10 Examples and Excerpts of First Person Point of View in Fiction

I'm back with another POV post, and this time the focus is on first person point of view in fiction.

While first person is one of the easier points of view to grasp when it comes to fiction writing, there is still plenty to get to grips with before (and while) embarking on a piece of writing using the first person. And referencing some great examples of first person point of view in fiction can be incredibly useful when ironing out POV in your own story.

But before we get to the examples, and excerpts, let's take a look at what first person point of view actually means.


What is first person point of view?

As the name suggests, first person point of view is written in the first person (I/We).

First person point of view is arguably the most intimate of narrative POVs as the reader gets to experience the story through the eyes of a character in the story. Unlike third person omniscient, when opting for first person point of view, the reader will only be privy to information that the narrator would realistically be able to perceive or know.

While the majority of books written in first person do so from the point of view of a central character, there are no hard and fast rules about this. Some authors choose to narrate their story using first person point of view, yet from a peripheral character - someone who witnesses the events of a story, but isn't a main character. The most famous example of this is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Advantages of using first person point of view

  • From their first introduction to the narrator, the reader begins to build up a relationship with them. Their perspective is (potentially) the only lens through which your reader will see your narrative unfold, and therefore it is easier to build a rapport and intimacy between the reader and narrator, as the reader experiences events as the character does, as well as discovers new information as the character does.

  • You are granted the opportunity to fully explore a character and their personality. This allows you the freedom to use a unique and intriguing voice to tell your narrative - one that potentially has drastically differing opinions to your own.

  • As the story is being narrated through the lens of a specific character, you can introduce bias into your story. This makes for compelling storytelling as you can utilise the concept of the unreliable narrator, or use it to your advantage.

X examples of first person point of view in fiction

1. The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

While not all of this book is written in the first person, The Name of the Wind is an epic fantasy which follows the life of Kvothe, a renowned magician, musician and king killer. We meet him in the third person as Kote, the manager of the Waystone Inn in a town called Newarre, at some later point in his life, where he has seemingly lost his magic.

Kote recounts the story of his early life as Kvothe to a scribe known as Chronicler, and it is this recounting of his story that is written in the first person, as Kote is narrating his own life story.

Here is an excerpt of the beginning of Kote's narration of Kvothe's story.

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If this story is to be something resembling my book of deeds, we must begin at the beginning. At the heart of who I truly am. To do this, you must remember that before I was anything else, I was one of the Edema Ruh.

Contrary to popular belief, not all traveling performers are of the Ruh. My troupe was not some poor batch of mummers, japing at crossroads for pennies, singing for our suppers. We were court performers, Lord Greyfallow’s Men. Our arrival in most towns was more of an event than the Midwinter Pageantry and Solinade Games rolled together. There were usually at least eight wagons in our troupe and well over two dozen performers: actors and acrobats, musicians and hand magicians, jugglers and jesters: My family.


2. Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

Another epic fantasy, Assassin's Apprentice follows Fitz Chivalry, who is the novel's main protagonist and narrator.
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My pen falters, then falls from my knuckly grip, leaving a worm’s trail of ink across Fedwren’s paper. I have spoiled another leaf of the fine stuff, in what I suspect is a futile endeavor. I wonder if I can write this history, or if on every page there will be some sneaking show of a bitterness I thought long dead. I think myself cured of all spite, but when I touch pen to paper, the hurt of a boy bleeds out with the sea-­spawned ink, until I suspect each carefully formed black letter scabs over some ancient scarlet wound.


3. Red Rising - Pierce Brown

Moving onto a dystopian science fiction... Red Rising is set on Mars and follows the story of Darrow, a lowborn Red who impersonates a highborn Gold in order to enact revenge for the death of his wife.
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The first thing you should know about me is I am my father’s son. And when they came for him, I did as he asked. I did not cry. Not when the Society televised the arrest. Not when the Golds tried him. Not when the Grays hanged him. Mother hit me for that. My brother Kieran was supposed to be the stoic one. He was the elder, I the younger. I was supposed to cry. Instead, Kieran bawled like a girl when Little Eo tucked a haemanthus into Father’s left workboot and ran back to her own father’s side. My sister Leanna murmured a lament beside me. I just watched and thought it a shame that he died dancing but without his dancing shoes.


