1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Third person limited means to start from inside out

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Oct 10, 2009.

    That's what I've read in Elements of Fiction Writing - Description, by Monica Wood. The book claims that when writing in third person limited perspective, you're not allowed to write the following:

    "Her brown eyes blackened with rage."

    This is because the narrator wouldn't think about the fact that her eyes are brown. What do you guys reckon about this rule? By following it, it seems like the writing will become quite limited (no pun intended)? I'd love to hear what you think. Cheers.
     
  2. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    I honestly don't bother with the "limited" or other words attached to a viewpoint.

    I prefer to simply think of viewpoints the way I learned them in 7th grade:

    1st- I, me, my, mine
    2nd- You, your, yours
    3rd- he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its

    Then I remember the last part of the chant being "they, them, their, theirs" but I don't remember if that went with 3rd or if it was its own....

    But either way, that's how I think of the perspectives. If you're using any of the words listed next to "3rd" then for all intensive purposes you are writing in 3rd person. Who cares if it's "limited"?
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Different people have different perspectives about what exactly it is to be 'limited'...some, like me, claim that limited perspective only demands that the narrative's focalisation be 'limited' to thatone particular character, while others, like your quoted author, insist that 'limited' means through the perspective of the focalised character. That second way of thinking seems unintuitive to me...its essentially first person, without as many "i"s.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Any POV needs to stay true to what that observer would or would not perceive and take notice of. Don't think of it in terms of an arbitrary dictum. Instead, learn to place yourself in the mindset of the chosen observer, and to notice when you are slipping outside of it.

    This may help: What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  5. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Personally, I prefer strict third person limited, but I’ve read a lot of books, and no small portion are written somewhere between limited and omniscient. That is, most of the story the narrator sits behind the eyes of the character who the author chooses for the POV, but sometimes the narrator steps outside the character and gives either someone else’s thoughts, or information the character could not be privy to at that point and time.
     
  6. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    My understanding...If your character can't 'see' it, it's not relevant, unless it's brought up by another character through dialogue.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's more than whether your character can see something. If your character wouldn't notice it, you shouldn't write it.

    Mike is a masonry worker at a downtown construction site. He and his crew are taking their lunch break, watching the hot ladies. Mike, he's a leg man, but yeah, he'll notice a nice set too, and that one there has a nice tight booty too. But man, he don't notice eye color, though he might notice if she has a missing eye or an extra one, just maybe. And what kind of clothes? He can tell you if it's see though. Other than that, five minutes later he couldn't whether she had on a blue, pink, striped green blouse, or a sweater - only that it wasn't a jacket, because he got a good look at her chest, and oh yeah, no bra.

    I'm going a bit over the top there with the stereotype, but only to make a point. Police officers may be trained to pay close attention to details, but most people only notice selected things, and have not made themselves familiar with the fine points of description that they could even tell you, for instance, that Eleanor is wearing a pintuck blouse, even looking straight at her.
     
  8. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Maybe I was being presumptious in assuming readers would understand 'see' as something specifically perceived through the character's pov. This, of course, includes all the senses.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it does. And other senses would also be filtered by the character's interests and experiences. A chemist might notice a pungent scent like hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide with some ammonia as well, someone else might just say there was a rotten stench. One person hears a racket like a car crash set to music, where another character hears a punk band, too loud but not bad other than the fact the drummer can't hold a beat.

    Whatever senses you include need to be filtered through the character's manner of thinking. That's the poiitn I was making.
     
  10. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I'm quite happy to say, we agree.:)
     
  11. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thanks for all of your advice.

    Okay, let's listen to what Cogito said. Since the narrator wouldn't take notice of her eye colour, etc, I wonder if it's acceptable to write a sentence like:

    "The moonlight reflected off her green irises."

    Actually, I guess you can't, because the narrator wouldn't be able to see her own eyes. Is that correct?

    Thanks.
     
  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I still disagree...I see no reason you can't write in third person limited about things that relate to the main character but aren't necessarily percieved or known by them. The fact that you can do that is one of third person's only advantages over first person, so if you are going to focus a thrd person narrative through the character's point of view as strctly as that, you would be better off writing first person....that's essentially what you're doing anyway...

    In answer to your above question, you could say that in third person limited. You couldn't in first person.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If the narrator is extraordinarily vain about her lovely green eyes, then it's conceivable she would think something like that, particularly is she is admiring her reflection and the moonlight is bright enough to see color clearly.

    But it's pretty implausible. Would you ever gaze at a moonlit night and think something like that?
     
  14. boo
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    boo Member

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    Harry Potter written in close third, not only do we know that he has green eyes like his mother Lily, but he also wears glasses.

    There is a huge diff between 3rd omniscient and 3rd limited.

    3rd limited is seeing everything from one character's pov, In Potter we see the events out of his green eyes lol. Narrator does take notice of themselves in first and third.
     
  15. jwatson
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    Okay, but I've read the series and not once does Harry bring up the fact that he has green eyes when he is taking in a scene. The only people who talk about his eyes are the people he talks to, not him specifically.

    What a character wouldn't notice or cannot see is what I agree with.

    Something that always bugs me when it comes to third person is the word "absently."
    Should I worry when I use that word? Can anyone post an example of it being used in third?
     
  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Again, it depends on how you define limited. You can use it as long as your definition isn't restricted to only what the character would see or think themselves, then no. And if you're writing like that, then the easiest way to decide if something is permissable is to ask if its permissable in first person, because if you are writing like that then the rules are exactly the same. Which is why I don't see the point in writing like that. It means that the only advantage third limited has over first is that it is easier (but only marginally) to change character.
     
