Monday, I wrote the second part of a post I’d initially begun on my other blog, AuthorCulture. Apparently I hit a nerve–and to a certain extent, I think the nerve tingled because some of the readers didn’t understand what I was trying to say. But before I clarify Monday’s post, I want to say this: I’m an author and an editor, but I’m not a rule maker. I don’t know who makes the rules, but I do know there are many I disagree with. My observations and opinions aren’t rules. They’re my observations and opinions–things I’m fond of expressing here on my own blog.
To let you understand where I was coming from Monday, let me explain how I view the deep third person POV:
When an author is writing in deep third, he is giving his readers a special camera–one that can show thoughts, see what the character sees, feel what the character feels. This camera can climb into the character’s very being. But it can also show the character’s backstory and movement. We zoom the camera lens into the character’s deepest thoughts, but we also draw it back to show things a character wouldn’t consciously be thinking. This camera allows a bit of telling–it has to, otherwise the reader wouldn’t be able to visualize a thing.
In other words, we can–and must–vary the depth in which we are writing our deep third POV.
I’m not sure where the readers got the idea I thought calling our POV characters by their names was wrong. We call them by their names in our writing because otherwise, it would be fairly impossible for the reader to understand who’s doing what sometimes. That wasn’t what I was talking about when I posted about “Mom” and “Dad” Monday.
So let me use the same examples and show what I meant Monday, using as an illustration how I would’ve written these sentences had they been mine.
1. Mom called for dinner. Melissa stayed by the bedroom window.
Melissa is the POV character. Using “Mom” indicates we’re in the character’s head, but the author has pulled the camera away slightly to show what the characters were doing. In neither sentence are we in the POV character’s head. The author is setting the scene, describing the action. When I first read these lines, they hit me like the author, not the character, was calling the mother “Mom.”
I would’ve used, “Her mom called for dinner. Melissa stayed by the bedroom window,” or “Melissa’s mom called for dinner. Melissa stayed by the bedroom window.” And, though I may get dinged for this, I would’ve even written “Edith called for dinner . . . ” because, as I said, the camera has been pulled back slightly to illustrate the action and set the scene. It is not in the character’s head.
2. He’d even tried to explain his passion for teaching to Dad once.
As I indicated in Monday’s post, this is a line of backstory, cued by the use of past perfect, meaning the author has stepped in to help the reader understand something about the character, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’ve simply pulled our magic camera back a little to help the reader. However, again, it seems the author himself is calling the father “Dad,” and that struck me as odd. This is another place where I’d opt for “his dad,” or “his father,” or using the father’s first name–or even “him,” since the scene had already established that the main character was thinking of his father.
3. Then she went to the side table, and placed two framed photos on it–one of Dad with Mom just before she died, the other of Dad with Tommy on his shoulders.
In this last example, Tommy is the POV character. This line is the deepest of all the examples. The author is allowing us to see what the character sees through the character’s eyes. In this one, using “Dad” wasn’t what brought me up short; using “Tommy” was. In this case, it has been established that we’re in Tommy’s head, and using “…the other of Dad with him on his shoulders” would’ve worked perfectly.
This last example addresses the problem of clarity when using pronouns. In the first example, “Mom called for dinner. Melissa stayed by the bedroom window,” “Melissa” couldn’t be replaced with “she,” because the author is describing actions–one of the necessary times when the author must draw the camera back a little. It would’ve been unclear which character remained by the window. In this last example, however, the author has the camera inside the character’s head, showing the reader what the character sees. Therefore, using the pronouns shouldn’t be confusing.
If I’d written it, though, the sentence would’ve been: “one of his parents just before his mother died, the other of his father with him on his shoulders.” This is not “more correct,” this is just my preference.
The book from which I drew these examples was Women’s Fiction–intended for adults. YA is a different genre altogether. Using “Mom” and “Dad” in YA is common and totally acceptable. When I wrote the post Monday, I wasn’t thinking of other genres outside the ones I most often read and write; so when one reader dinged me for what I’d written, I realized I had to backtrack.
