Third Person is the most common mode for telling a story because it offers the greatest flexibility. The narrator tells the story using pronouns such as, he and she. Following are three different forms of third person that every writer should be familiar with.
a.) Limited (also called Subjective): this POV allows one character to show their inner thoughts and feelings to the reader. In a detective novel that is limited POV, the narrator might know everything there is to know about the inner thoughts and feelings of the Detective. The reader would only see action through the eyes of the Detective. The reader experiences the case as the detective experiences it since none of the other characters are allowed to reveal their inner thoughts on the page.
A variation of this is Third Person Multiple. The POV is still limited to one character in a scene; however, the POV character may change throughout the story. This is the form I chose for my book, The Territory, because it allowed me to show the thoughts and feelings of both the protagonist and the antagonist. While I used multiple points of view, I only allowed one point of view character for each scene. And, my primary POV character was my protagonist, Josie Gray. The primary POV character usually opens the book to signal to the reader that this is the person the story will revolve around.
As a reader I enjoy being able to read the thoughts and motivations of both the good guys and the bad guys. Walk-on characters (those who are only in the story for one scene) rarely serve as POV characters. Here is another way to switch things up. In, The Territory, two significant characters were not used as POV characters because I wanted a bit more mystery surrounding their motivations. These are recurring characters who will appear in future books. I hope to create just a little doubt about their integrity and intentions. By not allowing them to serve as POV characters, I can hide their intentions from the reader. I don’t think most readers will ever notice, but hopefully it will leave some unanswered questions in their minds.
b.) Objective: this form does not show the thoughts and feelings of any character. The narrator remains objective throughout the book. Personally, this is my least favorite because the reader doesn’t get to experience the inner thoughts and emotions of any characters.
c.) Omniscient is the opposite of objective. The term means all knowing. Omniscient allows the narrator knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of all characters in the story. Even though there is still a main character, or protagonist, all characters are allowed to see events from their own perspective.
“Lisa walked into the kitchen after taking her morning run and found Tom, dead at the kitchen table, bullet hole through his forehead. She was the last person to see him alive. And the one person who wanted him dead.”
The best way to understand POV is to find it in books. Look through your paperbacks at home and find each of the POV’s mentioned above. Or, browse the shelves at the library. Omniscient is most difficult, but it’s out there. It tends to be more prevalent in literary fiction. See if you have a favorite, then try writing from each POV. First person is popular but I’ve never been drawn to write it. My first writing was all done in omniscient – by accident. You’d have to be a talented writer to pull off a mystery written in omniscient POV, because where’s the mystery when we see inside every character’s head? And, typically, a mystery revolves around the investigator/detective/sleuth. The investigator must be the change agent, so giving all the other characters equal footing on the page would diminish the investigator’s importance. A mystery can certainly have different points of view – just not all at once.
Next week – the unreliable narrator. Two weeks ago I promised to post my favorite writing advice this week, but as an unreliable blogger I changed my mind.