Distorted POVs

It amuses me when people ask which point of view is best. But, I probably chuckled more when a new writer asked if it was okay to describe what a character was thinking when writing in the third-person POV. 

 “Can’t thoughts only be included in first-person?” 

 “Of course not. It’s okay to include thoughts in the third-person. Simply put the thought in italics, and you don’t even need to say your character was thinking.”

Only, it’s not that simple. The convention of using italics for internal thought does not always come across to readers. I found some some of them getting confused as to whether a person was thinking or speaking. If the thought occurred in the middle of a conversation, readers even wondered whose head they were in. So, I started attaching a tag with a thinking verb, such as “he thought,” “she mused,” or “the old lady wondered.” This confusion can occur even if the author doesn’t head-hop but stays with one person’s viewpoint for an entire scene or chapter. 

If characters viewed through the third-person POV lens couldn’t reveal their thoughts, I’d hate to see the other option—a book in which all the characters were written from the first-person POV. Then, I recalled that I had seen one recently. Not everyone told their story using “I,” but at least eight of them did. I can’t tell you the total number of characters who did this because I stopped reading well before the end of the book. 

However, this wasn’t the first time I encountered a book like this. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying has 15 different accounts by first-person narrators. I recall being intrigued rather than confused when reading it in American Lit class. Each narrator has their own chapter/section of this story to tell about the dead woman who they  transported to her final resting place. Even this kind of convoluted POV can work well if the author understands the intricacies of multiple first-person accounts.

The omniscient third-person point of view can describe all pertinent events as if viewed by one all-knowing being from a distant point or can express the thoughts of different characters. In some instances, this POV may tell you what an entire group of people is thinking, such as the voice of an entire town in Emily Rose. That novel is also by William Faulkner who liked to play around with point-of-view. 

Using the omniscient view requires the skills to create tension in your story so that the reader cannot easily guess what will happen. However, no author knows everything that is going on with every character in the story, because that is too overwhelming. In the distant third person POV, the author only indicates what is occurring that can be observed from the outside of the characters. Dialog can give insight into a people’s mental states. Still, this view puts the reader in charge of interpreting facial expressions and actions to determine if the characters really mean what they are saying.

I have no preference for first or third person. I even enjoy reading novels written in the stream-of-conscious style—similar to what is known as “head-hopping.” The few stories in the rare second-person POV intrigue me. The more complex POVs are harder for authors to master. But if they can, it is usually an excellent novel.

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