The first-person point of view (or PoV) tells a story directly from the narrator’s perspective, and using it can help the reader connect with your work. This is because first-person point of view uses language that mirrors how individual people naturally speak. It’s a way for a writer to share thoughts, ideas, or to tell a story in a close and relatable way, and brings the reader directly into the perspective of the narrator.
What is first-person PoV?
First-person perspective is when the protagonist tells a story from their own point of view using the pronoun “I.” This storytelling technique focuses on the internal thoughts and feelings of the “I” narrator, offering a deep immersion into the protagonist’s perspective. This creates the sensation that the character is speaking directly to the reader.
In conversation, first-person language would sound like “I went to the store earlier,” or “I saw a great movie on TV last night!” Internal thoughts may sound like “I wish he would just say how he feels,” or “Why can’t I be brave and just do it!”
Writing a first-person narrator provides the opportunity for both the writer and the reader to directly step into the “shoes” of the protagonist—if done well, it can deeply connect the reader to the work and allow them to experience the story directly from the perspective of the first-person narrator.
First-person narration can also be a great tool to use in non-fiction work, such as autobiographical and memoir pieces where the author is telling a true first-person account of their lived experience. For example, “I was there in Berkeley in 1969, and bore witness to rioting youth and the roots of the revolution.”
Writing in first-person narration brings the reader intimately—and at times empathetically—into the story, as they experience the world of the story directly from the character’s mind.
A writer can also use multiple first-person perspectives told through different characters in a story. Doing this can immerse the reader in each person’s unique perspective of what’s occurring in the plot.
A writer can also use first-person point of view to tell a story in both the past and present tense to offer direct opinions on the narrator’s personal experience through both reflection on the past and action in the present.
First-person point of view words and language
The words most often used in the first-person narrative include both singular and plural first-person pronouns.
Singular first-person point of view words list:
Plural first-person point of view words list:
The language used follows the perspective of the narrator: “I did this,” or “he held my hand,” or “we went to the store together.”
What’s the difference between first, second, and third-person point of view?
You’ll often hear writers talking about first-person point of view, second-person point of view, and third-person point of view. But what’s the difference?
First-person PoV, as we looked at above, tells a story from just one character’s perspective (or, from one character at one time) using the pronoun “I.”
Second-person PoV is similar to first-person in that it follows just one character. In this case, however, second-person point of view uses the pronoun “you.” This perspective treats the reader as if they were part of the story.
Second-person point of view is challenging, and is generally best suited to the short story form. However, some authors have taken on the second-person PoV in novels, such as Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. You might also recognize second-person narration from “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.
Third-person PoV is a perspective in which the reader is kept at a distance from the story. These stories use the third-person pronouns “He,” “She,” and “They.” Reading about a third-person narrator is like watching a film; you can see everything that’s happening, but you’re not part of it.
There are two common types of third-person perspective: third-person limited narration and the third-person omniscient narrator. The limited third-person narrative voice uses the he, she, they pronouns but follows only one character at a time.
The third-person omniscient point of view can see into all the characters, all the time. This type of third-person narration allows the reader to know more than any one character knows at any given time. An omniscient narrator mimics the experience of watching a stage play; the reader can see everything happening on the stage, even if the characters can’t.
Third-person point of view is popular and timeless because it’s the classic storytelling voice. It’s what we hear when someone says, “Once upon a time…” You’ll find that the majority of classic literary fiction, and much of contemporary fiction, uses this narrative point of view.
To learn more about using each of these point of view styles in your writing, why not visit the lesson series in our writing academy?
What’s the difference between first-person and fourth-person point of view?
Writers often confuse first-person point of view and fourth-person point of view because they both tell a story from the perspective of the protagonist. The difference is that first-person PoV uses a singular voice, while fourth-person PoV uses a collective voice.
This isn’t quite the same thing as first-person plural. When plural first-person pronouns are used in first-person PoV—that would be words like “we” and “us”—it’s describing a shared experience between the narrator and another person.
For example, “We went to the movies, and Jim bought me some popcorn” is told in first person, even though it uses “we” to describe two people.
Fourth-person point of view treats a group of beings as one narrator. This is an experimental narrative form that’s become more popular in recent years and is effective in communicating large social issues. Your fourth-person narrator might be a group of suppressed office workers, a generation of young people facing a broken housing market, or a multilayered collective consciousness from outer space.
If you want to experiment with writing a fourth-person story, you’ll want to take a look at our detailed lesson here.
Types of first-person point of view
When we talk about first-person point of view, there are several types that we might be referring to. Let’s take a look at the different ways you might use the first-person voice in your story.
In first-person central, the story is told from the protagonist’s point of view—the main character who is driving the plot. Using a first-person central PoV immerses the reader directly into the main character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, as if the reader is the central character.
