Category Archives: Characters

News Flash: Waiting Sucks…

Okay, so maybe the fact that waiting is hard isn’t a news flash, but for some reason it’s been particularly difficult for me this time around. So, I’m trying to concentrate on other things. Like my characters.

In one of my books, my character’s relationship with her parents (especially her mother) plays a key role in the development of the story. While this isn’t unheard of in YA and kid-lit books, it’s more likely parents will be absent, stupid, or even neglectful and abusive. This doesn’t happen nearly so often in the real world, so why is it so popular in books about teens and children?

Well, how else would they get permission to do so many dangerously stupid things?

While the absentee parent scenario is more prevalent in fantasy/sf novels, I can think of quite a few contemporary works (at least in the YA category) where one of the major problems the characters have to deal with is how their parents are absent, abusive, or falling apart after some tragedy. Author Shannon Hale (and if you’ve never read anything of hers, RECTIFY THAT IMMEDIATELY,) posted about this on her blog in two posts: Where are all the moms? and Epic fantasy hero wanted (leave your mama home). Even when authors purposefully TRY to have a mother or father actively involved in a fantasy story, it usually doesn’t work (notice, I said usually–there are always exceptions). In her post, Shannon says:

I was determined to have a mother and father who were present, who had the adventures alongside my hero. Again, it didn’t work. Boring. The real growing up a person does is gradual and often subtle. In a story, you speed things up, let a few large events stand in for a hundreds of small events. If a mother especially is there, the young character doesn’t have a chance to grow, to make choices, to be a hero. 

 I talk about this because–without setting out to do so–I’ve written an involved set of parents who don’t get in the way of their daughter’s “adventures.” Of course, they don’t know about those adventures, but they’re heavily involved in their daughter’s life and care deeply about what happens to her.

While it is difficult to accomplish, good, caring, devoted parents can be as much of an impetus to action as neglectful or absent ones. Guilt over doing something wrong and potentially letting their parents down can drive a child to do outrageous things to try to fix their mistakes. Threats against a parent could also be a call to action. Of course, the character will have to escape from the clutches of their well-meaning parents to go off and complete their quest/adventure/trouble-making, but that’s true of everyone at some point, isn’t it?

Characters: Writing The Opposite Gender

I was a psychology major in college and have always had an interest in the subject, so when I see friends post articles involving explanations of behavior (even though most of them are “pop” psychology rather than research based findings) I usually take the time to read them.

Anyway, I found an article this morning on Facebook called Five Ways Modern Men Are Trained To Hate Women. “Uhm, okay…” I thought as I clicked on the link. What I found was a reasoned, example filled article (written by a man). Seemingly sparked by the recent attack on Sandra Fluke who stood up and spoke out in favor of insurance-covered birth control, the article rationalizes, but doesn’t excuse, the online and media lashing Sandra has been subjected to ever since. David Wong, the author of the article, says,

This current of white-hot rage has to come as a surprise to some of you, because we tend to think “sexism” is being dismissive toward women, or paying them lower salaries — we don’t think of it as frenzied “burn the witch!” hatred. Yet occasionally something like this Limbaugh thing will come along to prick that balloon, and out it pours. Like it’s always waiting there, a millimeter below the surface.

The fact that men and women are different should come as no surprise to anyone. Even today boys and girls are raised under different sets of societal norms and expectations, subconscious though they may be. Nurture isn’t the only factor, though. Nature–namely biological urges and hormonal differences–impact behavior just as much as environmental influence. Later in the article David explains,

Science doesn’t seem to totally understand why the “base urges” part of the brain reacts differently in men. Maybe it’s just a matter of having 10 times as much testosterone in their system, or maybe society has trained us to be like this, or maybe we’re all spoiled children. My theory is that evolution needs males who will stay horny even in times of crisis or distress, and thus cuts off the brain’s ability to tamp down those urges. Whatever — nailing down the cause isn’t the point. The point is that a man can be giving the eulogy at his own grandmother’s funeral, and if there is a girl in the front row showing cleavage, he will be imagining himself pressing those boobs in his face, with his own dead grandmother not five feet away.

When that happens, when we get that boner at the funeral, we get mad at the girl showing the cleavage. Because we, ourselves, our own rational personality that knows right from wrong and appropriate from inappropriate, knows this is a bad place to get a boner. So it comes off like cleavage girl is conspiring with our penis to screw us over.

