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Point of View: 1st Person


Point of view (or POV)is the lens by which the reader absorbs the story. So, when I want to draw an intimate picture of a character and his life, I go for the first person point of view. And intimate is the key word. We get to hear and see what that one person experiences. We see what he sees, hear what he hears and feel what he feels. If the person is also the main character, so much the better, although 1st POV need not be the MC.

It is also fraught with danger. It tends to narrow the focus to a single person. Everything is reduced to what that speaker experiences. There is also the matter of skewing the perspective toward one compatible to the narrator. Since first person POV is highly subjective, it also leads to a higher level of unreliability on the narrator part, even if the narrator does lie or obfuscate on purpose.  And if he comes off as someone that the reader can not sympathize with, the reader may disengage from the story all together.

Of course, the same narrow focus has other advantages beside intimacy. If the writer wants to keep certain things secret or deliberately shape the perception of a given event a certain way, then this might be the way to go. After all the reader can only know (for certain, smart readers will guess, sometimes wildly, what is really going on) for certain what the character knows. He has no other source of information to draw from. It also allows the writer to ignore extraneous details necessary in other points of view.

In essence, the first person POV is a character on too itself, and should be treated as such. I also believe that there is no such thing as a fourth wall when using this POV because it works on the fiction that character-narrator is speaking directly to the reader. This allows for observations that in other forms would break the the fourth wall and perhaps yank the reader from their suspension of disbelief.

So, if you (the writer) wants a tightly focused, intimate POV which allows for the maximum control of information and don’t want to bother to much with the fourth wall, then this is the point of view for you.

In my humble opinion, of course. 😉

6 comments on “Point of View: 1st Person

  1. Great post, Ralfast.

    While all POVs have their advantages and disadvantages, flaws tend to be more unforgiving in first. But when an author truly captures the voice of the character, I agree that first person is an incredibly intimate reading experience.

    I recall you that you didn’t like Jane Eyre. But I think that’s one of the best first person novels I’ve ever read. Charlotte just made her so real to me.

    Do you have a favorite first person novel?

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    • Where to begin:

      Le Petite Prince- the 1st POV is used in the guise of character and narrator. You really feel what happens the little Prince at the end.

      A Telltale Heart- The way Poe gets into the mind of the killer, priceless.

      The Dresden Files- Harry is a genre-savvy detective/wizard with lots of snark, and it shows.

      I’m sure I could come up with some other examples.

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  2. The Telltale Heart is brilliant. The blue “vulture-like” eye…

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  3. I’m a close-third fangirl, myself, but this last book I’ve been working on is in first, and it’s been an education. I think I like third because it allows a tighter grip on narrative distance, which is my favorite writerly tool –but first does have wonderful, instant intimacy. It’s more work, IMO, getting the distance down, and Tasha’s right, flaws in the writing or the characterization are much more evident in first– but when it’s done really well, it’s just awesome.

    Susan Kay’s PHANTOM is a good example of this, at least to me. She’s got such great control over the story.

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    • I think it depends on the narrative. I do like first person, but I also written in third person close (multi-pov). It is all about focus and perspective.

      I’ll tackle 3rd Person Close/Multiple-Points of View in my next POV post.

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  4. […] time we discussed the first-person point of view, and while I admit I have a certain fondness for it, more often than not I write in the third […]

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