Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Third Person Singular or Multiple POV In Fiction

Third person POV is the most common form in fiction. It is the easiest to write, and most readers are accustomed to this style and can relate to it. Third person introduces characters by their names and uses the pronouns he, she, him, her, his and hers when making reference to the various characters.

Third person singular is very rare, and if an author prefers to focus on a single character in the novel, she will normally chose first person POV. Third person POV is usually written in past tense. Sally jogged along the path, feeling the morning sunshine on her face. Present tense is uncommon, yet provides a sense of thing happen now. Sally jogs along the path and feels the morning sunshine on her face. I think most readers will agree that third person past tense is their preference.

Third Person works the same as First Person except it loses the depth of familiarity with the speaker. Sally rested on a park bench to catch her breath. As I looked upward, the sun blinded her for a moment, and she didn’t see Ned Baxter approaching, in comparison to I rested on a park bench to catch my breath. As I looked upward, the sun blinded me for a moment, and I didn’t see Ned Baxter approaching. As you do in first person, you experience the scene totally through the senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—of Sally. In multiple POV, the next scene might focus on Ned as the key character who will offer the reader a different scene through his eyes and senses.

The benefits of multiple POV is to draw the reader closer to more than one character by allowing them to experience the character through their thoughts as well as their actions and dialogue. It provides readers with a deeper understanding of the characters’ motivations, goals, and conflicts which is what keeps the reader turning pages.

The same as you would in first person, it is helpful to create distinct characters who’s word selection, vocal style, mannerisms and attributes are distinct and different from other characters. Just as in real life, we all have personalities and means of communication that differ from one another. Even family members are unique. This distinction allows you to avoid an overuse of dialogue tags or helps to avoid confusing the reader with characters who are too similar.

The disadvantages of third person are the same as first. It means that one character in her POV scene cannot be certain what another character is thinking or even be certain that what a character says is the truth. She can only assume or surmise the truth, and she could be wrong.

Another caution is the possibility of slipping into the head-hopping mode which was discussed under the topic Defining Point of View. With each character distanced from the reader more than in First Person by first names and pronouns such as he and she, an author can more easily forget which POV she is in and can begin to include another character’s POV. Be cautious as you write to make sure that you stay within the POV character in each scene. When adding another POV, use a scene break, or when you are more experienced, you can use a transition sentence to make it clear you are in a new POV. This can happen within a single scene when one the POV character leaves the room for example, and another character continues the scene in a new POV.

An excellent way to test third person POV is to read it as first person. In place of the proper name and pronouns, use I, me, my or mine. You will catch the error quickly, and it will alert you, too, if you’ve gone into omniscient or author intrusion, which refers to the author explaining or telling something to the reader, rather than the POV character providing the information.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gail: I'm new at this and not sure how to ask you a question that doesn't relate to your current blog or maybe it does. My sister and I are writing a young adult book series. We want to write it in first pov, but need to add a prologue. What pov should the prologue be in? In the prologue we will be introducing the main character that will appear in chapter one. In the prologue the main character will only be talked about by someone else. Any help? thanks Lisa

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Lisa - I'm not sure why you need the prologue. I don't believe a third person prologue will work well with a first person POV story. Prologues aren't usually popular anymore, especially in young adult. They want action and something that happened in the past, even though it has action, is really more passive.

It fits into the topic that I talked about a while ago on backstory. Backstory should come out only when it's needed - and not early in the book. If there's something readers need to know, then you would be smarter to weave that into the "I" character's thoughts or through dialogue. If you want someone else to share it about the main character, you might use some other technique to share it. The "I" person finds a letter talking about her/his past or overhears a telephone call -- or just recalls somethings that are significant. The "I" character might see the same problems in someone else's life and compares it to his/her own.

You know the details of your story, but from my experience, I think finding a different way to present the info than a prologue in someone else's POV, especially, would be far better. I'm not sure that helps but I hope it might give you some new ideas.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Gail: I will discuss what you suggested with my sister. You are the BEST to have answered a question from a novice and so quickly. Thanks again, Lisa

Anonymous said...

Hi Gail: I was wondering, are there editors out there that would look over a manuscript, for a fee, before it is sent out. If there are people like this, can they be trusted. How about you? Do you do anything like that? Lisa

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Lisa - I don't have time to do editing of books. Since I write myself, that takes so much time - plus I'm a speaker as well as present workshops all over the country so my time is limited. There are agencies that do editing for a fee. It's expensive -- and you need to be careful that you select someone who knows what they're doing. This also doesn't guarantee a sale either. They have no idea what various publishers are looking for. It's just being in the right place at the right time with a perfect manuscript. It's difficult. This is an established critique program. It's part of American Chrsitian Writers organization. I teacher for these people.

Have you studied all the techniques of writing? Do you understand POV, pacing, meaningful dialogue, 3-dimentional characterization, hooks, and more? Have you formed critique groups with other writers go get their take on your book? (and I don't mean family or friends. They always think what we right is the best thing written (chuckling). Have you attend workshops on writing? Writing is a difficult process and it's necessary to study it - just as a brain surgeon must learn to do surgery. Writing is not only an inate talent but it is guided by rules of good writing. If you feel confident in your book and you have the money to spend, the link above is a good place to begin. I used there service for my first novel and learned that I had to throw away the for 102 pages and then start again. I had no idea how to write a novel. (More laughter)
I hope this has helped.