He Said, She Said—Thoughts on the Third-Person Point of View

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Third-person point of view can be single vision, multiple vision, omniscient, or objective.With so many aspects of your story depending on your point-of-view decision, here are some elements for you to consider regarding third-person point of view. Its versatility makes a form of this perspective a great option.

With third-person point of view, the narrator is a voice you craft to relate your story rather than an actual character. But your narrator does (usually) have access to one or more characters’ minds. The pronouns “he” and “she” and their variants are associated with this point of view.

The popular third-person, single-vision perspective allows the narrator access to one character’s mind. Readers can intimately connect with and feel for the point-of-view character without having their attention or allegiance split. And you are not limited by this character’s maturity or intellect when selecting words, crafting phrases, or making complex observations to further your story. You are, however, limited in that you can only relate what the point-of-view character experiences, is told about, overhears, or is able to deduce.

With third-person, multiple-vision point of view, the narrator enters the minds of more than one character, however equally or unequally, and it works best in longer stories. It affords you more freedom in what you can write about. More point-of-view characters mean more experiences had, events witnessed, and observations made. You can even relay the same event from different perspectives. This point of view creates a complexity for readers, who have to work out how the different characters play off one another, what the differences between overlapping stories are revealing, and which characters to sympathize with. And it can create suspense when readers know things that the current point-of-view character does not. Just make sure that you have a good reason for using multiple-vision.

Omniscient third-person perspective provides the narrator with unlimited access to characters’ minds. You already know everything about the “world” you’ve created, and with this perspective you can reveal whatever you choose in creating your story. Though this perspective can be used effectively and is also great for building suspense, it has fallen from use and is often considered outdated, oppressive, unrealistic, and intrusive due to its “all-knowing” nature. And many writers find it easier to write from a more limited, more realistic perspective.

Third-person, objective point of view does not allow the narrator to see through any character’s eyes. The narrator is shut out, and everything you want to say must be revealed through what your characters say and do. The goal here is objectivity, but one of the thrills of reading fiction is being able to peep inside someone else’s mind and that is lacking with this perspective.

Which third-person point of view do you gravitate toward? Please leave a comment!


It All Depends on Your Point of View . . .

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First person, second person, third person, and all of their variations—so many point-of-view options present themselves, yet the power of point of view is often overlooked, with point of view becoming an afterthought. And that’s something you want to avoid.

Your point-of-view choice impacts every aspect of what you write. It impacts who tells the story, a narrator or a character. It impacts whose “eyes” readers view the story through, whose thoughts are revealed to readers, and what tone is used. It impacts what background information you can reveal, which events you can describe, and how much detail you can go into. And it impacts who your readers identify with and have sympathy for. So, it’s important to get it right.It all depends on whose eyes you're seeing through.

After you’ve brainstormed and mapped out your story, take the time to reflect on whose story it is that you’re telling and what aspects of the story you want to focus on. You must select a narrator who is capable of relaying the story you want to tell in a believable manner. Do you want to have your main character narrate the story, or a minor one? Or do you want to use a nonparticipant narrator, one who isn’t a character in your story? Should your narrator be omniscient (all-knowing) or limited in knowledge, reliable or unreliable? Would one narrator work best, or would several be better?

Consider the benefits and drawbacks of your different point-of-view options, and select the one that you believe will work best for what you are trying to achieve. Once you’ve given point of view some thought, see how your story shapes up using your selected point of view. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, you can always try a different point of view. Since so much depends on your point-of-view selection, keep at it until you’ve found the best one.

What do you consider when selecting a point of view to write from? Please leave a comment!

Five Steps to Solve Your Possessive Problems

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Mine! Mine! Mine!“Mine! Mine! Mine!” Children master the concept of possession early on (as anyone who’s spent time around a toddler can attest!), but the concept of punctuating possessives doesn’t always come as easily. Here are five points to consider when facing possessive predicaments.

