The Self As Character: Writing In First Person Point Of View

Editor’s Note: The following article about narrative essay-style travel writing is a reprint from the author’s website, The Writer’s Workshop, our thanks to Nick for his permission to share it here!

First person point of view remains one of the trickiest strategies for any travel writer,…

… As well as one of the most effective and popular ways of telling a story.

This post will provide key insights into writing in first person as a travel writer: thinking of yourself as a character in a story; changing your point of view in the course of the story; reaching a meaningful conclusion that will interest readers.

  1. THINK OF YOURSELF AS A CHARACTER – The first person you assume in the story is selection, not your whole personality, and you want to select carefully so that the aspect of yourself that you highlight works well within the entire narrative.

    The part of yourself that you emphasize will depend on the kind of story you’re planning to tell. In one story you may want to emphasize your competence at croquet, in another your incompetence at softball. But remember that you’re choosing a selection of yourself, not necessarily the whole person. In first person, you’re assuming an aspect of your personality, and turning that aspect into a persona, a character who fits within the larger story. The narrator is a part of you, not all of you.

  2. EMPHASIZE THE UNIVERSAL – Though you can sometimes get away with prattling on about personal fetishes and pet peeves, you’re most likely to connect with the reader when you write about the parts of yourself that are similar to those of the reader. You want to become a kind of every man character. You want to make your experiences representative.
  3. MODESTY IS THE BEST POLICY – Generally speaking, be modest and self-deprecating or at least reserved about your talents and achievements. Excessive bragging is not a winning strategy. Always treat your accomplishments with a healthy dose of irony. Self-loathing gets old after a while, too, but gee-whiz-aren’t-I-great stories get old immediately. The self-deprecating voice works very well.
  4. BE ENGAGING – Remember that writing is a performance; make the words sing and jump. Try to be amusing, clever, witty, chatty, sensitive, honest, forthright, informative and pithy. For example, English travel writers. Add color and specificity to your travel stories.
  5. DEVELOP AS A CHARACTER – Start out in one state of mind and end up in another. This will help readers understand the story and change as a result of it. Remember, readers should emerge from your story transformed. Expand their minds. Enlighten them. Entertain them. It’s easier for readers to change if you demonstrate by example. Be their surrogate.

For more, sign up for my Travel Writing in Rioja Class:

About Nick O'Connell 2 Articles
Nicholas O’Connell, M.F.A, Ph.D., is the author of "The Storms of Denali" (University of Alaska Press, 2012), "On Sacred Ground: The Spirit of Place in Pacific Northwest Literature" (University of Washington Press, 2003), "At the Field’s End: Interviews with 22 Pacific Northwest Writers" (University of Washington Press Press, 1998), "Contemporary Ecofiction" (Charles Scribner’s, 1996) and "Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers" (Mountaineers, 1993). He has contributed to Newsweek, Gourmet, Saveur, Outside, GO, National Geographic Adventure, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sierra, The Wine Spectator, Commonweal, Image and many other places. He is the publisher/editor of The Writer’s Workshop Review and the founder of the online and Seattle-based writing program, You can connect with Nick on Social Media: Facebook: The Writer’s Workshop. Twitter: @nickboconnell Instagram: the.writers.workshop Website URLs:

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