The Ins and Outs of First-Person POV
July 08, 2010
by Jessica Strawser
In his session “The Pros and Cons of the First-Person Viewpoint,” blockbuster novelist David Morrell took an intimate look at this hotly debated POV.
—ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City)
Blockbuster novelist David Morrell’s expert view, the biggest con of writing in first person is that it traps us in our own viewpoint (or our protagonist’s viewpoint). The reader can know only what we know as we come to know it, see only what we see. This can limit the means in which you can tell the story and have it still ring true for your readers.
Another con: When we select the first person we’re tempted to write as we speak. This can lead to undisciplined writing, potentially yielding rambling or flat, one-dimensional prose.
The tradeoff, though, can be authenticity. “There is no such thing as a third-person viewpoint in life,” Morrell explains. Which means you might say first person POV is the most true-to-life perspective from which to tell a story.
Another pro: First-person narrators can be unreliable narrators (and often the best ones are), leaving what happened open to interpretation—and, in the hands of a skilled writer, this can add amazing depth to a story, as evidenced so expertly in the best known works of Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. Stories like theirs demand to be told in first person—in fact, Morrell points out they could not be effectively told in any other way.
His key takeaway? Write in first-person only if you have a compelling reason to.