7 Tips for Beginning a Story in First-Person POV
Once you’ve chosen the viewpoint character to center your first-person narrative, it’s time to plot out the beginning of your story. First-person narratives have a specific set of objectives that most writers try to fulfill in order to establish a specific voice and narrative tone early in the story. Here are some writing tips for how to begin your first-person story:
- Establish a clear voice. Your narrator’s voice should be clear and consistent, especially at the beginning of the story. If you have a distinctive, strong voice through which your story is being filtered, your readers will have an immediate understanding of how your narrator operates. The narrative voice takes your readers inside your character’s head and shows how they view the world.
- Start mid-action. Stories told in a first-person voice often start in the middle of the action. One of the advantages of first-person narration is cutting out some of the distance between your readers and the action of your story. If you start in the middle of the action, readers will get an appreciation for your narrator’s voice and see events through your character’s eyes.
- Introduce supporting characters early. Begin introducing different characters early on in your narrative. If your main character is the narrator of your story, having them introduce other characters is a great way of setting up your premise and showing your protagonist’s relationship to the other characters in the story. You may even consider making a secondary character your narrator; just because you are writing from the first-person point of view doesn’t mean you need to make your protagonist the narrator. If you think about the Sherlock Holmes stories, most of them are told from the point of view of Holmes’s partner, Watson. Filtering a story through a secondary character’s eyes can be a great way of providing perspective on your protagonist.
- Use the active voice. If you opt for first-person narration as opposed to second-person or third-person POV, remember to keep your voice active and steer clear of passive voice. Establishing an active voice early in your narrative will hook your readers and make your prose more engaging.
- Decide if your narrator is reliable. When writing a first-person story, you always have the option of using an unreliable narrator. In stories with a third-person narrator, we usually assume that information relayed to us is factually true (although there is some discrepancy in reliability between third-person limited POV and third-person omniscient POV). A first-person POV provides us with our narrator’s experience. You must decide whether the character narrating has an accurate view of the world around them and how much you want your audience to view the narration as accurate or skewed.
- Decide on a tense for your opening. A first-person narrative can jump around between present tense and past tense just like any other story, but it’s useful to consider which tense best serves the opening of your story. Is your story a reflection on events past or a blow-by-blow account of present action? Decide on what tense you want to use in your first paragraph and chapter to set a frame of reference for your readers.
- Study first-person opening lines in literature. One way to better understand how to establish a first-person narrator at the beginning of a story is to study the opening sentences of famous novels and short stories written from a first-person perspective. The first sentence is a key element of every story, and it has to serve a variety of unique purposes in a first-person narrative. The first line should relay a character’s thoughts and clearly establish the character’s voice in addition to launching us into the main storyline. Some iconic examples of novels that begin in first-person POV are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
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