First person POV has its advantages and its drawbacks. If you love it, and many writers do, you know one of the biggest issues is the overuse of personal pronouns. If you’re not paying attention, you can end up with long passages where every other sentence starts with the same word. In those rare instances you didn’t use “I”, you probably used “my” or “mine”.
Reading passages with a perfusion of the same sentence constructions is no fun for your reader, and it might have the undesirable effect of making your lead character come off as an egocentric jerk.
Here are five ways to beat the “I, me, my” dilemma and create some diversity in your sentences:
1. Don’t include every thought in the main character’s head: Working in first person POV can lead to characters spending too much time thinking and talking about it. Avoid long passages of inner narration by getting your protagonist to interact with the other characters. If your story calls for your protagonist to spend chucks of time alone, try to focus on what they are doing while alone, aka their physical actions.
2. Work from the perspective of what the other characters are doing: Just because you’re writing in first person doesn’t mean the other characters aren’t doing interesting things. You can also open a sentence with the another character’s name. This revision helps minimize the need for extra dialogue tags.
3. Use a statement of fact: There’s no reason your lead character needs to give an emotional response to everything! Some things in life are just there. They need description, but no commentary. In fact, commenting on everything your character sees and feels is often a sign that you’re telling, not showing.
4. Setting often needs no pronoun: Just as statements of fact need no emotional interpretation, sometimes settings just exist. Clocks chime and air conditioners hum all without anyone around to say they heard them. You can use sounds and smells as your lead in to describing a setting without explicitly saying the protagonist heard or smelled them.
5. Use more body language to show emotions: You don’t want to combine every feeling the character has with a pronoun. Again, this is a sign of telling language. Avoid “I felt sad” “I was hurt” or “I cried.” One good point to remember is first person is only your narrator’s voice. This eliminates the need to constantly remind the reader “who” is sad! Instead, try showing the tears!
I know digging in to revise those easy, comfortable “I, me, my” sentences is a huge job, but it’s worth doing. Making these kind of changes might help separate a good book from a great book.
I prefer third person and I think it’s easier to use. However, I use first person when I think the story calls for it. What do you think? Are you a fan of first person POV? Do you have a tip I missed? Please share in the comments.
33 thoughts on “Writing Tips for 1st Person POV”
I prefer to write in the third person. I did venture into first person point of view for NANOWRIMO novel and loved it. First person felt easier to write.
I tend to write in the first person but it really depends on the story and what feels right. However, my weakness is not getting into the POV’s head enough rather than too much. Great article.
I like all kinds of POV as a reader, but as a writer I feel most confortable with deel third-person POV. Which, I think, has a lot in common with first-person POV. In fact, I think many of your tips above can apply to deep third too 🙂
Recently, I did an experiment. Because a few of my beta readers pointed out they had a problem connecting with my MC in the opening scene, I rewrote the episode in the first-person narration in his POV. That helped me get nearer to the character’s heart and focus the narration better (and it really worked, I’m telling you). Then I reversed it all back to third, but keeping the feeling first-person gave me.
I’m very satified with the result, I think it was a good exercise. I actually enjoyed writing in the first-person… though I don’t think I’m the writer to write an entire novel that way 😉
I’ve used that same trick. : ) Sometimes you need to walk a little bit in a character’s shoes to understand them. I prefer third person too. I like to work a story from angles and first person limits how many angles I can use. It just doesn’t serve every plotline. Thanks for sharing that tip. It’s very helpful!
1st Person is notoriously difficult to write, even though a lot of authors use it as the default. I have a friend who automatically gets his hackles raised if he opens a book from a new author that’s written in first person. But, these are great tips on making it stronger! They also work for close 3rd Person as well. 🙂
Starting a sentence with another character’s name is a tip I’m hoping gets seared into my brain. Never once thought of this and I’ve been reading a lot of Urban Fantasy. Well, here’s to hoping I avoid an “I” avalanche when I try 1st person POV. (I’m too aware of the Is now.) Thank you for the valuable tips!
For me it’s a tie between 1st person and 3rd person limited POVs. I love them both.
I don’t know why I’d choose one over the other, though. Except when guided by genre conventions.
I’m happy my post helped you find a new 1st person writing trick. Starting with another character’s name works great, I use that tip all the time. Thanks for stopping by. : )
I definitely prefer first person, but you’re right that it does require extra attention to language variation!
I like to read all different POVs, but most of my favorite books of all time are in 3rd person. I have to fall in love with narrator in first person. If I don’t love the voice it starts feeling like talking to someone sitting next to me on a plane. I’m amused at first, but then I just want them to shut up. : )
Another great set of writing tips. I’m looking forward to finishing my non-fiction book, so I can focus on my science fiction work! I’m still taking notes and developing characters, worlds, etc. I really do appreciate all the time and effort you put into helping all of be better writers.
