As promised I’ve composed a couple blog posts ahead of time to make sure I’m getting some content up and out there for you guys. I know it feels like we’ve been talking about POV and voice, but I promise you it’s going to come to an end soon. 🙂 Now, onto our long awaited subject about the first person POV.
Let’s start off with that definition:
First Person: a literary style in which the narrative is told from the perspective of a narrator speaking directly about himself or herself.
First person is unique to writing — you won’t see it in film or theater. Some video games use first person, but if you think about they’re a moving story. The mark of a first person narrative is when see a lot of I’s, me’s and my’s being used when describing things. This is because everything is filtered through one person – that person is the one telling the story.
It’s going to be similar to how you tell someone about your day and the events that happened in it. However, filtering your narrative through the first person POV is going to come with some pros and cons. The pros are:
- It allows you to dive into a character’s mind. This is really important if you want to have a well-developed character because you can get into the meat of said character and flesh them out.
- Urgency. Your reader will only know what your character does and they’ll get more into the story as they try to figure out what’s going on with your character.
- It’s easy to write. This is how you tell stories in your everyday life. So you’re already aware of how to write in this way.
I know the cons list is going to seem longer than the pros list, but the pros are really important. Here are the cons:
- You’re limited to one point of view. You won’t be able to dive into another character’s story without having your main character there to facilitate events.
- You can get trapped into your character’s head. Leaving your character alone for long periods of time, will lead you to just having an extended internal monologue that’s going to slow down your story. Plus it’s boring. So try not to do this and have them interact with other characters to keep the story moving.
- The I, me, my trap. Over use of these words makes things repetitive and your character can sound a bit self-absorbed. Make sure you’re varying your sentences a bit.
- Your character can’t be everywhere at once. You’re going to need to find ways on how to make your character find out things that happen off camera. (I hear eavesdropping, the internet and cell phones are good ways to do this.)
- You’re not your character. So try not to insert your own personal voice and opinions into your character. It can get a bit preachy if you do this.
I’ve been told that there are technically two types of first person POV. You can have reliable and unreliable first person POV characters. Reliable characters seem to know what’s going on with everything even though we’re limited to their POV, while unreliable characters are proven to be liars, etc. throughout the story. I personally believe that there’s only one type of first person narrator – the unreliable kind (please feel free to argue with me on this point).
I think I’m committed to this idea in part to my favorite university professor. She was adamant that there are no reliable first person characters. And here’s why:
- We’re continuously limited to that person’s POV.
- They are never going to know everything and they can lie to us at any point.
- Even with stories that have more than one first person narrative you’re going to get conflicting stories.
- Our interpretations of things are always going to differ from person to person. (How many times have you thought something went down in a certain way and then find out your friends had a completely different outlook on those same events, for example.)
- There’s literally no such thing as a reliable narrator. We don’t have them in real life (as much as we want Morgan Freeman to fulfill that role). The only other “person” that could get the reliable label would be a god like figure – I again disagree with this and will not go into a huge philosophical rant about whether god is a being or not.
- Regardless, writing unreliable character POVs contributes to making your characters more life like. Walking around with someone who seems to know everything is not a lot of fun. Doubt in ourselves and our perceptions of things makes our lives a lot more interesting.
So there are my thoughts on the issue of two first person POVs. I also realize that this seems like a risky thing to do, but it’s not. It’s a natural form of storytelling. Seriously though, first person is an awesome POV style. It can add a lot of depth to your characters and it can allow your readers to relate to your characters and story.
That’s it for me this week!
Until next week!