Is that a crazy thing to think? Yep! That’s why it’s so frustrating, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of emotional maturity, and grew up with male role models who had even less.

 And then, later,

Go look at a city skyline. All those skyscrapers? We built those to impress you, too. All those sports you see on TV? All of those guys learned to play purely because in school, playing sports gets you laid. All the music you hear on the radio? All of those guys learned to sing and play guitar because as a teenager, they figured out that absolutely nothing gets women out of their pants faster. It’s the same reason all of the actors got into acting.

All those wars we fight? Sure, at the upper levels, in the halls of political power, they have some complicated reasons for wanting some piece of land or access to some resource. But on the ground? Well, let me ask you this — historically, when an army takes over a city, what happens to the women there?

It’s all about you. All of it. All of civilization.

So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world’s nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.

This is really the heart of it, right here. This is why no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace — it won’t matter. You’re still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.

Does the article reveal anything that hasn’t at least been hinted at numerous times? Not really. It is, however, well written, humorous, and surprisingly insightful. A guy’s look inside (most, not all, I hope) guy’s heads. 

So, why am I talking about this? Because, as writers, we have to carefully study the opposite gender and try very hard to get inside their heads. This can be difficult because, especially in the case of sex, the experiences are mutually exclusive. With the possible exception of transgender individuals, you will either experience life as a boy or a girl. Most books, however, involve both sexes. How, then, can you make sure you’re writing your opposite gender characters correctly?

Lots and lots of research, observation, and questioning. And even then, you probably won’t get it 100% right.

Readers: Prejudice And Misinterpretation

You spend months, maybe years, creating a world and developing a cast of characters. You’re in love with your story and you can’t wait to share it with the world. But then other people start reading it and you suddenly realize they’re not exactly seeing things the same way you are. Apparantly, this is what has happened with the release of the Hunger Games movie.

First, I saw the movie this weekend and I thought it was fabulous. I am a notoriously tough critic on book to movie adaptations, especially for books I already love, but I have to give the screenwriters, director, and crew recognition for a job well done. Were things taken out or changed? Yeah. Did those changes make perfect cinematic sense? Totally. Did they miscast any of the characters? Not a single one, but according to this article, not everyone agrees with me on that last one.

 Already, the Hunger Games has crashed through multiple opening weekend records and is only stymied by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight which both have the strength of an established series of movies behind them. Viewers, even those who have read the books, didn’t expect what they got from a few characters, though. This excerpt is from the article I mentioned above:

But when it came to the casting of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, many audience members did not understand why there were black actors playing those parts. Cinna’s skin is not discussed in the book, so truthfully, though Lenny Kravitz was cast, a white, Asian or Latino actor could have played the part.
But. On page 45 of Suzanne Collins’s book, Katniss sees Rue for the first time:

…And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that’s she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor…

Later, she sees Thresh:

The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox.

Dark skin. That is what the novelist, the creator of the series, specified. But there were plenty of audience members who were “shocked,” or confused, or just plain angry.

 The author of the article goes on to directly quote a bunch of Tweets and other internet posts that range from confusion to outright racism. One of the worst, in my opinion, states “Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”.

A moment of silence, please, to contemplate the myriad of ways that statement is utterly sickening.

Okay, moving on. 

Rue looked exactly like I thought she would. Actually, ALL the characters seemed to be plucked straight out of the movie that plays in my head when I read The Hunger Games. It was a little freaky. Not only did Rue look like I thought she would, she was also adorable! And she played the part very well.

I always saw Rue and Thresh with dark skin. IF ANYTHING, I thought Suzanne Collins was playing off racist expectations by making the only black tributes in the Games come from the agricultural district. (Come on. Field hands? Really?) If you look closely, the people in district 11 are practically the only black actors you see in the entire movie. Whether this was intentional on Suzanne’s part to demonstrate another facet of the Capital’s expectations and control or an unconscious reveal of her own prejudice… well, we can speculate all we want, but we can’t know unless we ask her. Either way, fury over a black actress and actor playing black characters (and playing them well)? That’s just flat out stupid.

Writing: Does It Ever Get To You?

Have you ever gotten so deep into your writing that it starts to get to you? I feel like my characters are starting to stalk me while I sleep.

This morning, for example, I jerk awake at 6:30 am (a full hour earlier than I need to be awake) convinced someone is knocking on my window. No one was there, of course.

