Tips on writing in first-person

Matthew Arnold Stern
5 min readFeb 8, 2022
Person working on laptop. Image by Lukas Bieri from Pixabay

Years ago, I made a significant change in my fiction writing. I switched from writing in third-person to first-person. My first two novels were written in third-person and were heavily plot-driven. By switching to first-person, I focused on character, which also helped me write better plots. I used this approach with Amiga and The Remainders. These are the first novels that have been selected by a publisher, and both got excellent reviews.

First-person isn’t for all novels. Some stories work better in third-person. Here are some tips to help you decide which point of view to use, how to use first-person effectively, and how to combine different points of view in the same book. (You can even combine first-person with third-person!)

Which point-of-view do I use?

You probably learned about first- and third-person in beginning literature class, but here’s a brief explanation: First-person is when a character tells the story. It doesn’t have to be the main character (think Ishmail in Moby Dick), but someone in the story describes what is happening. Third-person is when an outside narrator describes the story.

First-person works best for character-driven stories where you want readers to experience a person’s life first-hand. Readers get to see the world from that character’s point-of-view, which is limited to what the character sees and feels. Readers can become emotionally invested in a character. The character’s goals become the readers’ goals, and their setbacks become the readers’ setbacks.

Third-person gives readers a more cinematic experience where they can look over the action and see what happens to a larger number of characters. With third-person, you can control how much information you present to the readers. You can provide an omniscient narrator that shows everything, including characters’ thoughts. Or you can limit the readers’ knowledge to a set of characters. For example, you can focus on a band of heroes who may be wandering into a trap, but you don’t show the villains hiding over the ridge.

Because first-person is limited to a single character’s perspective, it helps to combine multiple first-person narrations. You can include another main character who is telling their own story, which may contradict the first…

Matthew Arnold Stern

A novelist and award-winning public speaker and technical writer. My novels Amiga and The Remainders are available now.