First person point of view in fiction

So there you are, still, sitting in your little space, your study, a library, maybe a café. And why do people write in cafés, anyway? It’s not because they want to be social ─ that’s for later ─ but because a buzz of chatter focuses the mind inward, the same phenomenon an airplane creates. There’s nothing like feeling suspended in the ethers, with a view of the mists, writing poetry to the roar of jet engines. Many poets have written their best poems in speedy silver tubes. Wherever your place, so there you are months and possibly years after you started your novel, and your characters feel flat. Come back, then, to thinking about point of view. Think point of view as structuring your story.

First person point of view shapes the story, controls information to the reader, controls the tone of the story, and determines what other characters know. Most importantly, first person point of view creates intimacy, because the narrator is telling a reader this and that, but it’s also limiting. While the narrator may be able to tell us about herself in great depth, she can’t reach into the head of other characters, at least to the same extent we can get to know the narrator. So the reader’s world shrinks. The narrator has to be extremely interesting or entertaining to keep a reader with her through hundreds of pages ─ this point of view is highly dependent upon voice.

An example of using first person point of view: in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by French novelist, Muriel Barbery, the story is told from the point of view of an aging concierge of an apartment building in Paris and from the point of view of a twelve year-old girl, a prodigy, who’s a resident of the building. What makes a discourse on art and beauty and class so wonderful in this book are these two characters. Each has highly developed opinions, great wit, desires, sadness, and emotional depth; each has a highly distinct voice. Characters like these aren’t born out of the air surrounding your airplane. They are born out of your head and your craft. First person view is one of the tools of craft and is dependent upon voice.

Use first person to create intimacy

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