Still, even though I don’t remember my dreams in detail (I never do), I feel as though I’ve spent the last few nights living in the world I’ve created. It’s hard to explain why without giving things away, but let’s just say it’s starting to creep me out just a little. At the same time, It’s really awesome. 😀

Movies: Writers on the Big Screen

Writers are, of course, always involved in movies. That does not mean that they are always IN movies. Over the years they have found their way onto the big screen in roles both big and small (not necessarily authors themselves, but writers as characters), but there are two movies in particular from the previous decade that are my all time favorites: Stranger Than Fiction and Finding Forrester.

As a precursor to my review of this Stranger Than Fiction, I have to admit that I was not a Will Ferrell fan before this movie. In small doses in some of his SNL stuff, I found him funny, but his movies were mostly over-the-top for my tastes. I can’t remember when or why I first watched this film, but I fell in love with it almost as soon as it started. Will Ferrell is supported by a brilliant cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson, but it was Ferrell’s acting that impressed me the most. His character, Harold Crick, is sympathetic, vulnerable, intelligent, reserved, slightly awkward, and totally lovable. By the end of the movie you’re rooting for him to overcome everything. How does this relate to writing? Because Harold Crick suddenly starts hearing a woman’s voice narrating his life and eventually realizes that he is a character in a book. At first he’s willing to accept this in a general sort of way, but then the narrator says, “Little did he know that this simple seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” He goes on a search for answers and meets a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who helps him do two things–1) realize he needs to start making his life the one he’s always wanted and 2) figure out who his author is. Eventually he comes face to face with his author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), and her assistant Penny Escher (Queen Latifah). As you can imagine, the author is completely shell shocked to realize that her character is a living breathing human being. Throughout Harold’s struggle with his possible insanity, you follow Karen through her struggle with writer’s block as she searches for the perfect death for Harold Crick. She talks about inspiration and writing with her publisher-hired spy/assistant Penny and you can see in the two characters the opposing views of creativity. Penny supports the structured use of prompts and museums as sources of inspiration while Karen believes “anything worth writing” comes “inexplicably and without method.” Overall, this movie is a beautiful look at creativity, truth, authenticity, love, writing, writers, literature, cookies, and men’s fashion accessories. 😉

Sean Connery is brilliant. The first movie I ever remember seeing him in is Indian Jones and the Last Crusade in which he played the father to Harrison Ford’s Henry “Indiana” Jones. This is another one that I can’t remember how I first watched it, but like Stranger Than Fiction, I fell in love immediately. The debut role for Rob Brown who plays inner city kid Jamal Wallace, this movie depicts the story of a young man wasting his potential and an older man hiding away from his past and the world. Sean Connery is reclusive William Forrester who has lived in New York since his teenage years. He watched from his window (earning him the nickname “The Window” from the local kids) as the neighborhood he grew up in deteriorated around him. He seems content to live out his life in his apartment, but then Jamal’s friends dare him to climb into The Window’s apartment and bring something back as proof. William startles Jamal during his examination of the rooms and Jamal retreats quickly, leaving his backpack behind. Soon after, Jamal sees the backpack hanging out the window and retrieves it, noticing only after he gets home that William has edited all of the writing in Jamal’s numerous notebooks. Intrigued, partially because Jamal has never shown his writing to anyone, he returns to the apartment. At first the two exist in an uneasy truce, but eventually Jamal convinces William to become his mentor. What he doesn’t know at first is that William Forrester is the author of what many consider the great American novel of our century. Simultaneously, Jamal’s intelligence has been uncovered by the world at large in the form of standardized test scores. These scores are high enough to attract the attention of an exclusive private school which accepts Jamal on an academic scholarship. Once there, however, Jamal has to battle the preconceived notions of what he should be capable of achieving and figure out how much he is willing to risk to stand up and fight for what he knows is right. Beautifully tied together and wonderfully acted, this movie also features a young Anna Paquin as Claire Spence, one of Jamal’s school mates (and eventual love interest). This film covers a broad range of writing related topics including inspiration, expectations, criticism, and whether it’s better to write for yourself or for the world.

The point of this rambling post? If you’re a writer or even just a devoted reader, you can’t miss these movies.