4. Skyward - Brandon Sanderson

Skyward is a YA space opera sci fi following the life of Spensa Nightshade as she goes through flight school and trains to become a member of the DDF (Defiant Defense Force) on the planet of Detritus.
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Only fools climbed to the surface. It was stupid to put yourself in danger like that, my mother always said. Not only were there near-constant debris showers from the rubble belt, but you never knew when the Krell would attack.

Of course, my father traveled to the surface basically every day—he had to, as a pilot. I supposed by my mother’s definition that made him extra foolish, but I always considered him extra brave.

I was still surprised when one day, after years of listening to me beg, he finally agreed to take me up with him.

I was seven years old, though in my mind I was completely grown-up and utterly capable. I hurried after my father, carrying a lantern to light the rubble-strewn cavern. A lot of the rocks in the tunnel were broken and cracked, most likely from Krell bombings—things I’d experienced down below as a rattling of dishes or trembling of light fixtures.

I imagined those broken rocks as the broken bodies of my enemies, their bones shattered, their trembling arms reaching upward in a useless gesture of total and complete defeat.

I was a very odd little girl.



5. An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

An American Marriage is written in the first person point of view of three central characters: Roy, a black man falsely accused and sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit; Celestial, his wife of one year at the time of the false accusation; and Andre, Celestial's childhood best friend who she leans on for support in the years following Roy's incarceration.

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There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t. I’m a proud member of the first category. My wife, Celestial, used to say that I’m a country boy at the core, but I never cared for that designation. For one, I’m not from the country per se. Eloe, Louisiana, is a small town. When you hear “country,” you think raising crops, baling hay, and milking cows. Never in my life have I picked a single cotton boll, although my daddy did. I have never touched a horse, goat, or pig, nor have I any desire to. Celestial used to laugh, clarifying that she’s not saying I’m a farmer, just country. She is from Atlanta, and there was a case to be made that she is country, too. But let her tell it, she’s a “southern woman,” not to be confused with a “southern belle.” For some reason, “Georgia peach” is all right with her, and it’s all right with me, so there you have it.


6. Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

Conversations with Friends follows 21-year-old university student Frances (who is our first person narrator) as she and her best friend Bobbi befriend a married couple in their thirties, Melissa and Nick, and navigate the complex relationships that form between each of them.
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Bobbi and I first met Melissa at a poetry night in town, where we were performing together. Melissa took our photograph outside, with Bobbi smoking and me self-consciously holding my left wrist in my right hand, as if I was afraid the wrist was going to get away from me. Melissa used a big professional camera and kept lots of different lenses in a special camera pouch. She chatted and smoked while taking the pictures. She talked about our performance and we talked about her work, which we’d come across on the internet. Around midnight the bar closed. It was starting to rain then, and Melissa told us we were welcome to come back to her house for a drink.

We all got into the back of a taxi together and started fixing up our seat belts. Bobbi sat in the middle, with her head turned to speak to Melissa, so I could see the back of her neck and her little spoon-like ear. Melissa gave the driver an address in Monkstown and I turned to look out the window. A voice came on the radio to say the words: eighties . . . pop. . . classics. Then a jingle played. I felt excited, ready for the challenge of visiting a stranger’s home, already preparing compliments and certain facial expressions to make myself seem charming.



7. In Five Years - Rebecca Serle

In Five Years follows our protagonist Dannie, a corporate lawyer living in NYC, at a time in her life when everything is going according to her life plan. Just after she smashes an important job interview out of the park and gets engaged to her long time boyfriend, she experiences a brief vision of herself five years in the future, with a different man, in an apartment she doesn't recognise, with a ring on her finger that isn't the one she'd received that night. She's transported back to the present, shocked and struggling to understand what she just witnessed.

Quotepng

The elevator doors open to the thirty-third floor, and I suck in my breath. I can feel the energy, like candy to the vein, as I look around at the people moving in and out of glass-doored confer- ence rooms like extras on the show Suits, hired for today—for me, for my viewing pleasure alone. The place is in full bloom. I get the feeling that you could walk in here at any hour, any day of the week, and this is what you would see. Midnight on Saturday, Sunday at 8 a.m. It’s a world out of time, functioning on its own schedule.

