How did it go writing first-person POV?

IN NOVEMBER, I completed my ninth novel. I always have a cooling off period after I type The End. For the next few days or weeks, I think about the lessons learned while writing the book. This time the lesson was an easy one to spot.

I’d never written a long-form piece in first-person POV.

What an eye-opener.

At the outset of the project, I believed first-person would prove confining. I thought I would probably jettison the whole attempt and move on to something else, something where first-person wasn’t such an aggravation.

Not so.

Stephen Woodfin

WHAT I FOUND was that writing in first-person is a great way for an author to put himself in the shoes of another person, deep in those shoes. If the writer doesn’t cheat the POV device, she will inhabit her hero’s skin for several hundred pages. Not only will she see only what her character sees, she will think what her character thinks, feel what she feels, laugh when she laughs, cry when she cries.

And, yes, I am serious about not cheating the POV device. I know the common wisdom these days is to fling dots on the page for a scene break (***) and switch POV to a character across town, or on another planet.

What I found was that with a little ingenuity, I could bring tons of information into the novel while remaining true to POV. It’s not just what your POV character observes that comes in. It’s also anything he knows, regardless of how he knows it, or whether it is true. If he is operating under a misconception about the facts, so be it. We all do that in real life.

Dialogue is another technique a writer can use to expand his reader’s knowledge of facts outside the POV character’s frame of reference. Consider a courtroom scene where the POV character is on trial, seated at counsel table with his lawyer. As each witness testifies, the POV character has an opportunity to learn something new and to process that information. As he discovers the facts, he can also shed light on them for the reader, for he knows how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

I said in the title that first-person allows the writer to stop being himself. That seems ironic, but I do believe it’s true. In third-person POV, the writer tends to color the characters by viewing them through the same lens. However, in first-person POV, the author must move more deeply into the soul of the character, into the place where he has skin in the game and isn’t a detached observer.

So, next time you sit down and begin the marathon which is a novel, put on your first-person running shoes.

I’ll bet they will be a great fit.

, , , , , , ,

  • Susan Royal

    Not to say there aren’t challenges, but writing in first person POV is my favorite way to tell a story.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Susan: It’s confining, it’s often suffocating, it’s the way to build a character no one ever forgets, and you do and Stephen do it well.

  • Vivra Beene

    I am much more comfortable writing in first person POV; I really do get into the character–I suppose I am a frustrated actor, and can “act” the part of my protagonist! I have tried to write my current WiP in third person POV, but it doesn’t work for me.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Vivra, it’s your voice telling the story. Use the one that offers the reader the most drama. If that’s first person, write first person proudly.

  • Devorah Fox

    I hear you. My latest release, “The Zen Detective,” is first person, present tense. Writing it was intense, and a craft challenge too. As you point out, the reader can’t learn anything that the narrator doesn’t know or experience.

Related Posts