Point of View: Third Person Omniscient

Three words perfectly describe the essence of this perspective: You. Are. God. As such, you know everything about everyone. To be specific, third-person omniscient is a narrative mode in which the reader is presented the story by a narrator with an overarching, seeing and knowing everything that happens within the world of the story, regardless of the presence of certain characters, including everything all of the characters are thinking and feeling. The only question is, how much will you reveal to us lowly readers?

Third person omniscient (TPOmni) is a complex style and not easy to pull off well as you always run the risk of confusing the reader. It is most often used in large-scale sagas like JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or, more recently, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, but most often doesn’t mean always. Many novels of the nineteenth century employ this perspective, perhaps most memorably the works of Jane Austen, including Pride and Prejudice. Below you’ll find my not at all memorable example of the perspective:

Shelby leaned against the door frame, trying not to let him see that she was as tense as a coiled spring.

“What do you want, Luke? I told you I didn’t have anything else to say. If you don’t believe me then it never would have worked anyway.”

Luke sighed. He’d known this wasn’t going to be an easy conversation, but it looked like Shel was going to make him battle for every inch she gave. He saw the twitch in her hand that she never even realized gave her away every time she felt overstressed.

“You don’t have to say anything, Shelby. I came to say I’m sorry.”

Her eyes widened, but otherwise she didn’t move. She had already given up hope that he would ever believe her. Surviving another crushing disappointment didn’t seem possible. Now that he knew the truth, however, Luke held onto hope that he still had at least a snowball’s chance in hell of Shel accepting his apology. Neither of them could really bring themselves to embrace a future that didn’t involve the other. The trouble would be getting her to admit it.

Serves me right if she tells me to take a hike, he thought. I should have trusted her.

This is not the best example, but it illustrates the ability to tell what multiple characters are thinking.

One option you have to help corral the extensive amount of information available within TPOmni is to create a narrator that almost becomes another character (for examples of a narrator as character, see the double narrator of Princess Bride by William Goldman or the musical Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim which you can watch in pieces on youtube starting here or watch the entire opening performed by students at NYU here).

Personally, I have yet to generate a story idea that demands the scale of TPOmni storytelling, but when it’s done well, this perspective is a powerful tool. Definitely not one to be used lightly. How do you figure out if this point of view is right for your novel? Here are a few possible questions to ask:

  • Are there multiple characters who play a pivotal role in this story?
  • If so, am I going to lose tension or heighten it by revealing their thoughts? (Think about what would have happened to the Harry Potter series if you’d been able to read Snape’s mind the entire time. The build up of tension as readers flip-flopped between believing him evil and thinking that maybe he wasn’t so bad would have been ruined.)
  • Can the goal I have in mind be reached by revealing short scenes in the objective third person?
  • If it seems like the main character is missing out on too much, am I sure I have the best person in charge to tell the story?

These questions are by no means comprehensive or final, but they’re a good starting place if you’re unsure whether or not TPOmni is for you. Hopefully, though, with the information I’ve presented in this series on perspective you’ll have a better road map to help get you from conception to completion.

See Also:
POV Overview
First Person
Second Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Limited Omniscient

Excerpt copyright Erica Cameron.

Point of View: Third Person Limited Omniscient

Third Person Limited Omniscient (TPLO): a narrative mode in which the reader experiences the story through the senses and thoughts of just one character.

Even without doing the research to back this up, I still feel comfortable saying that a good portion of literature written after the beginning of the 1900s uses this point of view. Probably not a true majority, but a statistically significant percentage. The popularity of TPLO is completely justifiable, though–you get the close-up feel of first person with the flexibility and god-like window of third. So, what are the basics of this perspective?

  • You can read the mind of only one character, usually the protagonist.
  • You refer to all characters, including the “storyteller” byt their name or as he/she/they. Never I or we unless it is used in dialogue
  • You can offer explanations and insights via the narrator’s voice as long as it’s done consistently (for examples, see Harry Potter or Princess Bride, just for the narrator’s voice, though, not the point of view )
  • While you can only read the mind of one character, that doesn’t mean you can’t watch things she/he can’t see. When used well, you can jump to other areas and give readers knowledge that the protagonist doesn’t have. The opening chapters of books 1, 6 and 7 of Harry Potter. They are essentially written in TPO.

From my own library of unpublished work, here is a short story I wrote in college using TPO:

The Drive

The boy stuck his head out the car window, but a hand yanked him back in.

“Don’t do that.”

