Create intimacy with narrator via first-person

A story can be told from several viewpoints. When the main character narrates his experiences and observations, the author is using “first-person limited” point of view.

This viewpoint is autobiographical in nature. It is “limited” because the narrator only can tell what he perceives, not what other characters see, hear or think.

Consider this snippet, written to be told in first-person limited:

My back ached, and I tuned out my brother as wishing for a friend to tell my thoughts to; I had needed one ever since our father died during the last tourney a year ago, but now that Evod was head of the house, his single-mindedness in regaining our family’s pride prevented it as all we did was friggin train. For the time being, my inner ear would have to suffice. Odd how on our homeworld the males make the decisions while the females make the sacrifices.

We only know the world from the narrator’s perspective. We have no idea what Evod thinks about the narrator, his father, or their family duties except through the filter of the narrator.

There are several advantages to using first-person limited:
• Immediacy – Since the story is told as the main character makes observations, the reader in turn observes the story’s world as the same moment that the character does. This helps keep a strong flow of dramatic tension.
• Identification – This point of view typically makes identifying with the character easier for readers. They have a greater feeling of intimacy with him.
• Distinctive voice – Often a unique narrative voice is possible, which can make the story more interesting to the reader. In the above snippet, you gain a real sense of Nevar’s anger when she uses the word “friggin.” Her observation about the men making decisions and women the sacrifices also takes on a slightly more resentful tone than the original even though the exact same words are used.
• Control – The author arguably can better control flow of narrative when it is first-person limited. Because only one character’s perspective is told, the pace of what happens to that character primarily affects the story’s flow.
• Conversational – This viewpoint often sounds more conversational in tone. This allows for use of slang, jargon, and offbeat expressions, as in the novel and movie “A Clockwork Orange.”
• Awareness – This perspective sometimes is used because it allows for characters who are naïve, evil or mistaken to reveal their flaws even though they haven’t grown or changed during the story. Because the author can control the narrative flow, he can point out via the narrator’s errors in observation that a character fault exists. Readers picking up on this error find themselves contemplating if they themselves possess this fault.

Depending on the story you’re telling, first-person limited can be ill-suited. A few disadvantages of using this point of view include:
• The reliability of the narrator can be problematic – Since the narrator could be lying or distorting events, the reader may not identify with or understand that character.
• Any action not directly involving the narrator can’t be told – This can be limiting for an author, who may need to show how other characters react to an event with more depth or objectivity than the narrator’s perception of those characters can offer.
• Threats to the main character can seem less dramatic – The reader knows in advance that the narrator will survive, as a dead narrator can’t tell a story, after all.
• The main character typically can’t describe himself – When the narrator does, he runs the risk of sounding obnoxious, or the passage can appear forced.