  17. boo
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    What I remember...this one. Harry's piercing green eyes took in the sight of Hogwarts Castle. Lol. You could have it happen in a prefect's bathroom, doesn't Harry ever catch sight of his green-eyed reflection somewhere in the Mirror or Erised. Maybe not. But you can still have eye color description of a main character in third if they do see their reflection, just like first person. You wouldn't say My green eyes surveyed the beach. Or to use the original. My brown eyes blackened with rage.

    Absently? How do you mean? Shouldn't adverbs be avoided at all costs, lazy tool of weak mind lol. :)
     
  18. boo
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    boo Member

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    I agree third limited doesn't have a lot of pros over first imo. But Rowling does drift a LOT from close 3rd, she starts off with the dursleys and then in later books she starts completely without harry, in snape's pov, old muggle caretaker, etc. so even those who write in close third can break from the pov of their main character.
     
  19. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    POV is never restricted to the main character, its the focalised character (who is usually the main character...Harry Potter or whoever). So yeah, you can change focalised characters in any POV. Its smoother in third person though, which is what I meant when I said that if you wrote in a very close limited style like some people have suggesting the only advantage is the relative ease of changing characters. Its certainly not impossible, or even particularly uncommon, in first person novels.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't forget that the POV can change over the course of a story (preferably at scene oit chapter boundaries). Something that cannot be properky described from one point of view may be provided throug another POV at another time.

    Some POV transitions work better than others. Stepping out of a first person POV often means that the first person POV was a poor choice to begin with, because most of te reasons for selecting first person over third person limited favor clinging tightly to that POV throughout.
     
  21. jwatson
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    Alright...well, personally, I don't remember this one, and I am a big hp fan with many re-reads, but it's not worth posting too much about Harry potter...the thread isn't about that.

    Thanks aaron, good post.

    Note, boo...if you are angry, would you really by thinking about your brown eyes blackening? I mean, it's just a thought.
     
  22. boo
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    Sorry I went overboard on the HP but my example never happened it was just a joke. ;)

    Um about the OT, you know what I just read a book where this happened and this thread reminded me of it. It is a ya novel, it might be drifters by ritchie someone or other but the line was:

    Her blue eyes scanned the room....

    I would never have thought twice about it but I did after reading this thread.

    So does this happen in published novels? Answer. Yes. All the time. Especially romance genre, I've noticed. It must not bother editors/publishers/readers either since they are publishing this lol. And it must not be such a huge jar in the narrative.

    You can definitely have mixed point of view though too, third limited and third omniscient, etc. You don't have to stay inside the narrative lines.

    And yes my brown eyes are darkening right now as I read this lol. ;)
     
  23. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I think that's because as the third person (close) character is developed, there are assumptions the reader is invited to make, not unlike what that third person character might do. After all, we do make assumptions, and so that liberty is not seen as an infringement on the POV, but more as a strengthening device used for a particular reason. Different genres may use such variations more or less casually than others in order to create particular effects.

    I'm reading a Murakami short story called "Airplane: Or, How He Talked To Himself As If Reciting Poetry." It begins:

    ***That afternoon she asked him, "Is that an old habit, the way you talk to yourself?" She raised her eyes from the table and put the question to him as if the thought had just struck her, but it had obviously not just struck her. She must have been thinking about it for a while.*** [emphasis added]

    Now these clues suggest to me that this is a 3rd person close POV story whose significance is all about "him." (i.e., it is "He" through whose eyes the fictional world will be conveyed to me as the reader of this story) because "her" view is delivered through dialogue and observable behaviors (how she "put the question," e.g.). This 3rd person close POV is confirmed and established in the following paragraph:

    ***The two were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table. Aside from the occasional commuter train running on a nearby track, the neighborhood was quiet--almost too quiet at times. Tracks without trains passing over them have a mysterious silence all their own. The vinyl tile of the kitchen floor gave his bare feet a pleasant chill.*** [only he would “feel” a pleasant chill. And I am now assuming the tracks without trains and mysterious silence and quietness of the neighborhood are all important somehow to "his" story--the one I'm engaged in at this point]

    Then, the 3rd person close is solidified in the paragraphs that follow. e.g.,

    ***He watched and said nothing. He said nothing, because he did not know what to say .... He had just turned twenty, and she was seven years older, married, and the mother of one. For him she might as well have been the far side of the moon.***

    Then, there's this: "She herself was not particularly fond of opera. 'I don't hate it,' she said. 'It's just too long.'" [So we know he knows she's not particularly fond of opera from something she's told him, rather than as an established fact delivered from her viewpoint directly into our own--i.e., this story tidbit is being filtered (importantly) through his perceptions, recollections, and so forth—albeit at slightly more distance (it could, arguably, be read as “her” viewpoint).]

    Some paragraphs further, we're given some of his own wrestling with what's going on in his own mind (to further solidify the 3rd person close POV, or the significance of the story as seen through his viewpoint).

    Then, after several more pages, there's this line: ; "Both of them thought about wells for a little while." This is its own paragraph. And THAT'S a divergence from 3rd person limited (or close). But I think it's there to invite the reader to make some assumptions, just as the 3rd person character might. And to blend those assumptions into the story in a way that begins to murky up (the fictional) reality--typical Murakami-style. It's not done out of a disrespect for the 3rd person close narrative (and most assuredly not because Murakami doesn’t know better), but (importantly, I think) because Murakami uses POV in order to create reality distortions in the stories he tells.

    I don’t really think one can fully appreciate the impact of various POVs without reading and trying to write them in their purest form and simply feeling the effect of each one. If you look at a single sentence and try to understand whether it’s close or omniscient, you could argue for days and never truly learn anything useful about POV matters. Personally, I think POV is one of the strongest tools the writer has to tell the particular story he wants to deliver. I think it’s crucial for anyone wanting to be a good writer to be open to the peculiar impact and effects each POV has when used to the max and what effect it has when you stretch and combine them.
     
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