Those three words were pretty much all his father ever said to him: “Don’t do that.” Didn’t ever tell him what he could do, but made damn sure he knew what not to do.

The boy leaned back against the seat and moved his fingers closer to the window. Inch by inch he moved them, his eyes never leaving his father’s profile. Finally, his whole hand was sticking out the window, but no reprimand came.

Apparently, he could do this.

They’d been driving for six hours, but the boy had no notion of where they were headed. They were in Nevada. Somewhere. Desert stretched before and behind them, as if that was all there was in the world: a never-ending horizon of sagebrush and waves of heat.

It had been a long, quiet ride; the boy had never tried talking to his father, not without his father saying something first. His mom had been the one who brought joy and meaning into their home, but even with her to soften his father’s edges, he had been an imposing figure in the little boy’s eyes.

When she’d died two years ago, father and son had lapsed into an enduring silence.

His father would only break that silence for one story, one memory—

“I ever tell you about when your mom and I first met?” His voice was deep and had a scratchiness that usually came after decades of chain-smoking, but he’d never as much as held a cigarette.

The man glanced at his son, waiting for some kind of response. They both knew the answer—of course he had—but that didn’t matter. The boy shook his head no and waited.

“She was studyin’ art up at the University, but she’d made a friend who worked at the government unemployment office. They got her a job so she could work her way through school.”

All the other times, he’d told this story to the boy at night before they went to bed, after his father had turned the lights out. Now, though, the sun was beating through the window, illuminating the world so much it made it hard to look at anything head on. Now, the boy could actually see his father tell the story. The unforgiving light outlined each hair in the stubble covering the man’s chin and the lines around his eyes that made him seem so sad and so much older than thirty-eight. The boy stared, wide-eyed, afraid that, if he blinked, he might miss some twitch of the mouth or shift of the eye that would reassure the boy that the answers to the silent questions he asked his father were right: Do you really miss her? Did you love her as much as she loved you? Do you love me?

“That was a hard year. People’d be lined up outside that office for hours ‘cause there wasn’t enough jobs to go round, see? You’d think, a time like that, anybody workin’ in the unemployment office’d be as pursed as a pickle. But not your mom.”

The man’s eyes focused solely on the road ahead. He never glanced over at his son to be sure he was listening, that the boy was getting all this and remembering it like he was supposed to. But the boy saw how his father clenched his jaw when he wasn’t speaking, and how he wrinkled his nose more often than usual, like he had to sneeze or like he was about to—

“She smiled at me, and damn if my whole day didn’t get better right there. She told me that she was gonna do the best she could to find me a job that fit my particular qualifications. Promised to call me herself when she found somethin’, and she blushed like anything when I shook her hand goodbye. She was as sweet as a cereus flower and prettier than a bluebird, she was. And she kept her promise, too.”

His was steady and calm. He never sounded as if he was doing anything other than reciting something he’d memorized for the benefit of the kid, but he sniffed a couple of times, his nose twitching like a dog that’d caught a scent.

“She got me my job with Davis Construction. Damn if I didn’t fit there so well they made me a site manager after only a few months. And I’d never have found that place if not for your mom.”

The corner of his lip quivered, and the boy tensed in his seat, watching for any other movement, any sign of the thoughts behind his father’s unreadable blue eyes—nothing came. But the dry wind rushing through the open windows made the boy blink, and his eyes refocused past his father to the road rushing by on the opposite side of the car. He was surprised to recognize the town they were driving through; the corner store where they sold candy for cheap and the diner that made the world’s best flapjacks. Bunkerville; his mother’s sister lived here. She’d offered to adopt the boy when his mother died, but his father had just shaken his head, no. No. The boy blinked again and quickly refocused on his father.

“I was so grateful; I went back to that office and stood in line for another three hours just to see your mom. I brought her daisies and told her that, if she didn’t object none, I’d be more than happy to take her out to dinner.”

The man sniffed again, but, this time, the tears he had been fighting to hold back welled up and, one by one, slid down his cheek.

“She said yes.”

The tears came faster, then, one following the next so quickly that the boy couldn’t tell them apart. But his father never gave any indication that he knew he was crying. Never moved to wipe his eyes. His voice never shook, never faltered.

