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First Person Point of View

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In First Person Point of View, the Narrator is a character who exists within the story world. They use first person personal pronouns to describe their experiences and encounters with other characters, the setting, and the plot.

Chart of First Person personal pronouns, both singular and plural. Subject: I, we; Object: me, us; Possessive: mine, ours; Possessive Adjective: my, our; Reflexive: myself, ourselves

That’s it. That’s the only requirement.

This Point of View is common in Young Adult and genre fiction, and—for obvious reasons—memoirs and creative non-fiction. It’s also surprisingly popular in contemporary literary fiction.

And although the definition for First Person is straightforward, it invites a multitude of variations.

Singular vs. Plural Pronouns

Most narrators will use singular pronouns by default. It’s not required, though. In Ayn Rand’s ANTHEM, the single narrator uses plural pronouns, an element which aligns with the dystopian setting and themes of the book.

quote from Anthem by Ayn Rand (1946): All men are good and wise. It is only we, Equality 7-2521, we alone who were born with a curse. For we are not like our brothers. And as we look back upon our life, we see that it has ever been thus and that it has brought us step by step to our last, supreme transgression, our crime of crimes hidden here under the ground.

A use of plural pronouns instead of singular can indicate a society without individualism, or it could indicate a collective narrator instead of an individual. It’s certainly a fun variable to play with.

Internal vs. External Audience

First Person narrators can also address either an in-book or out-of-book audience. In THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo, the narrator, Li Lan, tells her fantastic tale to an external audience, bringing her Reader along for her adventures into the afterlife.

quote from The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (2013): One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride. Asked is perhaps not the right word. We were in his study. I was leafing through a newspaper, my father lying on his rattan daybed. It was very hot and still. The oil lamp was lit and moths fluttered through the humid air in lazy swirls.

Compare that to the internal audience of PAMELA by Samuel Richardson, where the eponymous heroine writes her stories in a series of letters addressed to her parents.

quote from Pamela by Samual Richardson (1740): My dear Father and Mother, I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with. The trouble is, that my good lady died of the illness I mentioned to you, and left us all much grieved for the loss of her; for she was a dear good lady, and kind to all us her servants. Much I feared, that as I was taken by her ladyship to wait upon her person, I should be quite destitute again, and forced to return to you and my poor mother, who have enough to do to maintain yourselves; and, as my lady’s goodness had put me to write and cast accounts, and made me a little expert at my needle, and otherwise qualified above my degree, it was not every family that could have found a place that your poor Pamela was fit for: but God, whose graciousness to us we have so often experienced at a pinch, put it into my good lady’s heart, on her death-bed, just an hour before she expired, to recommend to my young master all her servants, one by one; and when it came to my turn to be recommended, (for I was sobbing and crying at her pillow) she could only say, My dear son!—and so broke off a little; and then recovering—Remember my poor Pamela—And these were some of her last words! O how my eyes run—Don’t wonder to see the paper so blotted.

Oh, the irony of Pamela’s mistress pleading thus with her son, who happily remembers poor Pamela as someone he wants to prey upon. The external audience knows Pamela’s in for a wild time, while the internal one—and Pamela herself—remains ignorant to the calamity that awaits.

When a first person narrator addresses an in-book audience, it creates a sense of secrecy and gossip: the Reader has stumbled upon someone’s private papers and has access to their innermost thoughts.

The epistolary style need not have an internal audience, however. ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe features a first person narrator addressing an out-of-book audience as he recounts his adventures.

quote from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719): I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called—nay we call ourselves and write our name—Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.

Internal Monologues & Self-reflection

First Person POV creates an easy mechanism for internal monologuing and self-reflection. In THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA by Nagaru Tanigawa, for example, the narrator often expresses his gut reactions within the narration in lieu of saying them out loud.

quote from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa (2003, English translation 2009): When I turned around in rage and indignation, I found Haruhi standing and grabbing my collar with—for the first time ever—a smile reminiscent of a blazing sun in an equatorial sky. If you could take the temperature of a smile, hers would have matched the climate in the middle of a rain forest. “I figured it out!” Don’t spit on me.

The effect is comical, a very put-upon young man venting his frustration while he endures the bizarre events of his story world. His combination of sass and self-restraint endears him to the Reader.

After all, most people have things they think but do not say aloud. By providing access to an internal monologue, First Person Point of View allows your narrator to express their thoughts without the drama of lashing out at their fellow characters.

Omissions & Ambiguity

Because everything funnels through the narrator’s perception, this POV allows the author to obscure details through omission and/or ambiguity.

A classic example lies in withholding the narrator’s identity for either comic or dramatic purposes. Again in THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA, the Reader never learns the name of the narrator, only that people call him Kyon and he hates it.

Similarly, the narrator of REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier never reveals her name, but to dramatic effect this time. Even in her own narration, she plays second fiddle to her predecessor, the titular Rebecca de Winter.

First Person Strengths & Weaknesses


This Point of View establishes a narrative intimacy between your Viewpoint Character and your Reader. Because that Viewpoint Character is also the Narrator, the story itself becomes a direct dialogue.

Basically, it’s a cheat code to engage your Reader’s attention and sympathies.

First Person is also a well-established Point of View, with examples spanning back to the dawn of the English novel. This gives it a long literary history to draw upon.


Beware the underdeveloped narrator. 

If your Viewpoint Character fails to communicate their personality in their narration, the First Person Point of View can fall flat. The Narrator might become an avatar or self-insert for the Reader, which is fine if that’s your intent. However, if you’re aiming for memorable characters, this POV runs the risk of undermining rather than enhancing those efforts.

It’s also the default Point of View for many authors, to the point that it’s earned a reputation of overuse. When executed well, it’s a tremendous asset, but when done poorly, it does your story no favors.

  • What are your favorite 1st Person POV stories? Have you encountered any that showcase a creative or unusual use of this POV?
  • What draws you to (or repels you from) this POV?

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Index Page: Point of View