This is what I want. This is what I’ve always wanted. To be somewhere that stops at nothing. To be surrounded by the pace and rhythm of greatness.

“Ms. Kohan?” A young woman greets me where I stand. She wears a Banana Republic sheath dress, no blazer. She’s a recep- tionist. I know, because all lawyers are required to wear suits at Wachtell. “Right this way.”



8. Ghosts - Dolly Alderton

Ghosts follows Nina, as she navigates her relationship with her parents, one of whom is suffering from dementia; her friends, who are at the age where they're getting married and having kids; and her new boyfriend Max, who she falls head over heels for almost immediately.
Quotepng
When we were together, Joe often used his northernness in argu-ments against me, as a way of proving he was more real than I was; more down to earth and therefore more likely to be right. It was one of my least favourite things about him—the way he lazily outsourced his integrity to Yorkshire, so that romantic implications of miners and moors would do all the hard work for him. In the early stages of our relationship, he used to make me feel like we had grown up in separate galaxies because his mum had worked as a hairdresser in Sheffield and mine was a receptionist in Harrow. The first time he took me home to his parents’ house—a modest three-bed in a sub-urb of Sheffield—I realized just what a lie I’d been told. If I hadn’t known I was in Yorkshire, I would have sworn we were driving around the pebbledash-fronted-leaded-window gap between the end of London and the beginning of Hertfordshire where I’d spent my adolescence. Joe’s cul-de- sac was the same as mine, the houses were all the same, his fridge was full of the same fruit-corner yogurts and ready-to-bake garlic bread. He’d had a bike just like mine, to spend his teenage weekends going up and down streets of identical red-roof houses just like I did. He was taken to PizzaExpress for his birthday like I was. The secret was out


9. The Dictionary of Lost Words - Pip Williams

A historical fiction set in Oxford from the years 1887 - 1928, The Dictionary of Lost Words follows Esme, the daughter of a lexicographer working to compile words for publication in the Oxford's English Dictionary as she seeks to create her own dictionary of words that have been overlooked or deemed unimportant by the male-dominant team working on the dictionary.
Quotepng

May 1887

Scriptorium. It sounds as if it might have been a grand building, where the lightest footstep would echo between marble floor and gilded dome. But it was just a shed, in the back garden of a house in Oxford.

Instead of storing shovels and rakes, the shed stored words. Every word in the English language was written on a slip of paper the size of a postcard. Volunteers posted them from all over the world, and they were kept in bundles in the hundreds of pigeon-holes that lined the shed walls. Dr. Murray was the one who named it the Scriptorium—he must have thought it an indignity for the English language to be stored in a garden shed—but everyone who worked there called it the Scrippy. Everyone but me. I liked the feel of Scriptorium as it moved around my mouth and landed softly between my lips. It took me a long time to learn to say it, and when I finally did nothing else would do.



10. A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle

While Sherlock Holmes is arguably the more famous of the John Watson and Sherlock Holmes duo, the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle are actually narrated by Watson in the first person.
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“Poor devil!” he said, commiseratingly, after he had listened to my misfortunes. “What are you up to now?”

 “Looking for lodgings,” I answered. “Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.”

 “That’s a strange thing,” remarked my companion, “you are the second man to-day that has used that expression to me.”

 “And who was the first?” I asked.

 “A fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory up at the hospital. He was bemoaning himself this morning because he could not get some one to go halves with him in some nice rooms which he had found, and which were too much for his purse.”

 “By Jove!” I cried; “if he really wants some one to share the rooms and the expense, I am the very man for him. I should prefer having a partner to being alone.”

 Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me over his wine glass. “You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet,” he said; “perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.”


And that's all I have time for today. I'm off to go and make myself a cuppa and have a cheeky Bakewell tart.

If you're struggling with nailing point of view in your own story, I can help! I offer a range of editorial services including a manuscript critique which focuses on POV, as well as other larger elements of your story such as characterisation, plot, pacing, structure and dialogue.

Until the next time!

Candida x