Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A point on the third

AS an author and editor, I’m pretty diverse. I don’t have an absolute preference for first- or third-person points of view in fiction. I’ll happily write a first-person, present tense urban fantasy drama one day and, the next, fall into third-person, past tense during the next. All I ask is that I am immersed in a character and that I can see, taste, touch, hear and feel what the character is doing.

This is what is known as a deep point of view.

Let’s consider the following passage:

Tommy crossed the field, hurrying in the direction of the big red barn. Here he discovered what remained of the brown hen, the wereweasel’s tracks clear around the mangled remains.

Sure, it tells a passable story from a third-person point of view but, you know what? I see dozens of authors whose writing is this lack lustre. As an editor, I’ll pass on this one because a) I’m not engaging with the character and b) the story is very “telly”. Nothing really happens to motivate me, as a reader to want to read more.

Now, consider the same story written in a deep third-person point of view:

Tommy felt the first stirrings of unease as he crossed the field, the dew clinging to the long autumn-browned grass dampening the legs of his jeans. Ahead, the bright red of the barn’s painted wooden walls screamed an obscenity against the sky and he quickened his pace. The interior of the building was dim, smelling of musty straw, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the low light. The scraggly heap of bones and feathers in the centre of the floor was all that remained of the brown hen. Tracks as large as his own, but with longer toes and the obvious marks of talons, circled the remains. Tommy swallowed hard. The wereweasel had struck again.

Okay, so which version of the story did you prefer reading?

Unless you have the pulse of a lump of rock, you most likely engaged more with the second version, which gave a better idea of Tommy’s world, allowing readers to experience sensually from his point of view.

Writing a story is not just about putting words down. It’s about capturing your readers’ imaginations, about transporting them to a world where they can be a cool vampire police detective or a werewolf with a vendetta. People want to feel that, for a short while, they can forget about the world around them, about the bills that need paying, the annoying landlady or the mother-in-law who meddles.

As a writer you’re in the business of creating worlds for other people to enjoy. Granted, yes, part of what you do is for yourself, to please yourself while writing. But if you’re serious about getting published, you’re going to have to make damn sure your prose sings.

Make editors, agents and readers fall in love with your world by showing it to them, not just telling it to them.