Saturday, 3 September 2016

Perfecting Third Person POV – Part 2


Part 1 looked at the different types of third person POV available and the advantages this viewpoint gives the writer. Now we’ll look at the possible drawbacks to using 3rd person POV and ways to work efficiently with this commonly used POV.
Disadvantages
Thankfully there are not too many negative aspects to working with third person, but there are a few things for writers to be aware of.
One of the main problems of third person POV is that with a cast of many characters, and trying to accommodate all of them, it can lead to something called ‘head hopping’. This is when the writer flits from character to character in the same scene, meaning the POV is all over the place. This means that any attempt to create emotion, tension, conflict or atmosphere, is lost. Here’s an example:
John looked around the café and saw Diane at a table along the far wall, a book in her hands and her expression drawn in concentration. Despite her frown, she still looked beautiful. He approached with a reserved smile. He didn’t want to look too overbearing. ‘Hope I’m not interrupting...’
Diane peered up at John. ‘You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you’re following me.’ Not that it bothered her; she had secretly hoped he would follow her back from the train station, since she had spent the best part of four hours talking with him on the journey.
The mistake here is that the POV is not cemented with either character. It’s hard to tell who the main character is. This is a common error made by new writers. This is a typical head hopping scene. But the focus of any scene should always be from the character’s viewpoint you choose. So for this example, let’s make it John’s character: 
John looked around the café and saw Diane at a table along the far wall, a book in her hands and her expression drawn in concentration. Despite her frown, she still looked beautiful. He approached with a reserved smile. He didn’t want to look too overbearing. ‘Hope I’m not interrupting...’
Diane peered up at John. ‘You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you’re following me.’
He offered a warm expression. ‘Well, we have just spent the best part of four hours talking on the train, but it’s not as dramatic as you think’. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small photograph, the one she had shown him soon after boarding in London. ‘You left this on your seat...’
This time the POV exclusively belongs to John. It’s all about him and it’s from his perspective. Diane’s involvement is deliberately limited to allow John to come forward in the scene.  If I wanted to change to Diane’s perspective, I would need to start a new scene or chapter.
The other disadvantage is that it doesn’t create the amount of immediacy that first person POV does. This is because the writer has many character viewpoints at his or her disposal, and the more characters he or she has to juggle, the less opportunity there is for the writer to connect with the reader. A single character – first person POV - is ideal for relating with the reader, but a handful of characters will make that connection challenging.
The way to overcome this is to build more emotion and empathy into your characterisations and key scenes. Emotions are part of a universal language – we all share the same emotions, therefore in third person POV, the writer should engage the reader with those emotions – make the reader feel everything the characters – and the main character in particular – are going through; make them feel pain, hurt, joy, fear, love...whatever the character feels, make the reader feel it, too.
The other thing to consider is that when there are multiple characters, there is going to be a lot of pronoun use, since they will either be ‘he’ or ‘she’ a lot of the time, as opposed to ‘I’ in first person.
To avoid too much use of he/she when there are scenes with a number of characters, especially if there is more than two male or more than two female characters at any one time, writers have to ensure they construct sentences carefully so that it’s clear who is doing the talking, for example:
John sat down next to Diane and sipped his drink.
She offered a shy smile.
Jenny eased into the chair to next to Diane and nudged her shoulder. She lowered her voice. ‘He seems really nice...’
‘He’s amazing,’ she said.
John looked up at the two women and grinned.
This kind of construction avoids overuse of pronouns, which can end up being quite confusing for the reader if there are multiple characters in a scene, unless it’s controlled.  Here it is clear who is doing the action and the talking, without reverting to too much he/she constructions.  
The great thing about third person is that it’s the most versatile POV for first time writers and gives them a chance to explore and experiment with their writing and expand their skills without becoming bogged down with the technical difficulties associated with first person POV.
And the best way to perfect POV – whether first person or third person – is to practice, practice, practice.

Next week: The Art of Constructing Scenes

No comments:

Post a Comment