The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person

When it comes to selecting a point of view for your novel, there isn’t a right or wrong choice. Each perspective has its advantages, so it’s best to consider what will serve your story most effectively.

If you want to create a deeper sense of intimacy with your protagonist, then first person may be the perspective for you. Writing from an "I" point of view allows the reader to experience the world through the eyes of your character, as though they’re following the tale of a close friend.

Here are some of the reasons for and against using a first person point of view to tell your story.

The benefits of first person

1. It may feel easier to write your story. It’s natural to envision yourself in the position of the protagonist, so you may find the words flow more easily when you’re embodying the character in first person.

2. It allows you to demonstrate a unique voice. If your protagonist is particularly angsty, uses slang, worries frequently, or has some other distinct quality in expression or thought, first person will showcase their personality. This stirs up empathy from the reader, which is why it’s often used in the Young Adult genre.

3. The transition from an event to thoughts and reactions is seamless. There are no barriers between external and internal experiences in a first person novel, so you can take creative liberty to move between action and stream of consciousness.

4. You can set up an unreliable narrator. Since the reader has no choice but to experience the story through the lens of this character, you can play with the reliability and state of mind of the narration.

5. It creates more opportunities for plot twists. The reader will only know as much as the protagonist at any given time, making it easy to conceal and reveal shocking information as you see fit.

First person obstacles

1. Be careful not to switch between first person past and first person present. Both tenses are great options in their own right, but you’ll need to decide which route you’re going before you begin. Present tense makes the action more immediate, while writing in past tense may feel more organic as it’s how we tend to tell stories verbally. Make sure to pick a tense when you start writing from a first person perspective and stick with it throughout your novel.

2. It can be harder to “show, not tell.” If you choose a first person point of view, you’ll need to proceed with caution when it comes to describing movement and environment in an original way. If unchecked, the story may begin to sound like a list of actions performed by your protagonist, akin to retelling the events of one’s day in a diary.

3. You may find difficulty if switching between multiple characters’ viewpoints. Even if you label a chapter as belonging to a new character, the voice needs to be distinct enough that the reader is aware of whose perspective they’re experiencing throughout the chapter. If the reader puts down the book mid-chapter, they should be able to tell from the voice who they’re with when they resume.

4. You may feel limited when describing settings. Since you’re restricted by your character’s insight, you can’t give the reader a bird’s eye view of a scene or explain the history of the setting unless the character has this information or is able to perceive it.

While first person has some possible downsides, it’s beloved by many for the connection it creates between the reader and protagonist. If you’re still unsure which point of view to choose, refresh your memory on the perspectives used in your favorite books, or try writing a scene in first person to test how it feels. You can make any point of view work for your story if there’s one you favor, so opt for the perspective that calls to you and know you can always change your mind if need be.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • July 28, 2020 1:45 PM PDT
While first person has some possible downsides, it’s beloved by many for the connection it creates between the reader and protagonist.




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