A classic example of first-person central PoV is Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, tells the story directly from his point of view. This provides the author the opportunity to address complex social issues from the perspective of a teenager.
In first person peripheral, the narrator tells the story as a witness, but is not the main character. Using the first-person peripheral perspective in storytelling allows the writer to keep the focus on the protagonist, yet keep the reader removed from the thoughts and feelings of the main character.
This type of distance puts the reader in the shoes of the narrator while the narrator relates their thoughts, opinions, and perception of the main character.
One example of first-person peripheral point of view is the Sherlock Holmes canon. In these stories, the narrator is John Watson, who tells the story from the perspective of witnessing his best friend solve mysteries. Writing from a peripheral perspective allowed the author to create intrigue, mystery, and suspense.
In addition to the central and peripheral narrative point of view, your first-person PoV character will also use the subjective or objective voice.
Most first-person protagonists in literature are subjective. This means they tell the story through the lens of their own thoughts, feelings, cultural biases, and ambitions. This narrative choice adds richness to your story world, but also narrows the reader’s understanding to the way your protagonist sees the world around them.
The objective first-person point of view is less common, but can be very effective—particularly in genres like speculative fiction and horror. In this narrative style, the PoV character doesn’t interject their own preconceptions and ideas; it’s simply the narrator telling the reader what happens.
This makes the story sound a bit like a witness statement, and allows the impact of the events to come through the actions of the characters rather than through their emotions.
What is first-person limited and first-person omniscient point of view?
Choosing to write from a first-person limited or first-person omniscient point of view allows the author to decide what insight is shared with the reader, and how much the narrator knows about what’s occurring within the plot.
First-person limited point of view
First-person perspective typically takes on a limited perspective—the story is told directly, and only, from the narrator’s internal thoughts, feelings, and personal experiences. This means the entire story has a limited view of how the character sees and experiences the world.
An example of first-person limited point of view is the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The story is told through the main character, a child named Scout, and the reader is only offered limited information from a child’s point of view. Writing from first-person limited offered Harper Lee the opportunity to approach complex topics from the eyes of a child.
First-person omniscient point of view
First-person omniscient is a more uncommon use of first person, as omniscient narration takes on a god-like understanding of what’s happening within the plot. Sometimes, this type of narration can be unnerving for a reader and cause them to disengage from a story. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done successfully.
An example of first-person omniscient narration is Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan. The story is written from the perspective of a ghost, Bibi Chen, a central yet peripheral character.
Having the story recounted by the spirit of the narrator allows the reader a vast amount of insight into all the characters’ thoughts and feelings without breaking the cadence of the story—at times offering comedic relief for experiences that might be deeply uncomfortable for the reader to experience first-hand.
Why do authors love first-person PoV?
First-person narrators allow the reader to get rooted in their character’s head and thereby achieve a tighter emotional connection with the reader. To make the connection even stronger, the character lets the audience in on secrets or insights that no one else knows.
First-person point of view is often used in autobiography and memoir writing, where the story must be told from one central perspective. Using first-person narrative in memoirs and autobiographies makes the story feel more genuine, authentic, and authoritative because the story is told directly as a first-hand account from the person who experienced the events themselves.
First-person novels are also popular with fiction writers, because they offer deep insight into the theme, story, and plot directly from the “I” narrator. This helps the writer connect with their demographics, their age, sex or gender, social status, and so forth.
First-person point of view in fiction writing can instill a sense of a narrator’s authority or credibility in the story, yet also offers the writer the opportunity to play with having the story told from an unreliable narrator or an unusual perspective.
Consider the earlier example of To Kill a Mockingbird and the way Lee used a child’s perspective to illuminate a theme of justice and complex social issues—a theme that might otherwise alienate a reader from the story, rather than create a sense of empathy.
While it may seem that writing in the first-person voice may be limiting in storytelling power—as the story focuses solely on the internal thoughts and feelings of the narrator—the role of the narrator can assist in weaving complexity and intricacy into the story.
Advantages of first-person point of view
First-person point of view can create a compelling, emotional story—sometimes even stronger than a story written in third-person PoV—because the character and reader are connected through intimate, one-on-one communication.
Advantages of first-person narrative include:
Creating a sense of mystery and intrigue; the first-person PoV shields the reader from certain information until a major moment unfolds in the plot, when both reader and narrator learn something new.
Lending a story credibility by building rapport with the reader, and thus making the narrator seem more reliable. This sense of connection can make the narrator and reader feel as if they’re sharing a private conversation.
Positioning the narrator as an unreliable narrator part way through the story can be used to subvert the reader’s expectations.
First-person PoV prose is highly character driven, leaning into who the character is as a person, their motivations, world views, the strengths and weaknesses of their personality. This perspective can evoke a deep sense of empathy and compassion that connects the reader to the story.
