It has come to my attention that I haven’t given any writing advice in a long time. I myself am still learning an awful lot. I’ve been writing the same book for 4 years now and I’m on my third draft, so I’ve learned a thing or too on my journey towards the promised land of the published world.
One thing that has come to my attention whilst reading a How to Write book, “Dynamic Characters” by Nancy Cress, was the difference between close and distant point of views in third person. Of course I say third person because it is pretty much a given that first person is going to be a Close POV.
Let us start with distant POV. Point of view is the lens through which the writer, or narrator, sees everything. Reimagine the last movie you saw. The director no doubt uses many different kinds of shots. Wide shots are often used at the beginning of a movie to establish the setting. It might again be used later during the epic fight-off. Of course I have The Avengers in mind here, where the director used a mixture of wide-shots and close-shots to show the alien invasion of the chitauri. But how does this apply to the written word of fiction?
Nancy Kress states in Dynamic Characters that:
“Distance is the measure of how far away you, the author, are standing from your character as you tell the story.”
A distant POV is less popular in modern contemporary writing but it is still important to be aware of. It is more common when the external conflicts are more important than internal conflicts. The danger here though is getting the readers to truly sympathise with the characters. A friend lent me a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a few years ago and I found that I felt too detached from Harry to really care. I could sympathise with him through many of his difficulties, and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his aunt, uncle and cousin, but I couldn’t feel WITH him and truly empathise.
In a distant POV, we might see and hear the same things as the main character, but we won’t be aligned with his thought processes. The narrative is separate from what the character is thinking and feeling. I have already mentioned it’s disadvantage but one of it’s advantages is that it enables you to concentrate on the action. This can add speed to the novel, which is ideal in an action book.
One example I would give is Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. Here is an extract from the first book, Stormbreaker:
The first thing I should say is, a character wouldn’t describe themselves in this kind of detail, and certainly for no good reason. Alex isn’t dressing up for some party and checking himself out before heading out. He’s waking up at three in the morning because a couple of police officers are there with bad news. Similarly, when Horowitz then goes on to describe Alex’s housekeeper with this much detail, it is clear that this is the narrator speaking, and not the character.
Although this is a short extract, you should notice how Alex’s feelings and emotions are not in the equation. We see Alex from the outside. This is what distant POV is.
In the debate between showing vs. telling, a close POV can help a writer SHOW the character’s thoughts. A close POV allows readers to delve into the minds of a character. Close POV is not quite first person, and it must be thought of as a camera mounted by your character’s head. We see and hear what your characters see and hear. The advantage of a close POV in third person is that you can get many of the same advantages of writing in first person, with the added benefit of being able to change character perspectives without confusing your reader. It is much easier to change a “she” to “he” perspective that an “I” to “I” perspective. That isn’t to say, of course, that it’s impossible. It just means limiting how often you change perspectives, and giving your charcaters more distinctive voices.
Here is an interesting extract from The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, because I think he uses the 3rd person close POV rather effectively:
I haven’t been able to find any articles or blog posts about this POV but it has been mentioned before. As you would imagine, Middle POV is somewhere between distant POV and close POV. We are given an inisight into the character’s thoughts from time to time, but there is a clear narrator feeding us the information. This is useful in keeping a sort of even tone throughout the novel, whilst also making us aware of the characters and their developments.
Middle POV is likely to use tags or italicise. Tags include, but are not limited to phrases like ‘he thought’, ‘he wondered’, ‘he mused’, and ‘he realised that’.
In my opinion, I think that Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series are in middle distance POV. Here is an extract from the second book in the series, Ink Exchange:
Now this is a fairly long passage, so bare with me.
I feel that some of what is stated is for the benefit of the reader. Irial knows how the Dark Court – the faeries he rules over – functions. His musings over how the court used to work, in comparison to his current situation, are more for the readers, so we can see just how bad things are. These thoughts are objective, and read a lot more like the narrator than the character.
If this was in close POV, we would be feeling his emotions as he mused over the past. Instead, we seem to just hover outside his head, with the occasional delving into his personal thoughts, which are highlighted in italics.
When Irial interacts with his once-lover and close friend, Niall, now sort-of-enemy, we perceive that he cares about Niall, but we don’t literally feel his concern.
I hope that this was helpful. Another useful thing to know is the difference between Limited and Omniscient perspectives. Hopefully I’ll talk about this next week. For now, please just drop me a comment and let me know if my advice was helpful.
Thank you for reading 🙂
Related articles I recommend: