When I wrote my debut novel, Into the Free, I never gave much thought to point-of-view; but as the words began to hit the page, they naturally fell into first-person narration.
First-person narration tells the story from the point-of-view of one character in a novel (usually the protagonist), and makes use of the words “I” and “me.” Critics point out that this style limits the perspective because it doesn’t allow readers to access other characters in the story. While this is a viable opinion, I argue that first-person allows the reader to gain even greater perspective by viewing the universe from the lens of that one character on a much more intimate level than anything an omniscient third-person narrator can provide. (We’ll leave second-person for another day.)
Yes, the view of other characters will be skewed by that one character’s interpretation of their actions, appearance, etc., but readers are granted full-access into the brain of that one narrating voice, even more so when that narrator is a trust-worthy character who isn’t deceiving us as we read. Essentially, we, as readers, are allowed to become that character. This enables us to enter that character’s world, interacting with the other characters, experiencing the events, and engaging at every sensory level throughout the story.
When an author delivers a story in first-person, we close the book feeling as if we have lived to tell the tale. This intrusive point-of-view makes the entire reading experience personal for us, moving it from the level of observation to participation. And because, by nature, the first-person perspective limits every scene to those in which the narrator is actively present (or his/her memory of such), we aren’t forced to pull back and watch something happening across space or time. We have no choice but to dive right into every single event of the story. We feel it, taste it, smell it, and react to it cognitively, emotionally, and instinctually.
As a reader, I have always enjoyed reading first-person narrations. Some of my favorite books were written using this point-of-view, and as a result, the narrators have become some of my favorite characters. Consider Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who tells us the tragic love story between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom from his perspective.
Your turn: What point-of-view do you prefer to read? What do you prefer to write? Share some of your favorite examples, and introduce us to those characters who continue to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.
Writing prompt: If you’re stuck in a scene, try writing it from another character’s point-of-view. What can you learn from seeing the event from a different perspective?