First-Person Point of View: Getting Inside Your Character’s Head

First-person point of view provides deeper insight into the emotions and feelings of the main character. Use this consistently to avoid confusing the reader.

Point of view can create serious hangups for writers. If you choose to write from the first-person point of view, you need to keep that point of view throughout the book, and doing so can be hard at times.

Yet keeping to just one point of view correctly in your writing is harder than you might think. There are four main points of view, and understanding each one clearly will help you choose the right one and make your writing stronger.

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First-Person Point of View: One of Four POVs

Using the first person point of view
The first-person point of view occurs when the story's narrator is “I”

Many writers, especially those who write memoirs or autobiographical content, decide early on to write in first-person point of view, but you must remember that this is just one of several options. The four points of view are:

  • First-person
  • Second-person
  • Third-person limited
  • Third person omniscient

Here is a closer look at each one.

First-Person Point of View

The first-person point of view occurs when the story's narrator is “I.” This doesn't mean it has to be an autobiography. Fiction writers often choose first-person point of view when they want the main character to tell the story from how they see the world. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald uses this POV masterfully.

Second-Person Point of View

Second-person point of view
The second-person point of view speaks directly to the reader and uses “you” and “we”

The second-person point of view speaks directly to the reader and uses “you” and “we.” This can happen in fiction writing, but it is more common in self-help style nonfiction writing. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is an example of second-person used successfully in a novel.

Third-Person Limited Point of View

Sometimes the story is about the main character, but “he” and “she” are the pronouns the writer uses to address the character. This is the third-person limited point of view. Limited means that the narrator only shows the main character's perspective and knowledge, even though staying in the third-person.

Third-person limited is a popular point of view used by many writers, including J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. In Harry Potter, Rowling uses a third-person narrator but shows the story based on what is happening to a single character.

This third-person POV gave Rowling the ability to pull away from Harry just enough to show some events of the story that he can't quite see, and that helps move the narrative along.

Third-Person Omniscient Point of View

Finally, the third-person omniscient point of view gives full insight into the thoughts and experiences of all the characters. Though there may be one or two main characters, the reader sees into the mind or experiences of others as well. The writer still uses the pronouns “he,” “she” and “they” to refer to the main characters.

Jane Austen is an author who tends to use an omniscient narrator and write with third-person pronouns. This gives her the ability to tell the story from multiple viewpoints.

The Importance of Consistency with Point of View

Regardless of the point of view chosen, the author must stay consistent. If you open a book talking about the main character's thoughts with first-person pronouns, then you need to stay consistent in using those pronouns and that point of view throughout the piece. Sometimes, this becomes difficult.

Why is this so important? When you change the point of view midway through a story, you threaten the trust you've built with your reader. The whole architecture of the story can come crashing down.

While there are some skilled writers who can switch from points of view in the story, but when you are just starting out you need to be careful. If you switch, have a compelling reason for doing it and remain consistent, but unless it is absolutely necessary, stick with one point of view. 

When to Use the First-Person Point of View

For the first-person point of view, your narrator is in the story and telling his or her personal experience. This can be singular or plural, but it shows the reader insight into the narrator's life and understanding.

If an author uses first-person point of view, you will see pronouns like “me,” “my,” “I,” “mine,” “myself,” “we,” “us,” “our” and “ourselves.”

One of the most famous works of classic literature that uses a first-person point of view is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic book shows only Nick's point of view, and the reader only sees and feels what Nick sees and feels.

Benefits of Writing in First-Person Point of View

In fiction writing, first-person POV can help the reader connect with the main character by showing their experiences and emotions intimately. The writer gets into the character's head to see what they are thinking and feeling.

Second, it makes the writing feel more personal. In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins helps the reader connect with Katniss and the horror of this dystopian world by showing her personal experiences and emotional development through the events of the story.

Challenges of First-Person Point of View

Like all points of view, first-person point of view has its challenges. First, this is a very limited point of view. Unless another character tells the narrator their feelings, the reader cannot understand the motivations of the others in the story.

Similarly, the reader in a first-person narrative cannot know what is going on behind the scenes. The writer must stick with just the narrator's view, even if more details could help the story progress. However, this can turn into a benefit by giving the writer a tool to add details at the right time through revealing them to the protagonist.

Choosing the Narrator in First-Person Point of View

A first-person narration can have several options for who that narrator is. The protagonist or main character is often chosen. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Saligner uses this option to tell the story from the protagonist's view.

However, writers can also use a secondary or even a minor character as the narrator, recalling the events that happened to the protagonist but also events that the protagonist may not have known. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of Baskerville uses this masterfully, telling the Sherlock Holmes story from his sidekick Watson's point of view. This adds to the sense of intrigue surrounding the infamous detective.

Finally, the narrator can be an outside observer. This gives less insight into the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, but it can allow a more omniscient viewpoint to make the writing easier.

The Final Word on First-Person Point of View

First-person point of view can tell a book or short story from a single character's vantage point. It is a powerful literary tool but must be consistent throughout the story.

If you choose the first-person point of view at the start of your book, stick with it through the end to avoid confusing your readers.

Want more? Check out our guide to writing practice.

FAQs About First-Person Point of View

What words does a writer use for a first-person narrator?

Though a few authors have done so successfully, switching between first-person POV and another POV is not wise. It makes the narrator look inconsistent and harms the trust built with the reader.

What words does a writer use for a first-person narrator?

First-person writing will use first-person pronouns, including “I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” “us” and “our.”

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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