Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is it narcissistic to use first POV?

When I first started writing, I felt comfortable narrating my stories in third POV. That quickly changed after taking some workshops where I discovered how realistic writing in first POV is.

Some authors agree that first-person narrative could be unreliable. But, isn’t life unreliable anyway? Think of great books such as The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, The Sun Also Rises, to name a few, which are written in the first-person narrator. Do you think they would have been so effective written in a different POV?

As one of my mentors said, “It’s as if you’re looking through the lens of a camera.” What a great analogy! It’s helped me detach from my protagonist and, in turn, avoid sneaking in my own voice (the author’s voice). Writing this way narrows the possibility from getting inside each character’s mind.

I usually stick to the POV that feels comfortable, but this can be tricky even for seasoned writers. Sometimes my mentors suggest changing the POV of my finished stories to make them flow better or be more captivating. I try writing several paragraphs, including dialogue, from each POV. I know immediately what feels right for my way of storytelling. I find this exercise very helpful.

Which POV do you prefer to use in your stories?


  1. I like using first person because I write MG/YA. Attempted to write in 3rd person once, and it felt quite odd!

  2. I used to start off writing in first person POV then I felt I was confusing this first person POV with me and therefore the stories suffered considerably (trite, contrived etc)! It was only after I braved using the third person POV (and many writerly courses later!) that I was able to distance my self and to let my characters be whomever they wanted to be. I know I'm not that talented a writer to be able to pull off a first person POV convincingly - so I do stick to the third person POV more. I do feel more comfortable with this. Take care

  3. Hi Alleged Author,
    I guess we can also take into consideration what genre we write. However, I suggest that you give it a try. My mentor says that a good writer is able to write in different POVs. ;) When in doubt, go with your gut feeling, it never fails!

    Hi Jennifer,
    Ooohh, for me it was the opposite. I loved writing in 3rd-person POV because I had more flexibility. Omniscient narrators can get inside the head of many characters. However, once I discovered how to write in 1st-person POV, I fell in love with it. It feels so real and I feel the pain of my MC without getting in the way of her/his actions/voice. It's good to write in the POV you're most comfortable with, but it's also good to experiment.

  4. Hi Claudia:
    POV poses the eternal challenge for me. I often write from the third person POV. And when I realize that a piece of writing is just not working, often it comes down to changing the POV. Once I do that, the story opens up to the bigger possibilities provided by that new voice. Thank you for sharing your POV here! :-)) Cheers, Kelly

  5. I write first person, children's books, and my readers say they prefer this. :0)

  6. I typically go with what "feels right." I go with whatever point of view pops into my head. My current WIP is in the first person. I like it and I also enjoy other stories and novels in the first person. First person is a little unreliable, but I don't mind an unreliable character, it often makes the story that much more interesting. :)

  7. Hi Kelly,
    You're not the only one. Sometimes I get so carried away with my story that my POV suffers. My fellow writers or my mentor has to point it out. As I said before, experimenting is good until you find that "suits" your story. ;)

    Hi Carole Anne,
    Hmmm I guess 1st-person POV works better with children's books. I guess children can find a friend (or empathize) with the protagonist if it's talking to them. ;)

    Hi Racquel,
    I'm with you on that one. Even if the MC is unreliable the story can be more interesting and, in turn, the character herself/himself. Choosing the right POV is very personal and also a bit technical because it has to work well in the storyline/theme/premise of your story.

  8. I disagree with the many out there who say 1st person pov is narcissistic. I enjoy both reading and writing from that pov. So glad to see that there are others who feel as I do. Love your mentor's analogy, “It’s as if you’re looking through the lens of a camera.”

    I let the story dictate which pov I will use, and enjoy the flexibility of having the choice. I don't think I've ever changed it mid-WIP. (Hmm, maybe I should try it sometime.)

  9. Hi Chris,
    Glad to hear your like my mentor's analogy. It helped me a lot when it came to separating my own voice and the narrator. ;) Like you, I, too, like reading books told in the 1st person POV. Somehow I feel closer to the narrator and the story itself.

  10. I think it really depends. Most of my stories are in 3rd person but every now and then a story starts speaking to me in first person. I think it's good to use both to vary style. So I agree with Chris and some of the others. Do what feel's right! Veena

  11. I have to admit, first person pov is not my favorite. I tend to sense too much of the author in it.

    Though YA can usually pull it off without a hitch.