The man turned off the main road and into a residential section of the town. Everything was getting more familiar: the park his aunt would take him to play with the swing set the boy loved climbing on, the house with the old lady who smelled like mold, the street where the boy who loved to race lived. He glanced at the bags and boxes in the backseat and wondered how long he and his father would be staying—his father sure had packed a lot. He looked back out the window and remembered his mother teaching him to ride a big kid’s bike here. He wished, now that he’d finally learned to ride it without help, that she was here to see how hard he’d practiced. The boy daydreamed what it would be like to have his mother back, for his father to be happy again; he wasn’t expecting his father to say anything else; the story usually ended there.

But, after a minute, his father kept talking.

“You used to remind me of her, but you been alone with me too long already. You’re too much like me now.” His father sighed and shook his head; the boy wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or not. “I’m not right to be a father on my own. Ain’t got it in me. I tried, but, sometimes, you just gotta know when it ain’t about you no more. Sometimes you gotta do what’s best for someone else.”

The man finally glanced at his son, the tears still running down his face. This time, the boy didn’t look away. He thought about how his father used to smile when his mother danced with him in their living room. He remembered all the times his father’s eyes got wide and scared when the boy had hurt himself bad. He realized that, not once in ten years had his father ever yelled at him in anger.

The boy smiled and said, “I think you done all right, Pa. I’m still here, ain’t I?”

His father pushed the brake, slowly bringing the car to a stop. He stared at his son as if seeing him for the first time, and the boy stared right back. He glanced up the road, in the direction of his late wife’s sister’s house, and back at his boy, then, he nodded.

He pulled into the next driveway, reversed, and they headed home together.

There’s a lot of possibility inherent in this perspective. You can get almost as close as first person or almost as distant as TPO. The integration of thoughts in my example is subtle, but it’s there in the little things that someone watching through a window would not have known. Could not have known. How you use that knowledge, though, is the important part.

Added note: Depending on the source, this perspective is sometimes simply called third person limited. I feel as though this is a misnomer. Dropping the mention of the narrator’s omniscience makes the point of view seem far less appealing than it is. But that’s just my opinion.

See Also:
POV Overview
First Person
Second Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Omniscient

Story copyright Erica Cameron.

Point of View: Third Person Objective

It’s hard to know how often this perspective is really used because it’s somewhat overlooked. I have had the five perspective classifications in my head for so long that I can’t remember who first taught them to me. What I do remember is some teacher at some point telling me that this point of view (which I remember being referred to as both Third Person Objective and Third Person Limited) was even less popular than second person. If the sparse Wikipedia mention is any indication (it doesn’t even have its own page!), third person objective (TPO from here on because I am lazy) has gone from unpopular to nearly discarded.

This style, like second person, has a lot of intrinsic restrictions. The story you get in TPO is the same kind of story you would get from a private investigator who has been following your characters. He can describe what they did and said, but can give no true insight into their thoughts and motivations.

The basics of TPO are as follows:
– I and we are used only in dialogue
– All characters are referred to by name or by the distant pronouns he/she/they
– You cannot delve into any character’s thoughts, not even your protagonist’s

For example:

He sat in her seat at the kitchen table, placing his hands where hers had rested so many times.

“I still take care of your roses,” he said to the air.

The silence that reigned then was broken only by the ticking of the old clock hanging on the wall. He sat there for another minute and sighed.

“I should accept the fact that if you haven’t come back by now, you’re not going to.” He stood and gently pushed the chair back into place. “But I still feel guilty that no one will be here to take care of the roses once I leave.”

All the information you get from the segment above comes from her observable actions and the words he speaks aloud. Sticking to that, keeping yourself from accidentally filling in the blanks, if the hardest part of writing in TPO. An upside, however, is that you can peer through anyone’s window, peek into their lives (a peek that all three third person perspectives include).

Excepting this, TPO is the most distant point of view, watching but in no way involved. Think back to my investigator example–in a way, reading a book in TPO is more than a little like reading a PI’s report. Not that it’s never used successfully. In fact, one of my favorite short stories is in this narrative style: Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, which you can read by clicking the title. However, unless you have a genius narrative idea like Hemingway’s, you’re probably better served by one of the other points of view.

