Writing in first person means writing from the author's point of view or perspective. This point of view is used for autobiographical writing as well as narrative. Keep reading for first-person examples in literature and songs, as well as why a writer might choose to write in the first person.
First Person Writing Examples From Literature
When authors use the first-person point of view in their writing, they use I, me and my to show that the narrator is a character in the story. The writer may also use the plural first person: we, us and our. The narrator may be the main character, an antagonist or a minor character observing the action. Explore several first-person writing examples from books and poems.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is told from Scout's point of view. However, while Scout in the novel is a child, the story is told from her perspective as an older woman reflecting on her childhood.
"Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, ‘My father — ’
Jem was football crazy. Atticus was never too tired to play keep-away, but when Jem wanted to tackle him Atticus would say, ‘I’m too old for that, son.’"
Even though the speaker, Scout, is talking about her father, it's from her perspective of him. Throughout the novel, we know everything that Scout is thinking, which helps us see how she develops as a result of the summer's events.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift is another literary work told in first person. Lemuel Gulliver is a sea captain who explores the world, and we see his adventures through his perspective.
"I lay down on the grass, which was very short and soft, where I slept sounder than ever I remember to have done in my life, and, as I reckoned, above nine hours; for when I awaked, it was just daylight. I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for as I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner. I likewise felt several slender ligatures across my body, from my armpits to my thighs. I could only look upwards; the sun began to grow hot, and the light offended my eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but, in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky. In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and a quiver at his back."
The image described in this scene would be very different from the perspective of the tiny Lilliputians or from an unrelated third-person. Reading it from the perspective of Gulliver himself, who does not know what is happening to him, creates a curiosity for the reader.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is told from the perspective of the main character, Jane. The novel takes the reader through Jane's childhood, young adulthood and love story with Mr. Rochester.
"I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester: I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me--because I might pass hours in his presence, and he would never once turn his eyes in my direction--because I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes as she passed; who, if ever her dark and imperious eye fell on me by chance, would withdraw it instantly as from an object too mean to merit observation."
Having a first-person perspective in Jane Eyre helps the reader know all of Jane's inner thoughts. We wouldn't understand Jane's actions or motivations, including her attraction to Mr. Rochester, if she weren't telling the story.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Many first-person novels feature the most important character as the storyteller. However, in novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the narrator is not Jay Gatsby himself but Nick Carroway, a newcomer to West Egg, New York.
"I lived at West Egg, the — well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or rather, as I didn't know Mr. Gatsby it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eye-sore, but it was a small eye-sore and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn and the consoling proximity of millionaires — all for eighty dollars a month."
The story revolves around Gatsby's lavish parties and nostalgia for past love, but it's all from Nick's perspective. This writing choice allows the reader to learn all about West Egg and its occupants through Nick's eyes as he sees them for the first time.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
All of Edgar Allan Poe's major works are written in the first-person perspective, including his poem "The Raven." A melancholic tone introduces the speaker, who encounters a haunting spirit one winter night.
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.'”
Writing in the first person allowed Poe to stretch the suspense even further than with his word choice alone. After all, if we only know as much as the speaker — and he doesn't know much in "The Raven" — anything could happen next.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
Poets often write from their own perspectives to express their feelings and beliefs. William Wordsworth, an English poet in the Romantic Age, wrote from the first-person perspective in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" for this purpose.
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance ..."
Notice that even though the poem is from the first-person perspective, it still includes vivid imagery. Wordsworth describes his own vision in a beautiful and elevated way.
Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was another poet who often wrote from the first-person perspective. Her dark and imaginative poetry tells her story but speaks to many people with similar interior thoughts.
"Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –"
The speaker in "Because I could not stop for Death" pairs herself with the character of Death and describes the sights on her way to the grave. At the end of the poem, the speaker is once again alone, reflecting on the dread of death as worse than death itself.
First Person Writing Examples From Songs
Think of your favorite song. Chances are, it's told from the first-person perspective, though some songs do use the second and third-person perspectives instead. Take a look at these popular songs that are written in the first person.
The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel
Simon and Garfunkel's song The Boxer tells the story of a young man who's left home for a new life in New York City, but who dwells among strangers rather than connect with one. The first-person song allows the speaker to make confessions that only the audience can hear.
"Then I'm laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Where the New York City winters
Aren't bleeding me
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him 'til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
'I am leaving, I am leaving'
But the fighter still remains"
The negative, regretful tone tells the audience how unhappy the speaker is, yet he remains in his unhappiness rather than return home. The words "I am leaving, I am leaving" are the boxer's, not the speaker's, yet they embody both of their stances with the first-person perspective.
In My Life by The Beatles
The beauty of a song written in the first person is that anyone can sing along and make the song their own. They are now the "I" in the song, and the story is theirs. Such is the case with The Beatles' song In My Life, which reflects on a life well-lived.
"There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead, and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all"
The speaker in the song could be any one of us, thinking back on those lost and loved. The first-person perspective allows both writer and audience to connect in these shared experiences.
Hello by Adele
Adele's song Hello is a unique example, not because it's written in the first-person perspective, but is also written to the first person. Adele is speaking to her past self in the song to discuss how her previous dreams and plans have changed in the years past.
"Hello, it's me
I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet
To go over everything
They say that time's supposed to heal you
But I ain't done much healing
Hello, can you hear me?
I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be
When we were younger and free
I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet ..."
Adele uses both the singular (I) and plural first person (we) in the song to describe herself. It's a therapeutic song for anyone who still feels a strong connection to the past.
American Pie by Don McLean
Don McLean's love letter to 1950s American rock n' roll comes in the form of his song American Pie. The song is distinctly from his perspective as he mourns the loss of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.
"A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died"
The song is fanciful and symbolic of many American rock legends. By creating a character who sees the evolution of music over twenty years or so, McLean can express both his own opinion and speak to his generation's dissatisfaction with 1970s rock.
I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash's distinctive writing style connects both his wild lifestyle and commitment to love. He describes his ability to live in both worlds in his song I Walk the Line.
"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line
I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line ..."
He's singing to the object of his affection, but the perspective is still in the first person. The audience can tell how the speaker feels and how he chooses to act.
I Got You, Babe by Sonny and Cher
Sonny and Cher's ultimate song of support involves two speakers. "I Got You, Babe" has both speakers reassuring the other that they will be okay as long as they're together.
"They say we're young and we don't know
We won't find out until we grow
Well I don't know if all that's true
Cause you got me, and baby I got you
I got you babe
I got you babe
They say our love won't pay the rent
Before it's earned, our money's all been spent
I guess that's so, we don't have a pot
But at least I'm sure of all the things we got"
The duet offers two perspectives that have the same opinion. It's a good representation of a song that includes lines with both singular and plural first-person perspective.
Perspective Helps to Tell the Story
Writing in the first person helps an author put the audience inside the character's head. It makes the speaker more relatable and sympathetic. However, first person is not always the right choice for every story. Learn more about different perspectives with these examples of writing in the third person. Or if you're feeling ambitious, try writing in the second-person perspective. It's amazing how changing the point of view of a story can change the story itself!