Learn About First-Person Point of View in Fiction
Point of view in fiction simply means who tells the story. In first-person point of view, the story is told from the vantage point of a narrator who tells it from his viewpoint, using "I" or "we" as the story plays out. The narrator might be a relatively minor character, observing the action, as the character Nick does in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," or the main protagonist of the story, such as Holden Caulfield in J.D.
Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye."
Why Writers Use First-Person Point of View
There are a number of good reasons for using the first-person point of view in fiction; used correctly it can be an extremely effective tool for storytelling. Here are just a few situations in which first person is an ideal choice:
- You are writing a piece of fiction that is, at least to some degree, autobiographical. You want to be sure that the reader sees the world you have created exactly as you experienced it. An example of this approach is Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar," in which the main character is a thinly disguised version of the poet herself.
- You want the world you've created to be seen from a unique "outsider" point of view. Both "Catcher in the Rye" and Harper Lee's classic, "To Kill a Mockingbird" are told from the perspective of youngsters whose observations of the adult world are both naive and incisive. No third-person narrator or adult storyteller could bring the same qualities to these stories.
- You want the reader to experience only a carefully edited set of story elements and to experience them only from a particular point of view. This technique is effective in both literature and genre fiction. It is often used by romance and mystery writers to provide the reader with a sense that they are participating in the drama and uncertainty experienced by the main characters.
- You want to mislead the reader and then -- in some cases, at least -- surprise him with a dramatic revelation. While it is possible to mislead a reader with the third-person voice, it is much more effective to do so through an unreliable narrator. "Catcher in the Rye's" Holden Caulfield is a classic example of the unreliable narrator. Another extremely effective use of the unreliable narrator is in Agatha Christie's renowned mystery "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd."
Pros and Cons
The first-person point of view allows a reader to feel close to a specific character's point of view; it lets the reader in, so to speak. It also provides the writer with a tool for crafting the reader's perspective on the fictional world. Using first-person can also be easier for beginning writers since everyone is accustomed to telling stories from their own personal point of view.
However, first-person point of view limits the reader to that one perspective. The reader can only know what this character knows, which can make telling the story more difficult, depending on the plot and other characters involved.