Hello My Fellow Writers!
First, let me apologize for taking so long to deliver this final installment on using voice as a cornerstone in the development of your writing projects. For me, 2017 was quite an unexpected and unusual year, filled with adventures, challenges, diversions, and travel that kept me otherwise occupied. In 2018, I plan to get back to business and catch up on several long overdue blog posts as well as my big project, Storm Rising, Book 2 of the Storm Series.
To refresh your memory, my two previous WriteIT! blog posts (TIP #5, Part 1 and Part 2) discussed the benefits and potential pitfalls of using 1st and 2nd person points of view (POV) to tell a story or impart information via a writing project. I explained how those points of view can affect a reader’s connection with your story and characters, and provided examples of popular authors that have used each POV with great success. If you missed either of those blog posts, I highly encourage you to read them, and go back even further, to WriteIT! TIPs 1-4, which can all be found on my writing blog at, kspaulsen.com.
Today, I will explore 3rd person POV, which I used in Storm Shadow, Book 1 of the Storm Series, to tell the adventurous, often perilous, stories of Michael Storm, Kaitlyn O’Donnell, and several other key characters that will return throughout the series to continue their journey. During the development of this book, I came to the early conclusion that there were multiple characters of significance, each with their own story and history to be told, as their lives became entangled with each other on a grander scale. I decided that in order to give each character their due diligence, I would have to write a series in which one story leads seamlessly into another, along a continuing timeline, with multiple hierarchical plots and subplots, and draw connections between the characters and their lives that expand and evolve far beyond what could ever be accomplished in one novel. I also knew that each character would need a strong voice and personality from the moment of their first introduction, as well as an enticing backstory to hold my reader’s interest and keep them coming back for more. With that in mind, I chose the most common and flexible form of storytelling, 3rd person POV.
3rd person POV (pronouns: he, she, it, him, her, they, them) is arguably the easiest form of storytelling to write and understand. It has been used the world over, across time immemorial, in oral and printed formats, fiction and nonfiction, because it is extremely adaptable to a variety of writing styles and project types. Most writers start here, and many continue using 3rd person POV throughout their career. Two of my favorite writers who used 3rd person POV, include Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, and Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. But these literary giants are not alone, because just about every popular fiction writer, from Clive Cussler to Jack London, has thrived writing in 3rd person POV. It is so popular, that it has been used effectively in every type of writing, from advertising slogans (that make a statement rather than giving a directive) to legal documents like Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), and lends itself to both informal and formal language, as demonstrated in this famous quote, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
In 3rd person POV, your story should unfold through the senses and experiences of characters who live through or recall events in great personal detail via dialog, direct action, and internal reflection. There may, or may not, be an independent narrator inserting their omniscient perspective to reveal details not known by the characters, so 3rd person POV relies heavily on the clear description of scenes, actions, emotions, and motivations of your main character (or several main characters, as demonstrated in Storm Shadow through the POVs of Kait and Michael, and occasionally Lilly and Donovan) to set the tone and pace. Characters interact only with one another, not seeing or sensing the reader, and should simply live life, think personal thoughts, and respond to whomever they encounter. Rather than being told the story, as in 1st person POV, or included in the story, as in 2nd person POV, readers observe the story in 3rd person POV and are drawn into it by the need to filter and extrapolate information for themselves, to determine who and what is most relevant, rather than being told so by a character or narrator.
No matter which POV you choose, your job essentially is to become a director, choreographing the movements, thoughts, and interactions of each character in order to weave a clear, complex story that draws the reader in and makes them want more. If you succeed, the reader becomes a “fly on the wall,” watching everything unfold, privy only to what you want them to know at a given moment, and suspense builds because the reader knows more than the individual characters in the story. While this strategy can be a very effective way to foreshadow major revelations and retain readers’ interest, it can also backfire in two critical ways: giving away too much information to the reader can ruin red herrings, plot twists, and climactic scenes by cluing the reader in advance, or can result in deadly boredom that precipitates the reader putting the book down and moving on to something else. To avoid these problems, you’ll need to become a skilled weaver of information.
As with 1st and 2nd person POV, information shared with either your reader or your characters, may be biased by the characters’ own limited knowledge of the world and events around them, and skewed by their own personality and beliefs (giving them room to change and evolve or devolve). Information may be also be true or false, and can be manipulated to maximize intrigue, but while much of that information may be shared intentionally through dialogue and action, some information should only be implied rather than stated, to keep the reader and the characters thinking and engaged. To build adversity or tension in your story, you can distort events by shifting POV between more than one character with diametrically opposed viewpoints, but transitions must always be very clear and infrequent. You might also choose to insert the POV of a peripheral character on rare occasions, in order to foreshadow events or share information with the reader that you don’t want your characters to know (see the end of chapter 11 of Storm Shadow, where I insert an anonymous narrator’s POV to increase suspense for my readers). To give readers indirect access to relevant thoughts, feelings, and experiences of secondary characters without shifting POV, your primary characters may interpret, speculate, or hypothesize about them through dialogue with or observation of that character, or alternately, remember something about them through flashback or dreaming. These are just a few of the techniques writers use to hold back information and package what each character knows in order to stack the deck against someone. Reading widely is the best way to learn even more useful techniques.
Feel free to copy the POV flash card at the bottom of this post to use as a quick reference of key differences in POV. For a mystical example of third person storytelling converted to song, listen to Loreena McKennitt’s beautiful rendition of the Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixi4jz0Gn4E&list=RDIxi4jz0Gn4E. Additionally, if you haven’t done so already, I recommend reading the prologue and first two chapters of Storm Shadow, for free on my website, kspaulsen.com, in which I employ many strategies to weave an exciting story for my readers using 3rd person POV.
Do you have a favorite example of 3rd person POV? Share them in the comments section below. Next time, I’ll discuss one of my MOST essential tools in writing, so come back and join me. Until then, happy writing and adventuring!