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.