Can A Novel Be Written In First Person?


Many authors enjoy writing in first person point of view, and for some, it can be easier to write this way.

Some authors, on the other hand, prefer to write solely in third person, and some even prefer omnipotent point of view.

While there is no right or wrong answer, writing your story in first person can make sense for many reasons, a few of which we'll analyse today.

That brings us to the question: Can a novel be written in first person?

The short and simple answer? Most definitely!

Should I write my novel in first person point of view?

First person POV has many advantages. The first person narrative can be recognised by use of the 'I' pronoun.

For many writers, it's the easiest POV because of the natural flow of the writing that imitates our normal, everyday way of speaking.

First person perspective is also a brilliant way to bring some attitude, originality and fun to the overall tone of your novel, and a unique voice to your character/s.

If you're considering the first person narrative for your novel, ask yourself these questions:

  • Out of all the viewpoints, why do you want to write in the first person? Do you enjoy it?
  • Do you want to write in a strong voice that is unique to your character? Are you able to distance yourself from the character's voice? (i.e. Does your character's voice mimic how you normally talk?)
  • Take a look at your first person scenes. Do they work from a reader's perspective? What are they lacking? Would they be better suited to a different perspective, like close third person?

If you're considering writing your novel in first person, we’re here to give you some pros and cons to help make your decision easier.

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Pros of using first person point of view

It provides direct access to protagonist's thoughts

This is the most obvious reason to choose to write in the first person point of view.

Imagine writing in your diary. How does it make you feel? You can pour your thoughts into it, whether it be information, secrets, how your day was — anything.

This is the perspective from which your reader will view your story. There is nothing the protagonist will think or feel that the reader will not be privy to.

We have a direct line to the character's thoughts. We know their motivations and have an easier time of understanding their core being and why they behave the way they do. And this is all down to framing the narrative through their eyes.

An intimate connection is created with the reader and the character, which is why many young adult writers choose to use this point of view (more on this below).

Think about it. When you meet a new person and learn more about them, hear about their likes, fears, dreams and worries or learn about their bratty younger sibling, you establish a closer connection to them. A relationship is formed.

This is the same between your reader and character. An authentic and unbreakable relationship can often be created much more easily through first person narrative.

The first person point of view can also create a sense of immediacy, and a more natural, fluid narrative for your reader.

And the best part is that we speak in the first person every day without even thinking about it, so you can really let the words flow as you draft your novel.

It suits middle grade and young adult audiences

Stroll through a bookstore and pick up a middle grade or young adult fiction book. Flip to the opening scene and there's a high likelihood that it will be told in the first person (with close third person coming in as a strong contender).

So why is first person so popular among YA readers and authors?

Readers of this category crave a personal connection with the protagonist. With a first person narrative, your reader will have an easier time of forming a stronger bond and connection with the character.

The first person 'voice' is also less filtered; when things happen to the protagonist (breakups, fights, etc.), their voice reports it back like a personal friend, speaking to the reader as though they were right in front of them.

Speaking of friendship: the first person point of view allows the reader to feel like they really know the character on a personal basis. Again, this is what readers crave in YA — someone they can relate to and call a friend!

Keep in mind that first person narrative is most commonly used in books with only one protagonist/POV character. Readers will follow one storyline, thereby establishing a stronger connection with the POV character.

If you write in the YA genre, choosing first person narration for your novel might be a good place to start.

Cons of using first person point of view

Not enough distance

First person allows the protagonist to have a more dynamic voice than any of the other points of view. However, it can be challenging for the writer to put enough distance between their personal voice and the character's true voice.

The problem with this is that, if you write other books in first person, all of your books will have the same voice and tone, making your writing seem repetitive and stale.

Your characters could all end up seeming like carbon copies of the same voice, and it will be hard for your reader to relate to each new character as a unique, separate entity.

As your reader grows accustomed to a character, they will be able to spot things they wouldn’t say and things they wouldn’t do, so it will be obvious to the reader if your actual voice streams into your story.

In order to improve this, it's important to learn everything you can about your protagonist (their personality, words they use, idiosyncrasies, etc.), and infuse your writing with these unique characteristics.

From this exercise, you will learn how they think, feel and react in certain situations, and their natural voice will come bouncing off the page.

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Limited viewpoint

One common issue that many authors face when choosing first person viewpoint for their novels is the limitation it imposes on the writing and story.

You, the writer, cannot share anything from other characters' perspectives (unless you're writing a multi-POV novel). You can only show what the viewpoint character interprets or believes.

However, you can use the character's own thoughts, feelings and observations to drive the story forward.

Does the bad guy look a certain way, or give off a certain vibe? While we won't be able to know exactly how they feel unless they explicitly state it, we can gauge their feelings via the POV character's perceptions of the situation.

Additionally, there can be less creative freedom to explore the story in first person than with the other most common perspective: third person POV.

How about describing how the protagonist looks? Something so seemingly simple is challenging in first person.

How awkward would it be if you had to describe how you looked to another person? 'I'm a sixteen-year-old girl with light brown eyes, long, flowing dark hair and olive skin...' Total cringefest, no?

In these instances, try using the character’s environment to give hints and clues towards their appearance/age/description.

For example, if your character is a teenager, they might be wearing leggings and a cozy sweater, a school uniform, or skinny jeans while they rummage through an overflowing laundry hamper for their favourite band T-shirt.

***

We hope you now have a general idea of the typical advantages and disadvantages of using first person narration for your novel.

Keep in mind that this list isn't exhaustive; there are still many factors that will determine whether first person POV is the right choice for your novel.

Generally, if you are a YA author, you'll find it's common to use the first person narrative so that your reader can establish a stronger bond with your protagonist.

But overall, it's about how you feel most comfortable telling the story, and what kind of voice and perspective will serve that story best.

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