Friday, November 12, 2010

Third Person Limited

Third person: All writers know what it is, but it is another one of those lessons I had to learn. Oh I knew it meant that the story was told from a distance. A distance shown by using 'he', 'she', 'they', and sundry other pronouns along with proper names in order to keep the pronouns from getting confusing.

There are different levels of third person though. Third person objective would be me telling you the story from an unbiased viewpoint. Hopefully treating each major character with equal dispassion and yet still managing to keep you entertained. This 'fly-on-the-wall' technique is still common in news articles, though it has lost its popularity in fiction.

Third person omniscient is the story told from the point of view of the ultimate watcher - someone who is right there, wherever there needs to be. Someone who sees all and understands all, through whom we can therefore understand all as well. The risk with this version is to take the reader too far away from the characters, a distance which may keep the reader from an intimate understanding of the character, preventing 'love' if you will, an impersonal memory - "Oh yeah, I've heard that before. So what."

Another name for third person omniscient is third person subjective, which is getting into the heads and under the skin of any character, but generally the major ones. This grasshopper point of view can hop from person to person as needed - it can also become confusing if extreme care is not taken to clue the reader in to the hop.

All of these forms have their successful outlets; books both classical and current that have hit the big time. I, however, am interested in what might be the hardest form of third person.

Like The Fortunes of Magic, which is written in first person, third person limited sticks to one character and yet still rides on his shoulder. He can't read someone else's mind, nor can he see around corners. Solutions to his problems must come from within his own mind or from whatever information he can cause to be gathered. In other words, if someone walks up behind him without making a sound, we aren't going to know about it until he rests a hand on our character's shoulder - no fair peeking. Or if a friend is plotting his death, we won't know that either unless another friend decides to give him up, or until the deed happens.

So, can I put a camera on my character's shoulder? Can I weed out all the extra, not-known-yet information? Along with getting into his head and making use of thoughts and emotions, this is the task I've set for myself this time around.

*sigh*
And so the editing continues. I'm sure glad I like my books. I'm sure rereading them enough. I can't wait until I can share them with all of you.

3 comments:

Margot Finke said...

Anna, terrific article mate. I put a link to it on my Facebook page.

Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques
http://www.margotfinke.com

Hart Johnson said...

This is actually my favorite PoV and the one I most often write in. I sometimes have more than one PoV, but only one at a TIME (changing only at section or chapter). My only caveat, is I really prefer DEEP third person--really getting in the head of the character we are getting into--That fly on the wall annoys me, and all the more if it's only a single fly...

My favorite example is Harry Potter--I like it because the reader not only is limited by what Harry knows (or doesn't) but follows along on his misconception--it's a FABULOUS device for later surprising the reader without breaking consistency.

Anna L. Walls said...

I'm getting better, and learning more. It was Nathan Bransford's comment about J.K. Rowling's style with third person limited that caused me to make the attempt. In my current work, I too am following one person almost exclusively, so I think it's only right to make the attempt.