What is First Person Writing: Your Story, Your Voice

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Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

what is first person writing

Have you ever picked up a book and felt like the author was speaking directly to you? That’s the magic of first-person writing.

Writing in the first-person point of view allows the author to step into the story as the main character, using “I” and “we” to create a direct, personal connection with the reader.

Imagine looking through a character’s eyes, experiencing their thoughts and emotions firsthand. This narrative style allows the writer to create an immediate, intimate connection between the reader and the protagonist, drawing them deep into the heart of the story.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into what makes first-person writing so engaging, explore its unique advantages, and offer some tips on how you can use it to bring your own stories to life.

Table Of Contents:

Point of View: A Quick Breakdown

Before we discuss what is first person writing, let’s take a moment to differentiate it from its counterparts: second-person and third-person point of view.

First-Person Narrative

This perspective puts the reader right in the driver’s seat of the protagonist’s mind. They experience the world through the character’s senses, thoughts, and feelings.

First-person writing relies heavily on “I” or “we” pronouns,  immediately signaling to the reader they’re in for an up-close-and-personal story.

Second-Person Narrative

Now, imagine reading a story where you’re the main character. That’s the second-person point of view.

It directly addresses the reader as “you,” inserting them directly into the narrative. It’s an uncommon but incredibly immersive technique.

Third-Person Narrative

In the third-person narrative, the story unfolds from an outside observer’s point of view. The characters are referred to as “he,” “she,” or “they.” This approach provides a broader perspective but often lacks the emotional immediacy of the first person.

There are two main types of third-person perspectives: third-person limited, which focuses on a single character’s thoughts and feelings, and third-person omniscient, where the narrator possesses all-knowing insight into the minds of multiple characters.

The Power of “I”: Diving Deep into First Person

The heart of first-person writing lies in its power to create an undeniable connection between the reader and the story.  It’s achieved through various literary devices, carefully chosen words, and a deep understanding of the human experience.

Let’s uncover those layers.

First-Person Central

As its name suggests, first-person central puts the story’s protagonist front and center. Think of Holden Caulfield’s memorable voice in “Catcher in the Rye” – it’s his story, told through his eyes, raw and unfiltered.

This technique provides an intimate look into the protagonist’s motivations, struggles, and triumphs, fostering a sense of empathy and understanding.

First-Person Peripheral

First-person peripheral takes a step back from the main action, placing the reader in the shoes of a supporting character who witnesses the events unfolding.

A prime example is Dr. Watson, the trusty companion chronicling Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. It creates a unique dynamic, offering a slightly removed but captivating perspective.

First-Person Subjective vs. First-Person Objective

Remember how we talked about how first-person writing is like seeing the world through someone else’s eyes? Subjective first person leans heavily into this. We see the character’s thoughts, biases, and opinions – everything that colors their perception of the world.

Most first-person stories go this route, creating a strong sense of personality and often, unreliability.

Now, flip the script to the objective first person. Here, the narrator still uses “I,” but they describe events in a detached, almost journalistic way. They report what happens with minimal personal interpretation or emotional coloring.

Think of a courtroom witness recounting what they saw – factual and unembellished. This approach can be surprisingly effective, especially in genres like horror or speculative fiction.

First-Person Limited vs. First-Person Omniscient

The first-person point of view usually comes with inherent limitations. It makes sense — we’re confined to the knowledge and experiences of a single character.

That’s your first-person limited. We only know what they know. This can build suspense and keep readers guessing. However, this can sometimes feel restrictive.

Now, let’s explore an unusual perspective – first-person omniscient. In this intriguing form, the narrator, while still using “I,” possesses an all-knowing perspective, often traversing timelines and delving into the thoughts of others.

This uncommon approach requires a deft hand to pull off effectively, ensuring the reader remains grounded despite the narrator’s expansive viewpoint.

First-Person Point of Views in Literature

First-person PoV is an intimate perspective that creates a strong connection between the reader and the character, making the story more engaging and immersive.

Many renowned authors have masterfully employed first-person PoV in their works, crafting captivating tales that have stood the test of time.

Classic Examples of First-Person Narration

Some of the most iconic novels in literature have been written in first-person PoV.

For instance, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is narrated by the young protagonist, Huck Finn, whose unique character voice and perspective shape the story’s tone and themes.

Similarly, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” is told through the eyes of the sailor Ishmael who recounts his adventures aboard the whaling ship Pequod as Captain Ahab embarks on a perilous journey across the seas in pursuit of Moby-Dick.

Contemporary First-Person Narratives

In recent years, many authors have continued to explore the potential of first-person PoV in their works. Some notable examples include:

These contemporary works demonstrate the versatility of first-person PoV, as authors use this narrative style to explore a wide range of themes, from dystopian futures to the complexities of human relationships.

By studying these examples of first-person narration in literature, aspiring writers can gain valuable insights into how to effectively employ this narrative style in their own works.

Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, or personal essay, mastering the art of first-person PoV can help you create a more engaging and immersive reading experience for your audience.

How to Write in The First Person POV

Ready to embark on a writing adventure with a focus on the first-person point of view?

Here are a few techniques that I’ve found to be highly effective:

1. Craft a Distinctive Voice

The strength of your first-person narrative lies in its authenticity. Imagine a teenager from the Bronx using the same slang and cadence as a cowboy from Texas – something wouldn’t feel right, would it?

Choose vocabulary, sentence structure, and pacing that reflect your character’s background, personality, and education level.

2. Stay True to Your Character

Readers can sniff out inconsistency faster than a detective at a crime scene. Don’t have your character suddenly spout Shakespearean sonnets if they’ve spent the entire story using street slang.

Maintain consistency throughout the narrative while paying close attention to the dialogue. If your character tends toward sarcasm, let it shine through in their conversations.

3. Limit Your Scope

The first-person point of view, by its very nature, has a limited perspective. This means you must resist the urge to reveal information your narrator wouldn’t realistically know.

Stick with what they can see, hear, think, feel, and experience. For instance, don’t have your narrator conveniently overhear a secret conversation happening miles away.

4. Navigate the Perils of Head-Hopping

Unless you’re writing from the perspective of a mind-reading superhero, avoid jumping between your characters’ heads within the same scene.

Stick to one point of view at a time, exploring the depths of a single character’s perspective before smoothly transitioning to another (if necessary).

To differentiate clearly between viewpoints, use chapter breaks or other clear delineations.

Conclusion

And there you have it! First-person writing isn’t just about using “I” and “we”— it’s about inviting your readers into your world, sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences as if you’re having a heartfelt conversation.

The first-person point of view is a powerful way to connect, to make your stories resonate on a deeply personal level.

As you hone your craft, remember that a successful first-person narrative requires more than simply using the right pronouns. It’s about breathing life into characters, building trust with the reader, and taking them alongside your journey.

Next time you sit down to write, don’t be afraid to let your voice shine through. Embrace the first-person perspective and watch your storytelling come alive.

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