See Also:
POV Overview
First Person
Second Person
Third Person Limited Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient

EDITED TO ADD (12/17/2016):

In my two Assassins novels, I make use of this point of view often. For those books, Discord and Nemesis, the TPO perspective allows me to give readers a look at what’s happening away from the narrator. I can give away secrets the narrator doesn’t know, or at least leave clues, and it adds suspense to the pacing of the books. Below is an example from Nemesis, and it is the very first section of the book:

The vicious squall battered the Sea of Japan, roiling the waves and sending high winds screaming across the water. Those waves crashed against the shores of the small, isolated island sitting between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Wind battered trees and displaced rocks on the island’s tall mountains.

Inside the Lyohwa Labs research facility on the northwestern edge of Etobih-lin, none of that could be heard. Especially not on sublevel two.

Lab six was a large, windowless room with a door that couldn’t be opened from the inside. Cameras in the corners were positioned to monitor everything, with no blind spots, but at this early hour of the morning, there didn’t seem to be much to watch. Only one woman—wearing a white, full-body, level A hazmat suit—was at work.

Hands braced on a backlit glass table, she stared through her faceplate at the rack of glass vials in front of her, furrows across her forehead. The vials seemed to glow with the light from the table, and the intensely green liquid was vibrant in the otherwise stark white and stainless steel room. Though her gaze jumped between the vial and the tools laid out in front of her, she ignored the alerts popping up on the wall-mounted screen to her left and the beeps of the various machines, all of them labeled LyoLabs.

“They’ll kill you if this works.” The words were quiet, but the distortion of her breathing apparatus gave them an ominous rasp. “Whatever. At least you won’t be here anymore, right?”

However cavalier the words seemed, her hands shook when she straightened and tried to lift a vial out of the rack with a pair of tongs. She took a deep breath, the sound made mechanical by her respirator. Her hands steadied. After lifting it clear of the rack, she turned and placed it in another on the epoxy resin workspace behind her.

Slowly, carefully, she extracted a small amount of the green liquid with a pipette and placed three drops into the brown mixture simmering in a beaker over a lit Bunsen burner. The color shifted as the bright drops swirled and dissolved into the bubbling liquid. From a vacuum-sealed jar on the table, she measured out 0.03 milligrams of an extremely fine powder. When she added it to the beaker, lines of dark blue spread through the mixture like ink, but when she stirred it with a thin glass rod, the solution cleared.

“Almost there.”

Another alert buzzed through the computer’s speakers. The tone was lower—a grating sound meant to draw attention—but she didn’t spare the screen more than a cursory glance.

The door behind her opened; the hiss of the airtight seal releasing would have made that obvious even if the door’s handle hadn’t clicked as it lowered and announced company.

A leanly muscled, olive-skinned guy wearing a LyoLabs security uniform walked into the room, a Colt handgun in his hand. He kept it pointed at the floor.

“I don’t care how impatient you are,” she said without turning around. “There is no possible way for me to make these machines work any faster. Either shoot me, or let me get back to my work.”


“Who else?” she muttered. “It’s not like you assholes let me have assistants anymore.”

He stopped at the wall display that had been flashing a red alert box. When he saw what was written there in bold black-and-white Korean letters, he cursed. When he crossed the room, his footsteps were heavy and quick. “Adila, we have to go. Now.”

“Go. Stay. Come. Work. I’m not a goddamn dog!” She slammed her hand down. The stirring rod clenched in her fist shattered when it hit the countertop. Releasing the broken pieces, she turned. “If you want me to figure this out, leave me alone and let me— Who are you?”

Though the gun-wielding newcomer was dressed as a guard, he looked like he might be twenty at the oldest. He seemed too young to be working there, but his dark eyes searched the room with purpose, and he held his Colt like someone with decades of experience shooting it.

“I’m your ticket out of here if you follow me,” he said. “But the offer won’t be worth anything in about four and a half minutes.”

Adila hesitated only a moment. In a burst of motion, she grabbed a flash drive and jammed it into one of the computers, activating a command to back up the data.

“Time is running out,” the guy warned. “Is that info worth our lives?”

“It’s worth a hell of a lot more than that.” Adila dumped the clear liquid from the bubbling beaker into the sink, then filled the beaker with a solution from a large bottle next to the sink, and poured the rest of the bottle’s contents and all of the green-filled vials down the drain. When the computer flashed Backup Complete, she ejected the flash drive and pressed it into her rescuer’s hand.

After executing a command to format the computer and wipe the drive clean, Adila followed the stranger out of the lab, slowly stripping the hazmat suit as she walked, dropping the pieces behind her.

