When to use first-person point of view in a story

One of the two most common point of views, first-person occurs when a character in the story narrates the tale. If the protagonist is the narrator, you have first-person major; if a character who is not the protagonist is the narrator, you have first-person minor.

First-person is an exceptionally good idea for stories in which the protagonist’s personality or ultimate decision for solving a problem generally would not be accepted by society. Usually the author wants the reader to accept that protagonist or his decision. This is done to great effect in Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in which the main character, Meursault, is indifferent and emotionally detached from the world around him. He is arrested for the murder of an Arab and sentenced to death. Though Meursault doesn’t sound very likable, by novel’s end, most unbiased readers side with him. Meursault – like all of us, Camus claims – is a victim of the benign indifference of the universe. No one really knows who he is; others, like the prosecutor, define him, turn him into a cartoon caricature of who is really is, while the priest does the same for the world and universe. When Meursault reconciles himself to the absurdity of life, he is finally happy.

Such a story could not be told as effectively in any other point of view. If we look at  Meursault objectively – as we would with a third person point of view – readers would see an emotionless man who murdered another and hence deserves a harsh sentence. Because we wouldn’t really get inside Meursault’s head and see the world through his eyes and experiences, we’d never really understand him. The story’s quality would diminish.

During the 20th century and the beginning decades of the 21st, many authors have focused on themes aimed at understanding and uplifting the oppressed and marginalized. As first-person is ideal for such characters, this point of view has enjoyed a renaissance in storytelling.

Don’t use first-person, however, just because it’s popular. Many genre stories, for example, are purely about beating difficult odds and have the default theme of “good will overcome evil.” While such stories can be told in first-person, third-person probably is more suitable as it better plays to those tales’ strengths.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.