First person POV is a distinctive choice that can enhance certain types of stories. Read on to find out when you should consider using it and some tips to make writing in first person pop.
Determine if it’s Right for Your Story
First person POV is a convention commonly found in young adult writing and in youthful romantic comedies. It can and has been used in many works of literary fiction: think The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird. However, third person POV is much more common in other genres, like mysteries, thrillers, and literary fiction today. While there aren’t any true “rules” of writing, it’s helpful to know what the conventions are.
Another, and even more important consideration, is what works best for your story. The brief version is that first person lets your reader feel close to your narrator. The reader gets into your character’s head, and it’s great for a personal story. Third person allows you to get into any character’s head. Telling the story from multiple perspectives increases tension and allows for world building.
Be Mindful of Tenses
Pick a tense, any tense. Usually first person is written in the present tense because it enhances the feeling of someone telling their own story. It makes everything that’s happening present and in the moment. It’s nice because you can give the narrator’s immediate reaction to everything.
Of course you can tell the story in the past tense, or you can start in the past tense (in the future) and then move back in time to make it present tense. It’s easy to make simple mistakes with this, however, so be careful with it.
Voice is Key
If a reader is going to spend three hundred pages in the head of one character, that character had better be pretty interesting. It’s crucial to have a distinctive voice for the narrating character. Nobody wants to read a bland person telling what happened. They want to read the unique POV of this person. Make sure you ask yourself why your character is telling this story. This is their story, so it’s got to be more than them witnessing something interesting, plot-wise. They themselves have to provide appeal in their own right.
Get Out of Their Head
It’s easy to stay too far in the narrator’s head and make your story overly introspective. Introspection is part of the charm of first person, of course, but readers still expect action, dialogue, and adventure.
Show, Don’t Tell
Show, don’t tell is the most clichéd of writing tips, but it’s important to be extra careful of this when writing in first person. It’s easy for every paragraph to sound the same, like, “I walked down the street and petted a dog. Then, I waved at my neighbor.” Make it more immediate, like, “My neighbor’s friendly golden retriever stopped walking and waited patiently for me to pet him.” Tell the story through the eyes of the narrator.
Writing in first person can be a great way to tell your story and engage closely with your readers. However, consider the pros and cons of it before you begin.