Writing First Person Point of View
You want to write first person - it's easy, right? Anyone
can do it, at least that's what everyone tells you.
First person narration is becoming more and more popular,
and this is being recognised by many publishers,
including some romance publishers, who are now open to
submissions using this point of view (POV). Silhouette
Bombshell are one such publisher.
The trick is to eliminate most of those nasty "I"
words that sneak into your prose unnoticed. Just because
the story is being told in first person, does not forgive
starting every (or every other) sentence with "I".
The alternatives are endless.
For example: I glanced at the clock.
Becomes: My eyes darted to the clock.
constant ticking drew my glance toward the clock.
Reworded, the meaning is not lost, but that repetitive
"I" is gone.
Each time you start a sentence with "I", cross
it out in red, circle it, or underline it. Do this every
time "I" appears on the page. You will quickly
tire of this no-win game. (Here's your new mantra: nasty,
Another shortfall many authors of first person have, is
to make the reader privy to information not possessed by
the narrator. As with most forms of writing, this
unforgivable (and annoying) habit can definitely be
perfected with practice.
An example of this could be:
as I entered the room, I landed heavily on my knees. His
gentle touch was beyond anything I'd experienced before,
but all eyes looked my way. I was blushing so profusely,
he must have thought me insane.
Did you pick the error? The narrator cannot see herself
blushing, so she can't describe it to the reader.
Imagine yourself stepping into a room. It could be a
ballroom built in 1820. Notice the beautifully carved
ceiling. What about those magnificent paintings, hung
perfectly straight on the wall?
And of course, you would have admired the chandelier; it
takes centre stage above all else, with its two hundred
tiny lamps and fifty crystal droplets.
You did see the light bouncing off them, didn't you? Of
course you did!
Did you also notice the masked man coming up behind you,
a gun in his left hand, and a black bag in his right?
If you did, you must be my mother. As far as I know,
she's the only person in the entire universe to have eyes
in the back of her head.
The lesson here, is that a first person narrator cannot
see what she cannot see.
What? I've still not made it clear?
The most important thing (or rule, if you prefer) with
writing in first person, is to visualise yourself as the
Stand in that doorway to the ballroom. Look down at your
Cinderella dress (if you're a guy, you just became a
transvestite - sorry!), look toward the ceiling, to your
left, your right, straight ahead. If you don't see it
through your human eyes, then my friend, it don't exist.
(Please excuse the grammar!)
Mystery writers love this POV, simply because if the
protagonist can't see it, then neither can the reader.
It's a legitimate way to hide clues without actually
concealing them. Until the protagonist finds them, the
writer need not have any qualms about concealment.
In some ways, writing first person is akin to writing
dialogue. By this I mean you don't necessarily write
dialogue as it sounds in real life. First person,
typically, is not written as we speak it. If we did, most
sentences would start with "I". Therefore, the
trick is to learn to turn the sentence about.
Instead of: I am the happiest today that I have been
I am happy, more than I have been for ages.
Instead of: I leaned down and picked up a perfectly
stone was perfectly rounded, and I leaned down to pick it
down, I picked up a perfectly rounded stone.
Instead of: I was so hot, and the sweat trickled
down my face.
tricked down my face, because it was so hot.
trickled down my face.
heat affected me so much that sweat trickled down my face.
As can be seen from the above examples, substitutes do
use first person?
It can evoke a stronger emotional attachment with
readers; from the first instance, the reader connects
with the main protagonist. It is his/her voice, thoughts
and feelings being portrayed, therefore, this is the
person the reader is most likely to bond with.
First person can be an extremely powerful tool. Below are
two excerpts - both are the same story, but written in
two different POV's.
Kareena spun around as movement behind her disturbed
the silence. Her hands were sweaty, and her heart was
beating abnormally fast as she peered into the dark
interior of the room.
"I didn't mean to startle you." It was Mason's
voice. Kareena wiped her damp hands on her track pants.
She turned her back to him, staring out at the ocean
again. "You have a beautiful view, Mason."
"Going somewhere?" he asked casually, glancing
at the bag slung over her shoulder. Mason slowly stepped
toward her. "Kareena?"
She turned to face him, her bottom lip pulled in as she
"Don't go -- please." He towered over her, and
looked down into her sparkling eyes.
Person POV (from Mason's POV):
She stood at the window, staring out across the sea.
Moving forward, my footsteps echoed across the room.
"I didn't mean to startle you," I told her, as
she turned to face me.
Kareena rubbed her hands against her clothes. Anyone else
would have realised she'd be nervous, but it was the last
thing on my mind.
She turned toward the water again, then spoke. "You
have a beautiful view, Mason," she said.
Small talk -- she was just making small talk. Did she
think it would make the problem go away?
Moving next to her, I noticed her eyes sparkled with
unshed tears. "Kareena, don't go."
The second piece is much more potent. The connection
between reader and narrator (in this case, Mason) is
substantially better than when it was told in omniscient
Why? With only one side of the story being told, Mason's
inner thoughts come through stronger, more commanding. It
elicits an emotion that the first version does not. It's
more compelling, more gripping and convincing.
Next time you sit down to write, consider first person
POV, and whether it might strengthen the story you are
trying to tell.
Copyright 2003 Cheryl Wright. All rights reserved.
An Australian author and freelance journalist, Cheryl
Wright (aka Andrea Higgins-Wright) loves to write and is
published in poetry, short stories and non-fiction
articles. She also publishes "Writer to Writer"
- a monthly ezine for writers. To subscribe, send a blank
email to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'subscribe'
in the subject line. Visit Cheryl's website at: www.cheryl-wright.com.