First Person Point of View Ultimate Guide: Definitions, Writing Tips & Examples
by Alex Cabal
The first person point of view (or PoV) tells a story directly from the narrator’s perspective, and using it can assist the reader in connecting with your work. First person PoV uses the same language as individual thought and how people naturally speak. It’s a natural way for a writer to share thoughts, ideas, or to tell a story, and brings the reader directly into the perspective of the narrator.
What is first person PoV?
The definition of first person PoV is a narrator telling a story from their own perspective. In conversation, first person language would sound like “I went to the store earlier,” or “I saw that movie on TV last night!” Internal thoughts and self-talk may sound like “I wish he would just say how he feels,” or “why can’t I be brave and just do it!”
Writing in first person point of view provides the opportunity for both the writer and the reader to directly step into the “shoes” of the first person protagonist—if crafted well, it can deeply connect the reader to the work, and allow them to experience the story directly from the character’s perspective.
First person PoV can also be a great perspective to use for non-fiction work, including autobiographical and memoir pieces where the author is telling a true 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.”
First person PoV in storytelling focuses on the internal thoughts and feelings of the “I narrator,” offering a deep immersion into the narrator’s perspective. Writing from a first person PoV brings the reader intimately—and at times empathetically—into the story, as the reader experiences the story directly from the character’s or narrator’s PoV.
A writer can also use multiple first person perspectives, told from the perspectives of different characters in a story. Doing this can immerse the reader in each character’s unique perspective of what’s occurring in the plot. A writer can also use first person PoV to tell a story in both the past and present tense while using the “I” pronoun, and they can also use it to offer direct opinions on the narrator’s personal experience through both reflection and current action.
First person point of view words and language
The words most often used in the first person PoV include both singular and plural 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.”
The types of first person PoV and their characteristics
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 types of first person point of view you might use in your story.
First person central and first person peripheral
Choosing to write from first person central or first person peripheral point of view allows the author to choose which character’s perspective is best for telling the story.
First person central
With 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.
An example of first person central PoV is Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the main character and protagonist, tells the story directly from his point of view, providing the author the opportunity to address complex issues from the perspective of a teenager.
First person peripheral
In the 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 the reader is removed from the thoughts and feelings of the main character.
This type of distance still puts the reader in the shoes of the narrator, but allows the narrator to share their thoughts, opinions, and perspective of the main character.
Good examples of first person peripheral point of view are the Sherlock Holmes stories. In these stories, the narrator is Doctor Watson (the assistant to the main character Sherlock Holmes) who tells the story from the perspective of witnessing Sherlock solve mysteries. Writing from a peripheral perspective allowed the author to create intrigue, mystery, and suspense.
What is First Person Limited and First Person Omniscient Point of View?
Choosing to write from a first person limited or first person omniscient PoV 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
First person PoV 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 is To Kill a Mockingbird. The story is told from the first person account of the main character, a child named Scout, and the reader is only offered limited information from the child’s point of view. Writing from first person limited offered Harper Lee the opportunity to approach complex topics from the unique perspective of a child.
First person omniscient
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. Because it’s unnatural for any individual to “know” all things, 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. The story is written from the perspective of a ghost, or spirit, Bibi Chen, a central, yet also peripheral character.
Having the story written by the spirit of the narrator allows the reader a vast amount of insight into other characters’ thoughts and feelings without breaking the cadence of the story, and at times comedic relief for experiences that might be deeply uncomfortable for the reader to experience first-hand.
Why do authors write in first person PoV?
First person PoV allows the reader to get rooted in the character’s head and thereby achieve a tighter emotional connection. To make the connection even stronger, the character lets the reader in on secrets or insights from their perspective and experience that no one else knows.
First person PoV is often used in autobiography and memoir writing, where the story must obviously be told from one central perspective. Using first person PoV in memoirs and autobiographies makes the story feel more genuine, authentic, and authoritative, as the story is told directly as a first-hand account from the person who experienced the events.
First person PoV is also commonly used in fiction to offer deep insight into a theme, story, and plot, directly from the “I” narrator and their demographics, their age, sex or gender, social status, etc.
First person PoV in fiction writing can also 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 a reliable or unreliable narrator, or from a unique perspective. Consider the previous example of To Kill a Mockingbird and how Lee used a child’s perspective to illuminate a theme of justice and complex social issues—a theme that might otherwise turn a reader away from the story, rather than create a sense of empathy.
While it may seem that writing in first person PoV 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, especially with what the narrator “knows” about what’s occurring.
Advantages of first person point of view
First person PoV 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 PoV include:
Creating a sense of mystery and intrigue by shielding the reader from certain information with a limited perspective until a major moment unfolds in the plot where both reader and narrator learn something new.
A first person PoV can lend 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 one and the same.
Positioning the narrator as an unreliable narrator part way through the story can be used to develop a sense of mystery and intrigue.
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 unique perspective can evoke a deep sense of empathy and compassion that connects the reader to the character.
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 difficult to achieve, as 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 will lay out some best practices and give you some insight into how to avoid common mistakes.
1. Quickly establish who the narrator is
Immediately start the story by establishing a strong character voice that demonstrates who the narrator or character is and that the story is written directly from their point of view. 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 slightly 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, etc., and remain true to who the character is. While some character quirks can make a character more engaging, be cautious about remaining true to them. This is especially true for 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?”
It’s likely that she would 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?”
3. Stay in scope
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 the character to know the events that are unfolding in the courtroom until a scene takes place where the character is informed about how the events unfolded.
4. Avoid head-hopping, and create clear indications of changing character perspectives
Avoid head-hopping and don’t change characters’ perspectives within a paragraph or chapter. If you choose to use more than one first person narrator within a story, or even multiple perspectives within a story, ensure that the transitions between the 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 undeniably clear which character’s perspective is telling each part of the story, and avoid hopping into the other character’s thoughts and feelings within that moment. 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?
5. Limit the use of “I” and repetitive language
Overuse of “I” language within a story can be overwhelming 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 is familiar to me.”
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.”
Books and novels written in the first person point of view
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 PoV. Here are a few good novels written in first person PoV:
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.