POV: Working with Third Person

Third person shouldn’t feel this distant.

Recently my novel suffered a POV failure. I’m writing this in third person limited.  Although the novel is in third person, everything is in the point of view of my main character.   Every now and again we get her thoughts but we don’t get anyone else’s.  We see things through her eyes, but she isn’t the narrator.

What could possibly go wrong?

After not having time to work on the novel for about a week, I dove back in.  About half way through my chapter, I realized it felt too distant.  I wrote what my character saw.  I related conversations.  But her feelings were absent. Instead of feeling like her POV, this was more distant, like drone footage.

To avoid this the next time I drafted a chapter, I spent a few minutes contemplating what my character wanted to get done in this particular chapter. What were her goals?  While I knew what was happening in the problem chapter, I’m not sure my character actually had any goals. Events felt like they were swirling around her.

With this goal in mind, I also spend some time considering her emotions.  How did she feel about being in this situation?  The reality is that while she chose Door A over Door B, she hadn’t planned on needing to pick a door at all.  Her life is in a state of change she didn’t see coming.  How does she feel about that?  How does it impact what is going on in this scene?

Now that I had a handle on her emotions, I could get out my Emotion Thesaurus.  If you don’t know this book, it is a handy guide written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  Look up an emotion, such as worry, and you’ll find a list of physical and mental responses.  Go through the list and find several that feel natural for your character.  With set emotions in mind and this book in hand, your worried character can do more than chew her lip while your angry character goes beyond clenching her fists.

Third person shouldn’t feel distant.  Getting up close and personal with my character before I started writing helped me to get up close and personal in the scene itself.

–SueBE

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