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Me, Myself and I: Writing First Person Point of View

Cheryl Wright – All Rights Reserved


You want to write first person - it’s easy, right? Anyone can do it; at least that’s what everyone tells you.


Not quite.


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.


Or: The 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, nasty, 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:


Tripping 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 narrator.


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 for ages.


Try: Today I am happy, more than I have been for ages.


Instead of: I leaned down and picked up a perfectly rounded stone.


Try: The stone was perfectly rounded, and I leaned down to pick it up.


Or: Leaning down, I picked up a perfectly rounded stone.


Instead of: I was so hot, and the sweat trickled down my face.


Try: Sweat tricked down my face, because it was so hot.


Or: Sweat trickled down my face.


Or: The heat affected me so much that sweat trickled down my face.


As can be seen from the above examples, substitutes do exist.


Why 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. 



Omniscient POV:


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 stared.


“Don’t go -- please.” He towered over her, and looked down into her sparkling eyes.



First 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 POV.


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.



About the author: Cheryl Wright is an award-winning Australian author and freelance journalist. In addition to an array of other projects, she is the owner of the Writer2Writer.com website and the Writer to Writer monthly ezine for writers.  Her publications include novels, non-fiction books, short stories, and articles. To keep up to date with her publications and new releases, visit Cheryl’s website www.cheryl-wright.com




         Last updated: August 04, 2008