December 11, 2013

Third Person Point of View

Dear M,

It took me a while to figure this out, even if I had read up so much on it - even when we write in third person, there are two ways to do it (perhaps more).

When I read J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, I had a indication. He wrote in the third person (in the strict sense) but it was so close to the first person that even when we saw 'he', we read it as 'I'. We were inside Paul Rayment's head, seeing through his eyes, hearing through his ears, feeling his feelings the way he felt them, that soon we began to think we were Paul Rayment himself.

It was about the time I began spending more time and thought on points of view; perhaps that's why this struck me as the way to write in the third person. It limited my reach, though, because as long as I stayed with my character, I could not see what the rest of the folks were up to, until my character saw them. Their thoughts were unknown to me because my character was not aware of them. The limited third person can be written in a slightly different way too, without us really getting into the skin of the character, but staying a few feet away, yet being conscious of all his/her thoughts, and jotting down their actions for the world to read. In this case, the 'he' does not really sound like an 'I'.

I had to write many stories that way before I read another novel in which the narrator was everywhere, as though he were God, flying here and there, sometimes in this city, sometimes in that, sometimes warning us of an approaching storm before it hit, laughing at the crooked plans cooking up in one person's head, miserable about the poor victim-to-be who had no inkling of what was coming.

That was the global, the omniscient, third person. The narrator who was everywhere, who knew what everyone was thinking, doing, and about to do, at all times. The person none of the characters could really fool.


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