I’ve discussed this in the past, but you know how much I love revisiting things I’ve talked about before. Here’s the thing, we work in an ever-changing industry, one where you can never stop learning. Sounds like a doctor’s office. Yet it’s true. It doesn’t mean that what was discovered yesterday is less important, it’s just not as current.
And things that you think might remain static, guess what? They can change too. Just like that. Take point of view for example. When I was in high school and even my early years in college, there were only three: first, second, and third person.
Sounds simple, right?
Yes, I said that’s wrong. Now, if you’re a fiction writer, no need to fret over second person point of view. It isn’t really used for fiction. More for essays and writing along those lines. So for our purposes, I’m only going to discuss the other two.
Except it really isn’t just two points of view. In fact, first and third are really four points of view.
Let me explain.
First person is pretty straight forward. Everything in the story is told from one person’s point of view at a time. If I have a story with Emily and Jack and the story is told in first person from Emily’s perspective that means that everything the reader knows is only what Emily knows. Not only that, but it also means the reader only knows what Emily can see, feel, hear, or smell. All knowledge that is gleaned is from what Emily has already experienced, can identify for herself, or has been told by someone else.
While it might be easy to understand first person, third gets a little more complicated. There’s third person limited, third person omniscient, and a most recent addition of third person deep.
Third person limited is just as easy as first person. They are almost the exact same. The only difference is that the perspective isn’t “I,” it’s all “he” or “she.” All of the information that the reader gains is the same, but there is the unspoken presence of a narrator. Most often the narrator is viewed as the author, but not always. While that would be a great discussion, it is something I’ll save for a later date. Back to third person limited. Everything the reader learns is told from one person’s perspective by this unspoken narrator. And typically the entire story is from the same person’s perspective or the main character.
Here’s an example of the difference.
First person: “Swallowing my nervousness, I walked up to the door and knocked.”
Third person limited: “Stroking up some courage, Emily walked over to the door and knocked.”
See the difference? Okay. Moving on.
Next, we have third person omniscient. The basic principle is that the narrator is God. Again, the story is told in “he” and “she,” but every character’s thoughts are known by the reader. If done correctly, the story will still move smoothly and flow well together, especially since this omniscient presence can go from one paragraph to another with two characters and reveal each character’s thoughts.
Here’s two examples:
From The Cost of Fame by Shay Stone
“Richard called after her, ‘Do me a favor, Alexandra? Remember this moment. My guess is you’ll be thinking a lot about it in the weeks to come.” Without turning around Alex held up her middle finger and continued on her way.
‘God, I love that fire in her,’ Richard remarked to Chase who looked a bit like a deer in headlights after witnessing their exchange. Steed pointed to a drink. ‘This one’s hers?’”
In the first example, you get a bit of Alex and Richard. Even though Alex walked away, the action didn’t stop. The reader sees, knows, hears, and smells it all.
Here’s another one.
From Light in August by William Faulkner
“‘They?’ the man said. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Well, if Jefferson aint too long about it.’ He shifted his grip on the old man’s arm. ‘Where do you want us to put him?’ The woman moved then. She descended the steps and approached. ‘We’ll tote him into the house for you,’ the man said.
‘I can tote him,’ she said. She and Hines were about the same height, though she was the heavier. She grasped him beneath the arms. ‘Eupheus,’ she said, not loud; ‘Eupheus.’ She said to the two men, quietly: ‘Let go. I got him.’ They released him. He walked a little now. They watched her help him up the steps and into the door. She did not look back.”
There is a rather obvious omniscient narrator here directing our attention to what the narrator feels is important.
Both are third person omniscient and yet both are different. Again, not something I’m going to discuss further here.
With all of that said, only one remains: third person deep. If you’re saying, “I’ve never heard of that before,” then my response would be, “I’m not surprised.” I only learned of its existence in the last few years. And if you’ve read my previous discussion, then you’d know I describe it as first and third omniscient got drunk one night and had a baby, which leads us to third person deep.
Third person deep is told from one person’s perspective at a time. This may be limited to one chapter and/or one scene. Whether it is one or the other, it is all from that one character. We get their internal thoughts like we do in first person, but it’s all told in third person. At the same time, we will get someone else’s thoughts in the next scene or chapter, kind of like we do in omniscient. Oh, and that pesky narrator … they are practically non-existent.
The concept behind third person deep is that you get more show and less tell in third person. Makes perfect sense, right?
If not, let me give you some examples and show you what I mean.
From Avenged by Krys Fenner
“‘Not trying to keep me away, are you?’ Miah grabbed Bella by the waist and pulled her close. Caressing her cheek, he pressed his lips to hers, kissing her like he hadn’t seen her in months.
The kiss stole her breath away. She hated lying to him. Part of her wanted to drop the bullshit and tell him the truth right then and there. If only she had a better idea of what exactly she was getting into. Keeping him safe required she proceed with caution. Hopefully, she wouldn’t irrevocably damage their relationship in the process.”
From Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
“‘We need to get out an APB.’ Was that his voice? It sounded hoarse, like he’d been to a football game and screamed for two hours. ‘White male, six-six, two seventy. Dressed in black leather, wearing sunglasses, shoulder-length dark hair.’ Butch threw out a hand, steadying himself against the building. ‘Suspect not armed. Only because I stripped him. He’ll be restocked within the hour, no doubt.’
When he stepped forward, he swayed.
‘Jesus.’ José grabbed his arm, holding him up.”
Between these two examples, I hope you get the picture. If not, think about it like this, the reader is entirely inside the character’s head as if the character is the narrator, except everything is told in third person as if the narrator is an outside person. That probably sounds way more complicated than it is. Hmm, let’s try this. God is the one telling the story, but he is limited to one person at a time. Make sense?
Good. Now, you have a better understanding of the difference between these four perspectives. As for choosing one to write in, well, I can’t do that for you. I can only tell you I’m bias toward Third Deep. Go figure. To find what works for you, you’ll have to find what you’re comfortable writing in and then practice until the sun goes down and it gets as close to perfect as possible.
Because no one is perfect.