My writing posts are primarily to help authors think about what they’re putting on the page, help them polish it. But like I said, I’m not a rule maker. I don’t know who the rule makers are. Yes, I’d love for people to understand what I’m saying and agree with me to the point they follow my advice, but I don’t expect that to happen. Believe me, I don’t have that kind of influence.
I read the article on Author Culture and what you wrote. I have had experienced weeks to months of rewriting over POV. I wrote on book in third person POV. I pitched to a NYC agent “big name” literary agency. She asked for the first five chapters. After reading the first five she asked me to change the POV from third to first person. No, she didn’t sign me. I pitched the same book to the publisher at a small press. She asked I change the POV from first to thrid. No, I didn’t sign with them as they wanted the all electronic rights forever (e-book, audio). My writer’s group recently asked me to consider changing my POV on my current novel I am writing. Again, I was asked to change from third to first POV. When asked why they pointed to several short stories I have published that were all first person POV. They said they prefer “my voice” in storytelling when it is first person as they feel like they’re sitting on the front porch with their grandfather listening to him tell stories. I know third person POV is far more popular than first person POV. You did a great job explaining. The phrase deep third was new to me.
Jimmie, it’s interesting that publishers keep asking you to change your POV. Writing in deep third can be tricky, but writing in first can be trickier, so apparently you’ve got that nailed. When you shift to third, I wonder if you’re writing in an omniscient POV . . .
When writing in third person I hear the voice of one best selling author who is in the DFW Writer’s Group. He actually brought me to tears when I was first in the group, read, and suffered the wrath of the critique. He would say you have to write it through that man or woman’s eyes. If they can’t see it, you can’t write about it. Instead of the god-like POV, So, I keep it a too-narrow at times, eyes of the main character POV in third person. The man I mention writes full-time, has sold over a million copies of his books world-wide and I was present when he shared receiving a half-million for the option for the movie rights. He writes science fiction and fantasy. Since encountered him my writing may not always be the best, but my POV is consistent. I stopped head hoping. I love the POV discussion. I’ve seen a few books that are simple the same story from several points of view. A great example is the late Shelby Foote’s “Shiloh”. It is an historical novel about the American Civil War battle of that name, written in 1952. It employs the first-person perspectives of several protagonists, Union and Confederate, to give a moment-by-moment depiction of the battle as he tells the same story through the eyes of six characters.
That reminds me of the movie, Vantage Point, with Dennis Quaid. Love things like that.
Linda, I read yesterday’s post and wanted to respond to say that in my humble opinion you are way overthinking this LOL. I was on my way to a major dental procedure and couldn’t take the time to write this.
I am a huge advocate of deep POV and the issues you address here to me are mostly non-issues. When you are in your POV character’s head you refer to the parents by whatever name your POV character calls them, whether you are doing internal monologue or in third person mode. In my 19th Century historical that was always Mother and Father. In my contemporaries it’s usually Mom and Dad. If the POV character calls his or her parents by their first names then that’s what they are called when in their POV. I did know a boy when I was a kid who actually did call his parents by their first names!
As for the issue regarding the POV character calling themselves by their first name in order to clarify the person being spoken of when a pronoun would refer to another person, it is awkward. I have done it because there’s no other alternative if rewording the sentence doesn’t work. When critting another author and I’ve seen this done, I’ve suggested that if possible they should reword.
This is one time I will have to say we will need to agree to disagree on this whole thing LOLOL.
Yes, I am over-thinking it. I wanted to understand why something in a novel I read bothered me, and the way for me to do that is to analyze it. Sometimes I bring what I analyze to my blog.
I’m not just a writer, I’m also a reader. Different things bother different readers–and nothing bothers other readers. The fad of writing out sound-effects is all the rage for some, not too fondly received by others. To me, they’re both gimmicks, and I can do without them. They distract me.
I often question contemporary conventions. It definitely is a matter of opinion, and as I said, this one is mine.
Our opinions are important. They’re the only thing on which we can base our own ideas of how to craft a good story. If something bugs us, it’ll probably bug others as well. If something works for us, it will likely work for others.
Yes. Thank you.