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The Disadvantages of the First Person Point of View


Writers tell stories from a consistent angle called the point of view. These outlooks explore the thoughts and observations of multiple characters, one character or even involve the reader in the story. First-person point-of-view tells a story from the position of one narrator, who can be a main character, a witness of the events of a story or a person retelling someone else’s story. This approach to writing is not without its flaws.

Narrowing the Experience

First person point of view limits the reader's experience as the reader experiences only the narrator’s side of the story. This point of view also restricts the writer as the writer can reveal only what the narrator thinks and sees -- the narrator must always “be on stage or observing the stage,” states Writer’s Digest. Because the reader cannot see into the minds of other characters, it can be difficult to add a subplot to a story in first person; each subplot needs to involve the narrator or the switching of narrators to another first-person perspective, which is not necessarily feasible. Additionally, readers of the work risk burning out on ceaseless "I" statements throughout the story.

Tendency to Bias

Since first person is told from the perspective of only one narrator, the story is by its nature biased by the filter of the character telling the story. This creates the literary problem referred to as an “unreliable narrator,” or storytellers that either purposefully distort the truth or give their own understanding of events and characters. While some first-person narrators are objective, they risk being too impersonal, suggest Grossmont College creative writing associate professor Karl Sherlock. Sherlock also suggests that writers must make the “internal landscape of the storyteller” interesting enough to maintain the reader’s interest in that character.

Capturing the Character

Writing in first-person point-of-view dictates how you write. To be successful, the writing must embody how the narrator speaks, including vocabulary choice, sentence length and tone -- some dialects make the writing difficult to read. The writer also carefully plan how the narrator talks to the reader, whether as a friend, via a journal entry or if the story was only meant for a specific person to hear. All these factors make planning the narration more difficult than third-person point-of-view.

"Seeing" the Narrator

First-person point-of-view makes it difficult for the narrator to describe himself. Without the option of "he" and "she" pronouns, the reader often doesn't even know the narrator's gender unless the writer provides clues. To deal with this issue, writers often put their narrator in front of a mirror, which has become cliche. It is up to writers to avoid these cliches and use their creativity to describe their main character and provide context to the reader without the writing seeming forced.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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