When editing, I often see the POV shifting between characters within the same scene, which can be jarring to readers. A general rule is to wait for a scene or chapter break to change POV. Another common problem is when POV characters disclose information about other characters that they have no believable way of knowing. Because POV is challenging, Rose's Red Pen will feature posts about the different POVs over the summer. Let's start with a famous example of the first-person singular POV:
"Call me Ismael." -- from Moby Dick, Herman Melville
In this POV, the "I" tells the story. The "I" can be a main character or a minor one that observes what happens. Since a specific character tells the story, the narrative voice must match that character's cultural and regional background, education, and social standing.
Well-known books written in the first-person singular POV include: Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Sherlock Holmes stories. More recent examples are Gone Girl (with two alternating first-person narrators), High Fidelity, and Cat's Eye.
The advantages of using the first-person singular POV are:
- The narrative voice can be more informal.
- The narrator is like a good friend who confides everything to the reader, giving a sense of immediacy.
- The writer can mislead the reader with an unreliable narrator. The narrator could be a liar, mentally or emotionally disabled, or a killer, leading to interesting storylines.
- The writer is stuck with that single voice, for better or worse (unless the story switches to other first-person narrators or POVs.)
- The writer cannot use language that the character wouldn't use or describe things that the character wouldn't notice.
- The writer is limited to what the character sees and knows. Some writers have gotten around that obstacle by making the first-person narrator omniscient (as in The Lovely Bones or The Book Thief). Another solution is to have other characters do things that lead the first-person narrator to conclusions.
- It's tempting to allow the narrator to tell the reader everything instead of showing it through action.