5 Questions about First Person POV

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First person point of view stories are introspective, selfish, all about me, me, me. Before you write or revise a novel using this POV, you should ask youself a couple questions.

It’s All About Me, Me, Me.

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  1. Main Character or Observer. Is the POV character the main character or an observer? Often it’s assumed that a first person account has to in the voice of the main character, but that’s not so. It could easily be a sidekick, a sibling, or an enemy telling what happened to a main character. Before you automatically decide that the main character must be the POV character, look around your cast and see if anyone else wants to tell this story from his/her POV.
  2. Present in Every Scene. Will the POV character be in every crucial scene? For this POV to work, the POV character must be there. It’s not fair to your readers to report crucial scenes secondhand, UNLESS, the scene itself isn’t as important as the impact of the events on a character. If your POV character is knocked out, asleep, doped up, in another state, visiting relatives, or just plain missing-in-action, s/he can’t narrate the scene effectively. Make sure your plot works with this POV.
  3. Compelling, Sustainable Voice.
    Can you create a compelling voice that sounds like an individual character? Can you sustain that voice over an entire novel? While I loved the beginning of Meg Rosoff’s, How I Live Now How I Live Now her POV was wearing because of long sentences and variable punctuation. It was a compelling voice–at first. But, for me, it didn’t sustain its interest over the length of the novel. (Of course, it won the 2005 Printz award, so others disagree. ) (This novel is also available in a Kindle version, if you’re interested!)

    For your novel, make sure it’s both a compelling voice, and that it sustains that over the course of the novel.

  4. Reliable Narrator. Is the POV character a reliable narrator? Ah, this is one of the interesting variations of a first person POV. We have a narrator who lies, who shades the truth, who exaggerates, who uses this opportunity to re-write history. If you’re thinking in those directions, this is the perfect POV.
  5. Compelling Reasons? Are there compelling reasons for this POV instead of the default third person POV?
    Really. You should be writing in third person POV. Why are you trying first? But if your only reason is that you just thought you’d try it, or the voice is vaguely easier, or it just happened–you might want to rethink. Some answers that make sense: the reader will feel the actions more immediately; the reader will understand the motivations and emotions of the story in a deeper way; unreliable narrator.

    What are your compelling reasons for using a first person POV?

Read more of 15 Days to a Stronger Character.

3 Comments
  • Nancy Morgan
    May 7, 2010

    Simple question, but one that is bothersome.

    In first person POV, are quotation marks needed when the pov character speaks?

    Thank you.

  • Darcy Pattison
    May 7, 2010

    Yes, you would still use quotation marks for what the character says, but not for what s/he thinks.

    Darcy

  • Abby Gale
    November 3, 2011

    I’ve been contemplating POV for a while now… ever since The Great Gatsby, I have been fascinated with what might be done through the friend of a hero.