  12. Hi Veena,
    Isn't it great to have freedom to choose our POVs? Definetely, we must go with what feels right but also taking into consideration what works best for your story. ;)

    Hi Maria,
    OMG! Long time no see. You were one of my first followers, so welcome back! ;)
    I must confess, writing in 1st person POV wasn't my first choice either. However, after learning the techniques, I've grown fond of it.

  13. Think of POV in the way music is composed. The same piece, played in G major or F minor, evoke different emotions. Which one to use? Be it music or literature, you will choose the one that best serves the delivery of a musical piece or a story.

    Writing exercises, entailing different POVs of the same story, are akin to rehearsals. You then can read and see which POV conveys your story in the manner you want it to. The more personal First Person or the distant third person omniscient.

    It all depends on the story and has nothing to do with narcissism. Finding the POV that best tells the story in the way you want it told is being true to yourself and, by extension, to your readers.

  14. Changing POV is a great suggestion. I'm very comfortable with first person, so I ought to try switching. I'd learn something. At a writers conference I was told if you're having trouble writing a synopsis to try writing it from your MC's POV, then switch it back.

    Have a lovely weekend. :)

  15. Nice analogy, Vasilios.
    I never thought of using music in relation to my POV. Hmmm, yes, I guess they do evoke different emotions. ;)
    Thank you for sharing this helpful comment.

    Hi Michelle,
    What a great tip! WOW! That's why I love blogging. I learn lots from my fellow bloggers/writers. Thank you for sharing this helpful tip.
    Have a great long weekend!

  16. Hi Claudia,

    I find it hard to write fiction in the first person, perhaps because I'm a control freak. I like presenting a story without being limited to just the MC's point of view.

  17. Hi Adam,
    Hmmm, it all depends on the premise of the story. Sometimes you can have three characters telling the same story and they're still telling it in 1st person POV without being omniscient ;) Anything is possible in writing.

  18. I like the solitary nature of first person POV, and being inside the head of the character, dealing with the complexity of their emotions and self doubts. I very often visit multiple characters to see their side of the story, how they feel, and how they perceive the others. (There's more than one side to every story.) It is very complicated to write a book this way, and perhaps some readers might get lost if it's a style they're not accustom to, but I find it more intimate to truly know the heart of the main characters...and sometimes, they surprise themselves.

    The characters are narcissistic, not the writer...

  19. Hi Laura,
    Welcome to my blog and thank you for joining!
    WOW! I never thought of if that way, I mean the solitary nature of 1st p.POV. For me, it's more like knowing this character, like being friends with her/him and tagging along on their experiences. I think you hit right on the target when you said, "the characters are narcissistic, not the writer..." Well said.

  20. I probably write 60-70% of my stuff in 1st person. I've been told it's a bad habit (the intimation, I think, was that I would go blind).

    Why 1st person? You know, I've thought about that a lot recently. Drilling down from 'it just feels right' I've come to a couple of conclusions. When I write horror/dark fantasy, I generally choose to write it from the antagonist's (or at least antihero's) point of view (*why* I do that is a whole other kettle of fish). In order to make that character real, three dimensional, and not cardboard, I've got to get inside his/her/its head. The goal, oftentimes, is to get the reader to understand why they do what they do. Not to like it or agree with it, but to be unable to dismiss it. Probably the best review I ever had in this regard had this reaction: "...manages to make you both feel sorry for and hate the main character..." I wouldn't have gotten that kind of reaction if I'd written it in 3rd person.

    When I'm writing fantasy, being allergic to the Terry Goodkind type that some people love, I feel the need to make it more 'believable', somehow. Joe Abercrombie does this by spearing fantasy tropes and making fantasy gritty and bloody and sandblasting off the fairytale-esqeness of it all to show the blood and guts and bad choices beneath. I do it by showing the world through one set of eyes. Sure, it's fate of the world stuff, but it's also issues with body-image and stray thoughts and barroom philosophizing. If John D. McDonald's Travis McGee can do it, then so can my medieval thief :)

    Okay, this comment has gone on for far too long. Sorry!

  21. Hi Michael,
    Ah, don't worry about the length of your comment. All comments are welcomed. ;)
    Since you write with the antihero in mind maybe 1st person POV is the way to go. The review you got is so true. I've felt that way about certain characters: Love-hate relationship. I think this can be accomplished through writing in 1st P, POV.