Two weeks ago, in my previous post here on TKZ, I used the example of a chess board to demonstrate the difference between omniscient POV and the close third-person. Essentially, I pointed out that in any given game of chess, the perspectives of the individual pawns, knights and royalty are entirely different than that of the chess master who’s sending them into battle.
This week, I want to expand on the theme of close third-person with a tip on how to make the 3P voice sing. First, there’s the Gilstrapian view of what makes a story good: A good story is about compelling characters doing interesting things in interesting ways, all of which is presented in an engaging voice. Those elements–character, action and voice–are not, however individual elements. Rather, they form what I call a POV tapestry, where the various threads influence every element of the finished product.
POV drives everything from dialogue to setting to action. As an illustration, consider that your POV character, Bob, finds himself in a desert, and you, as the writer, need to set the scene for your readers. Consider these two options:
Bob pushed the car door open and climbed out into the brilliant sunshine. Shielding his eyes, he scanned the horizon. The beauty of the place took his breath away. Rock formations glistened in shades of copper, gold and bronze. The vegetation, while sparse, seemed to vibrate with shades of red and blue and yellow. He was stranded in an artist’s paradise.
In this version, while we’re being introduced to the setting, we’re also learning something about Bob. Perhaps he’s a romantic. He’s certainly observant.
Now, consider this:
Opening the car door was like opening a blast furnace. Super heated air hit Bob with what felt like a physical blow. It took his breath away. The desiccated ground cracked under his feet as he stood, and as he scanned the scrub growth and rocky horizon, he understood that he no longer rested at the top of the food chain. Now he understood why we tested nukes in places like this.
The setting in these two examples is the same. The action is the same. Both examples advance the story–whatever that may be–exactly the same distance. But the voices–the critical element in pulling off 3P POV–are different. Notice that there’s no need to say that Bob #1 is a fan of the desert, or that Bob #2 is not. That’s because the descriptions are all filtered for the reader through the character’s point of view.
In an effective story, every word of every sentence and every sentence of every paragraph should advance not just plot or character or setting, but all of these at the same time.
In my seminars I ask students to take five or six minutes to describe the place of the class–room, building, campus, town, whatever they choose–and through the description alone, convey the character of the narrator. It’s a worthwhile exercise.