator knows. This allows you, as the author, to keep things from them. Don’t want the reader to know that Timmy is secretly a cult leader? That’s fine, because Narrator Jim over here is stupid as all hell and hasn’t figured it out yet, which means the reader hasn’t figured it out yet. Sure, you may have dropped hints of foreshadowing, and the reader may suspect the truth, but because Narrator Jim still thinks that Timmy is just the cute little kid next door, the reader doesn’t know the truth for sure. This provides excellent opportunities for plot twists and big reveals.

The third pro is that first person POV makes it easier to settle into a strong voice, since it belongs to a certain character. My series The Caspian Chronicles was actually originally written in third person (or, well book one and half of book two were), but after receiving a few notes from a few different sources saying that my story was just lacking something, I went back in and rewrote it. One of the changes I made was switching from third to first person POV, and while I think some of the other changes I made helped (adding more imagery, developing the characters a bit more…), I know that switching to first person made all of the difference. Now, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying you should only write in first person for this reason. Just because it made my novel better, doesn’t mean it’ll make your novel better. Every novel requires something different, and it’s your job to figure out what that something is.

As far as cons go, I’ve got three, but they kind of relate to the pros in a way. Number one is that first person POV is considered less “literary,” so if you’re looking to write a literary fiction novel, you may want to steer away from this particular POV. Number two is that first person provides less of a chance for your own author voice to shine through, since the story is being told by a specific character in their own voice. Since I’m still struggling to find my own author voice, this con doesn’t really bother me all that much, but it may be a deal-breaker for you. And number three is that first person limits you to the knowledge of the character that’s narrating. Remember how I said an unreliable narrator could be a con? Even though I don’t like to look at it that way, I still decided to put it in here because I can see where it could cause some frustrations. What if you really need the reader to know something that the narrator just can’t know yet? That can be a puzzling conundrum, indeed.

In the end, deciding the POV of your novel should, as I’ve said before, be based on what your novel really needs. Would it benefit from being told by a strong character voice? Would an unreliable narrator help or hinder the story? Figure these things out, and the answer might be simpler than you think.

Don’t be too quick to decide just yet, though! Make sure that you come back tomorrow, because we’ll be delving into Third Person Person Point of View.

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