Thanks, Shawn. I never regret the planning stage of a project. And I can think about a project for a long time before I ever write a word of prose. It helps me flesh out the plot better, and those projects never run out of story twists and turn before they should. In fact I’m always way over my estimated word counts on projects I’ve planned. But I understand your desire to get going. So many commitments, so little time.
Great advice. It seems to me that many cozies, when written in first person, tend to really overuse sentences beginning with I, me, or my.
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It sure makes the writing go faster if you don’t worry about those darn pronouns. : ) I don’t read as many mysteries as I used too, but I remember the problem invading the pages of quite a few of them.
This reminds me of a certain email! 😉 I’m working on the second short story revision right now! I normally write third person, but my collection fo short stories is the one project where the third person felt a bad fit and why I’m doing it first person. 🙂
I’m a huge believer in using whatever works for each story. : ) I read a lot of books written in first person and I appreciate the writers that go the extra mile. Reading their books so much more enjoyable. Sorry if the post reminded you of a “certain email” in a bad way. : P
It’s funny that my first two fiction works to be released are first person, when I normally am a third person type of writer. And it didn’t remind me of a “certain email” in a bad way! :p Still working through the pile of revisions since I’ve been juggling with various shorter works being in their editing stage!
Good luck with the revisions and edits. They’re always so time consuming, I never expect them to take as long as they do. Hang in there. : )
Yes, diversification is key when writing in first person. Too many “I did this…” and “I saw that…” will be boring to read. Great tip!
Thanks, Alana. Mixing it up is the key! Even in 3rd person this issue can show up. Too many “he or she” sentences is just as dull. : )
My WIP is in first person. For me, I find it easier to write in first then in third. Now, I will have to go over it and make sure I don’t use too many “I, me,…etc.”
Great post. It gives me something to think about and watch over.
LOL! It seems like I’m the only one who finds third easier to use. : P There will always be a ton of “I, me, mines” that you’ll need, but there will be many you don’t need. Getting rid of those extra ones will put you way ahead of the game. Good luck with your WIP.
Totally agree! In thrillers, first person POV can give a better sense of urgency, if done correctly. However, I like to mixed my POVs. For instance, the protag. in first, the antag. or detective in third. In some of his books, Michael Connelly uses first for all POVs — a daring undertaking for sure, but he is, after all, Michael Connelly. Nuff said.
Mystery loves 1st person, but you’re right, Sue. Most writers change to third for the antagonist. Using first POV for lots of different characters means you need to up writing your game! A lot! You need even more language and gesture tags for each character, otherwise all the voices will start sounding alike.
Yes, yes, yes – five times over, Robin. As much as I love how close first-person POV can bring readers to a character, it also has to be done right. Avoiding easy phrases like “I saw,” “I heard,” “I felt,” etc. can be tough, but with a little effort we can find more creative ways of sharing what the character experiences. And in some cases, it can help with trimming a story’s word count. I especially like your points about body language and over-thinking; the former is something I’ve consciously worked on in my WIP, and the latter… might be an area I’ve offended, now that I think about it. *lol* So I’ll have to revisit it.
Funny you mention that you find third person easier to use. I actually started writing my WIP in third person, but was having trouble getting to my protagonist’s emotional core that way. So I switched to first person, and the story has flowed like a river since. I guess it all comes down to our individual styles and what the story calls for, right?
To each his own, Sara. Heather loves first person too. I think deciding story by story is the right call, some projects just seem to “need” one POV. But that’s just my opinion. Most writers have an instinct for which is right for them, and some writers can only work in one or the other.
Great post! I really enjoy writing in first person and agree that sometimes the story calls for it and sometimes it doesn’t. My Gemma Stone mysteries are written in third person but I wish I’d written them in first. I have three books out now and working on the fourth one. What are your thoughts on writing maybe the next book in the series in first person?
Wow, changing POV mid series seems risky. Reader expectation is a powerful thing. If you have a lot of readers who love the current voice changing might put them off. Good luck! I hope it works out for you.
Thank you. My head really already knew that but my heart was trying to tell me something different. Next series, first person for sure! LOL.
Willow, I agree with Robin. You might try floating a short story written in first person and see how it is received by your readers. Or better yet, write the same story in both first and third person and ask your readers to vote for their favorite. Just my $0.02
Oh, Shawn, that’s a great idea. Thank you so much. I appreciate your thoughts.