First person POV gives your readers the chance for a deeper insight into the narrating character’s personality. It provides an emotional connection, but it can also be limiting. After all, you’ll be confined by the observations and experience of that one character. You’ll also need to write in a captivating, consistent voice through the whole book, which can sometimes be a challenge. In this post, I’ll share the advantages and disadvantages of this decision so you can decide for yourself if you should write in first person POV.
Things to Consider
As a writer, you can choose any POV you want. However, it’s always useful to be knowledgeable about the conventions of your genre. This shouldn’t hamstring you—there are exceptions to every rule. That being said, most young adult books, for example, are first person because that close experience is what makes the story. Want to learn more about writing YA? Check out this article: Breaking Down YA. On the other hand, thrillers tend to be written in third person because tension is increased when the reader knows what’s coming but the protagonist doesn’t. If you’re on the fence or agnostic about POV, I’d recommend going with the flow of your genre.
Advantages of First Person POV
First, let’s start with the advantages. Many readers are drawn into books because they connect with a character. There’s no way to get closer to your hero than by writing in first person. Your reader will exclusively have access to the protagonist’s thoughts, dreams, desires, and perspective. An interesting person’s voice can keep readers flipping pages on its own. The insight into an unforgettable heroine’s head can be thrilling and the emotional connection, profound. This is a good choice to make if you want the reader to feel like the action is happening to her.
Disadvantages of First Person POV
The disadvantages to first person POV are that you’re not in anyone else’s head. That means if the bad guy planted a bomb, the hero won’t know. This means he won’t be stressed out about it, and there’s no tension. It’s hard to get the big picture of the story too when you only understand it from one person’s POV. If you use third person, you can write a more comprehensive picture of the scene and provide other worldviews and perspectives. Lastly, it can be harder to show than tell when using first person.
As a writer, you have more decisions to make than just choosing to write first person POV. For example, will you write from the main character’s perspective or from a peripheral character’s? The most common choice is to write from the point of view of the main character. You presumably created this person because they are interesting enough to carry the story. Or, perhaps you wanted to make them unreliable to keep the reader guessing.
Some books use the POV of a secondary or peripheral character. An example of this comes from Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple, 2012). It’s partially told through correspondence between the titular character, Bernadette, and other people. However, her daughter also narrates in first person. The main character of this story is Bernadette, but her daughter is the one trying to find her. It’s not really about the daughter’s journey, it’s about Bernadette. Since she’s missing, the author needed someone else to tell this tale, and that person was the daughter. It was well done and interesting, but that book used unusual structural choices that wouldn’t be easy to emulate.
Finally, do you want to write in past tense or present tense? Most books are written in past tense, and that choice would provide hindsight for the character. Present tense means events are happening right now, and the character is responding in real time. This is the convention of YA books, and I think it works well with first person because that immediacy and reaction is what readers are looking for. As always, though, write what is best for you and your story—the author knows best.