  1. Before you go any further, make sure that you have a possessive noun and not just a plural one. If ownership is involved, then you have a possessive situation. But if you simply have more than one of something, then you have a plural situation. For example, “Paul’s punctuation is perfect in all situations.”
  2. When you have a singular noun, add ’s to form the possessive in most cases. For example, “Suzy’s spelling is superb, and Charles’s copy is colorful.” Note that an ’s is still added when the singular noun ends in s, x, or z. Not all style guides agree on this though, with some drawing a distinction based upon whether the s is silent or pronounced in possessive situations. And if you think that seems too simple, you’re right—there are a couple of exceptions to complicate matters. Exception 1: Traditionally, certain historical and biblical names ending in s only take an apostrophe in the possessive form, such as Achilles’ heel or Jesus’ followers. But some style guides now recommend using an ’s to form these possessives. Exception 2: Certain singular nouns used with for . . . sake simply require an apostrophe to form the possessive, though not all instances work this way. For example, you would write for righteousness’ sake or for goodness’ sake, but you would also write for heaven’s sake. But, once again, not all style guides agree, so you should refer to a manual suitable for your topic.Make sure you punctuate possesives correctly.
  3. For plural nouns ending in s, simply place an apostrophe at the end to make them possessive. For example, “Pupils’ penmanship will improve with practice.”
  4. With plural nouns that don’t already end in s, add ’s to create the possessive. For example, “Children’s books are valuable teaching instruments.”
  5. One last thing—don’t think that you must insert an apostrophe somewhere in a word to show possession. Pronouns like his, her, my, or your show possession without an apostrophe. And the same is true for the pronouns its and whose. For example, “I read your essay, but whose idea was it to remove its punctuation?” It’s and who’s are contractions for it is or it has and who is or who has.

Do you have any helpful hints for dealing with possessives? Please leave a comment!

Six Steps to a Perfectly Proofed Piece

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It is wise to revise!After investing your time and energy brainstorming, researching, and writing a first draft, revising may not be a pleasant thought. But proofreading and editing don’t have to be chores, and even if you view them as evil, they’re still necessary evils. Here are some tips I’ve found useful.

  1. Breathe! Take a break from your writing and clear your head before you tackle revising. When you’re ready, slowly work through your draft in a quiet location, taking breaks if you need to. Remember, speedy proofreading and editing usually mean sloppy proofreading and editing.
  2. Read aloud from a hard copy of your document. Printing your work out may not be environmentally friendly, but it allows you to follow along in a way that a computer screen doesn’t. It’s easy to miss typos and jump lines when reading from a screen. And reading out loud forces you to slow down and focus on each word, each sentence, each paragraph.Microsoft Word's Tracking Changes makes it easy to see the edits you've made.
  3. Create a style sheet, or checklist, of important names, locations, descriptions, and anything else that must remain consistent throughout your piece. You wouldn’t want your blue-eyed, blonde-haired main character to suddenly become a brown-eyed, black-haired one, would you? And Suzy shoudn’t become Susie. Readers value consistency and so should you.
  4. Think about your topic. Are you missing a point that would improve your piece? Does your writing reflect your intended meaning? Is your writing style suitable for your audience and purpose?
  5. Check your punctuation, grammar, and content. Be on the lookout for typos, missing words, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, homophones, and other problems. Spell-check misses many “miss steaks” and grammar-check occasionally makes strange suggestions, so keep your dictionary and grammar guide handy. Facts, figures, names, quotations, phone numbers, Web addresses, and other bits of information also need to be verified. And don’t forget to check the table of contents, indexes, captions, tables, headings, citations, cross-references, headers and footers, and page numbers for accuracy as well. Remember, when in doubt, check it out.
  6. Two heads really are better than one. Unbiased readers can let you know if something is vague or lacking. And they’ll catch errors that you missed because you saw what you thought you wrote instead of what you really wrote. If this isn’t an option, at least go through your piece a second time.

Do you have any other helpful proofreading and editing tips? Please leave a comment!

The Relativity of Writing Right

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What's right?Recently a client sent me a piece they’d been working on for a while, asking me to “please make the writing right.” That made me wonder, what does it take for writing to be “right”? Do you have to follow every grammatical rule, spelling convention, punctuation guideline, and stylistic instruction you’ve memorized over the years, no matter what? I don’t think so. And whose “rules” would you even follow, since they often vary from style guide to style guide.

Sure, there are basic spelling, grammar, punctuation, and stylistic conventions that you should follow if you want your readers to understand what you’re trying to say, but part of writing right depends on your situation. It’s more of an art than an exact science.

What’s right for one situation might not work for another. An academic research paper will be written in a different tone and style than a memoir, and a professional cover letter will differ from a message sent to a friend. Fiction books operate under a different set of standards than nonfiction ones. What you’re writing impacts a long list of decisions you make as you work on your piece. Should you use contractions? Acronyms and technical jargon? The serial comma? LongWhat's "right" varies from person to person and situation to situation. sentences or short ones? All of these elements, and more, vary from piece to piece.

In short, the one rule you should always follow if you want your writing to be right is to do what works for your writing, for your purpose, and for your reader. Now, I’m not saying you should completely ignore the agreed-upon mechanics of writing—that wouldn’t work for your writing or for your reader, and it would make for some really irritating writing. But once you know the rules, if something doesn’t quite work for you, and you have a good reason for ignoring it, go ahead and do so.

What do you think “writing right” entails? Please leave a comment!