As the suit fell away, the body underneath it became visible—and the scars that body wore. Old, healed burns from pinky finger to elbow up the side of her left arm. A misshapen bump that might have been a badly treated break. Thin lines were almost hidden in the natural creases of her neck, but they were too pale against her naturally tan skin to disappear completely.

Annyeong, fuckers,” she said as the door shut behind them.

Excerpts copyright Erica Cameron.

Point of View: Second Person

Wikipedia says:
The second-person narrative is a narrative mode in which the protagonist or another main character is referred to by employment of second-person personal pronouns and other kinds of addressing forms, for example the English second-person pronoun “you”.

An intriguing, difficult, sparsely used point of view, second person is also one of the least mentioned. I should probably also mention before I start that I don’t like this perspective much. It is at best hard and at worst impossible to sound natural writing in this viewpoint, and while it can be an effective tool in certain narrative situations (none of which come to mind right now…), I find the constant use of “you” pulls me out of the story. A lot of people (both readers and writers) would probably agree with me, but there are definitely those who don’t. Some of the most notable examples include Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) in Diary, Jay McInerney in Bright Lights, Big City, and numerous short stories by  authors both famous and obscure. So, now that we’ve covered that, on to the actual subject.

The light that came through your window that morning was gray, sunlight filtered through the fog that had covered the town for over a month. But that morning, something felt different. You woke up instantly alert, as though someone had shouted your name, every cell tingling with a readiness for danger as adrenaline coursed through your blood. Mornings like that terrified you: something horrible and inescapable always seemed to follow.

Second person attempts to literally draw the reader into the story by placing them in the action. This allows a possible level of sympathy and empathy that the other points of view simply can’t match. The reader becomes the main character; the character’s problems become the reader’s, the losses and victories, the readers losses and victories. On the reverse side of this coin however, is the danger of alienating the reader. Because you’re making the reader the protagonist, they have to accept on some level that the character’s actions could reasonably be their own.

This is one of the other aspects that, personally, turns me away from second person in both books I read and ones I write. I find myself thrown out of the story entirely if “I” start saying and/or doing things completely contrary to my actual personality.

I’m sorry to say that because I have so little reading or writing experience in this style, I have nothing else to say about it. However, below are some links that may or may not prove useful to those who wish to learn more.

Novel Writing Help
The Writer’s Craft

See also: 
POV Overview
First Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Limited Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient

Excerpt copyright Erica Cameron.

Point of View: First Person

Although I have no statistics to back up my claim, I would rate first person as one of the two most popular narrative styles. Especially in contemporary fiction. Why is this? What about this style of voice makes it so appealing? To explain the draw of first person, you first have to know what first person is.

According to Wikipedia: First-person point of view is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves.

This is the least distant of all narrative voices. By using personal pronouns like I and we, the author creates a direct connection to the character telling the story. In this case, the narrator is a direct participant in the action and usually, though not always, the protagonist. through this style, readers see the world as the narrator does. The clip is an example of first person narrative and the opening paragraph of my Prince Charming project (for now, anyway…):

I suddenly decided that the status of teenager was the worst punishment ever inflicted on mankind. No other state of being was so completely able to take care of themselves yet kept entirely dependent on their elders. One of my father’s favorite phrases was “Just wait until you have a daughter,” but if it were up to him I’d be strapped into a chastity belt and locked in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon until I died. Sometimes I thought that would be a better fate than being so close to freedom I could touch it from the end of my six-inch leash.

Using this voice allows you to directly incorporate the narrator’s thought, feelings, reactions, and desires into the story, but it also entails dramatic restrictions. not only are you limited to the point of view of a single character, you are limited to their biases, prejudices, level of intelligence, physical capabilities, and everything else that makes them unique. You can only tell the reader things that this particular character knows or chooses to recognize.

Still, first person is a wonderful point of view and (obviously) one I use extensively. The ability to tell someone’s story in their own words is a powerful tool. It can help cruel character appear sympathetic, bring out the insights of an observant character, and employ the emotional magnetism of a character struggling through adversity. It can eliminate the need for direct, italicized thoughts and give the book a perspective it wouldn’t have had with an impartial, distant narrator. At the same time, you must be wary of the pitfalls and realize that not all characters make good storytellers, even if their tales are worth hearing. Luckily, that’s where the other points of view come into play…

See also: 
POV Overview
Second Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Limited Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient

Excerpt copyright Erica Cameron