Is the following first-person POV introduction good, or would it be helped by switching the story to third-person limited? The book is very action-centric, involving a good deal of fights and large-scale battles, and I would like to know if I can achieve the excitement I want from a first-person perspective.

Logan cranked the winch, closing the gate behind us before the rest of the bastards could get at us. We were stuck in the alley now, just me, Logan, and Crank; opposite the Iron Gate was the city wall, built for protection against raiders. Turned out it was better for boxing in Mercs. A nearby crate offered a place to rest while we awaited the inevitable, so I sat and turned to look at my companions.

Logan was in his early twenties, handsome, with long black hair and a slender body that could have belonged to a girl. Crank was nearly the exact opposite; he was approaching thirty, with a scarred face and a stout, if short, build. I had only known them for about eight hours, but I knew that Crank was the leader of the two; he was not as smart as Logan, but his cruelty and Logan’s inferiority complex, made him dominant.

Predictably, Crank was the first to speak: “Well, what do we do now?! The regiment’s been routed and the city’s as good as taken, while we’re stuck here, waiting to get captured! That damned colonel should’ve planned the defenses better!” he huffed and growled; I had seen many men like him, always angry with their lot in the world, always blaming it on someone else. Nevertheless, he was right. We were stuck here, and unless ELITE pulled some mercy out of their ass, an unlikely event, given their reputation, we were dead.

I didn’t let that bother me; after all, this was hardly the worst situation I had been in in my ten years of battlefield experience. My apathetic attitude was quickly remarked upon by Logan, in his halting, shy way of speech “L-Lead? You don’t seem bothered by this. Do ya…do ya have a plan?” He looked suddenly hopeful, and Crank perked up to hear what I said. They were desperate, willing to follow a fifteen year-old boy’s commands. That gave me an idea.

“As a matter of fact, I do have an idea that could get us out of Shattri. Only thing is, it’s dangerous;” I said, running the operation through my head as I spoke, “first, you two will distract the soldiers outside…”


I slipped out of the west gate with no problem, mostly due to the fact that the fighting still continued, though it looked to be an easy victory for ELITE here. Crank and Logan had done their job perfectly, leaving no one to witness my escape; the next part of the plan was for me to kill the soldiers while they were after them, but I had taken the opportunity to get out while they were being chased. What idiots. One would have to be insane to have thought my plan would work, even crazier to think that I would actually do my part in it. But, desperation breeds stupidity.


The initial "feel" I get from this piece works very well with the first-person narration you've chosen. Your suspense and action revolve around immediate danger; first-person contributes wonderfully to that immediacy- you're writing "Whoa, I'm in trouble," not "So there was this guy who was in trouble."

You're also doing a really nice job of weaving your POV character's voice in - even though he does nothing in the first section, we already get a lot of feel for him, which you've conveyed very naturally through his narrative voice. He's a "Merc"; he's only joined up with his two companions; he's constantly judging others from a viewpoint of apparant experience; he's got ten years of battlefield experience; and lots more.

This would be significantly more difficult to do in third-person. Even if you used tight third-person narration, the kind that's practically identical to first-person except for changing the pronouns, it would be disconcerting to the reader - since he wouldn't know yet what degree of seperation there is between narrator and character. For example, if I modify your second paragraph to third-person:

Logan was in his early twenties, handsome, with long black hair and a slender body that could have belonged to a girl. Crank was nearly the exact opposite; he was approaching thirty, with a scarred face and a stout, if short, build. Lead had only known them for about eight hours, but he could tell that Crank was the leader of the two; he was not as smart as Logan, but his cruelty and Logan’s inferiority complex, made him dominant.

Since "Lead" is no longer the clear narrator, no longer the storytelling "I," he no longer stands out. It's not clear if these appraisals of Logan and Crank are Lead's own view of things, or an objective, disassociated judgement. Also, Lead becomes much less distinct - we've got a group of three here; as long as all three are active, it'll take some work to distinguish Lead as being the main character we should actually be caring most about.

Now, you've got larger concerns than just the initial scene, so you might have other factors in your story which would weigh in favor of a different narration POV. However, you've clearly set Lead up as a relatively competent and experienced character, with a clear, distinct voice, who is in immediate danger - and who's able to take action in response. Lead seems like a fine POV character, and first-person seems extremely natural and appropriate for him.

You do have one major POV issue here, though, and that's Lead coming up with a plan - and hiding it from the reader. The moment a POV character - particularly a first-person POV - hides information her knows from the reader, the reader feels the point-of-view is not actually providing his point-of-view. We're not seeing it through his eyes; he's manipulating narration, telling us some things but not others. Now, cutting off a scene with "I have a plan" is common and you can usually get away with bending POV in this way, simply because the reader is willing to wait to see the plan in action (rather than merely discussed), as long as this action comes right away (in your example, it clearly does). However, as this is your introduction, this is extremely early in your story to be attempting a maneuver like this. The maneuver relies on trust, and familiarity with the character; you've hardly built anything up and already you're putting the weight of a POV break on your narration.

Consider: Why not just start during the first steps in the plan? Then you don't have to skip over the bit where he tells them what the plan is. You'll be imparting precisely the same information you are now, but you'll be beginning after the part which (in this version) needs to be hidden from view.

Other Options

Tight third person - the kind that's intimately aware of the character's thoughts and motivations - is in many ways very similar to first person. You could pull that off here if you just spend a couple paragraphs establishing the character in his own right, before mixing in other characters too deeply. On the other hand, there's no compelling reason to do so.

Alternatively, depending on your story, you might want to switch to an omniscient narrator - one who can follow any or all of the characters. Basically, if you're going to want to follow all three characters roughly equally, then you don't necessarily need Lead as a unique POV - you can dip into each character as needed. But that would definitely lose the voice and characterization you've got here, and the impression I've got is that Lead is the important, active character. So unless I'm mistaken on that point, I wouldn't advise this option.

  • I see what you mean about hiding parts of the narrative, so I'll do what you suggest(it probably only seems right to me because I've had this character in mind for about four years now). And your right in your feeling of Lead, so I'll stick with first person. thanks for the feedback, it's a major confidence booster and good, constructive criticism.
    – Troy Davis
    Jun 2 '12 at 18:41

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