Disadvantages of first-person point of view
While first-person PoV can create an empathetic connection between the character and the reader, the reader is also limited to that one perspective—which can become very insular.
Disadvantages of first-person point of view include:
Given that first-person PoV is generally used as a limited perspective, it tends to the personal biases of the narrator. While bias from the narrator’s perspective may not fully be negative, it can turn away readers that don’t or can’t align with the inclinations, preferences, and perspectives of the narrator.
First-person PoV limits a story to the singular perspective of the narrator, which can make additional subplots more challenging since the reader can’t see into the mind of alternative characters.
Using a first-person perspective can also make it difficult for the narrator to describe themselves and their physical characteristics to give further context and details of the story.
Tips for writing in first-person PoV
The following tips for writing in the first-person point of view will lay out some best practices and give you some insight into how to avoid common mistakes.
1. Quickly establish who the narrator is
Open your story by establishing a strong character voice that demonstrates who this person is and why their voice is unique. Consider this example of an introductory paragraph to a story:
I’ll never understand why hospitals don’t use better lighting. No one wants ugly blue light shining into their eyes while as they look for the soft light everyone says calls to you from the end of the tunnel. I don’t see a tunnel, all I see is the burning glare of this light, reflecting at me from all of these too shiny metallic surfaces.
In this example, the character’s tone is immediately established as critical, unhappy, and bitter. Additionally, the reader is given clear details about the character—that they’re in a hospital, possibly dying, and that the story is told directly from their perspective.
2. Stay in character
Think about the demographics of your character, their background, culture, education, and influences, and remain true to who the character is.
This is especially true when it comes to writing dialogue, and if you’re using any kind of vernacular. For example, if a story is told from the perspective of an exhausted waitress who grew up in a big city on the east coast, it would be unlikely that she would approach a table and say:
“Hi y’all, you feelin’ hungry? What looks good today?”
She would probably use terse and maybe even sharp language that gets straight to the point, and wouldn’t use southern vernacular or phrases such as “y’all” or “feelin’.” Instead, she might say: “Did you look at the menu? Are you ready to order?” Make sure your PoV character uses their own voice.
3. Follow your narrator
Don’t lose scope of what the narrator knows within the story—not only pertaining to the thoughts and emotions of other characters, but also to what’s occurring in the plot and world around them.
For example, if your main character is sitting in a jail cell waiting to hear back from their lawyer about the verdict of the trial, there’s no way for them to know the events that are unfolding in the courtroom until a scene takes place where the character is told what happened.
4. Avoid head hopping
Avoid head hopping and don’t change characters’ perspectives within a single paragraph or chapter. If you choose to use more than one first-person narrator within a story, ensure that the transitions between the other characters and perspectives are easily identifiable within the text.
For example, a story about a relationship between two people could be told from each person’s first-person PoV, but the author would need to make it clear which character is telling each part of the story. To avoid slipping into another character’s head, consider this example:
She looked at me, thinking about how I had eaten the last piece of her chocolate birthday cake.
The narrator can’t know what “she” is thinking. Instead, consider the following example that strictly stays in the thoughts and perspective of the narrator:
She looked at the empty plate, and then at me. I felt the accusation in her glare. How dare she think I would eat the last of her chocolate birthday cake?
You can find out more about this cardinal sin of fiction writing through our lesson on head hopping here.
5. Limit the use of “I” and repetitive language
Overuse of “I” language within a story can be monotonous and repetitive for a reader, especially if “I” is used heavily at the beginning of sentences. To avoid the overuse and repetition of “I,” consider the following example:
“I love that particular flavor of ice cream…” vs. “That particular flavor of ice cream is a favorite of mine.”
Or, “I know this room…” could also be written in the passive voice as: “This room feels familiar.”
Playing with both active and passive voice and seeking creative ways to share information about a narrator can keep the text from becoming overwhelmingly repetitive with the use of “I.”
In addition, when writing dialogue in the first person, avoid repetition of “he said” and “she said.” In these instances using character names and descriptive language can assist in alleviating overly repetitive text.
“Angela, I want out of this wedding.”
“You can’t,” she sighed. “My mother already bought the dress and my father put a downpayment on the venue.”
“Do you think I care about a dress or a downpayment? I want out.”
A single tear rolled down her cheek. “Fine. Leave, and don’t ever come back.”
First-person PoV examples from literature
One of the best ways to learn how to write in the first person is to read books and novels that have been written in first-person point of view. Here are a few novels written in this narrative style:
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.
Elmet, by Fiona Mozley.
Into the Jungle, by Erica Ferencik.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong.
The Time Traveler’s Wife, By Audrey Niffenegger.
First-person point of view opens new worlds
First-person point of view has a lot to offer the writer, no matter what genre you’re writing in. Unlike third-person point of view, which puts some distance between the reader and the story, using first-person pronouns effectively brings the reader right into the heart of your story.