First-person point of view ranks a close second in viewpoint popularity behind third-person. Beginning writers particularly like this viewpoint because it’s so similar to how we think as individuals. It’s easier to capture one person’s thoughts and dialogue rather than several viewpoints and the outside descriptions (unknown to the character) we use in third-person.
First-person’s still a challenging viewpoint to write because you have to rely on one person to tell a complete story. For instance, an unreliable narrator is used to describe a narrator who’s – you guessed it – unreliable. The character may be lying or could even be insane:
I was having a nice peaceful breakfast with Benjamin Franklin when that loudmouth Roseanne showed up. I was going to leave but then Norman Rockwell said, “A round of beer on me!” That’s when I knew I needed a cigarette and just one more drink.”
While this is a prime example of an unreliable narrator, it’s important to note that all narrators are unreliable up to a point. First-person is unique because it’s up to the character telling the story to tip off the reader as to what’s truthful and what’s not.
This isn’t to say that a first-person narrator should be considered completely untrustworthy. Most characters are strong, smart and competent. But – just like in real life – their opinion on a certain situation may be clouded or biased. So it’s up to the author to convey to the reader what’s believable.
For example, a woman may not see that her husband is cheating on her. Perhaps she doesn’t want to see that he’s found someone else.
As the story progresses, readers feel the tension between the couple. They want to know if the wife is finally going to realize her husband’s infidelity and what she’ll actually do about it.
Next week’s installment of first-person point of view takes you deeper into the lives of your characters. And don’t miss a special first-person POV workshop exercise so you can enhance your viewpoint writing skills.