I recently received a critique of a work in progress that suggested I alter the point of view (POV) from distant third person to close third person. It was good advice, but it meant facing another rewrite of what I thought was a completed manuscript. I told myself I could do it—after all, it would just be wordsmithing. I would leave the scenes as is, just go a little deeper into the characters’ psyches. I would not, of course, be rewriting entire scenes or large-scale plot details.
Before I started on the revision, I did a little research to augment my basic understanding of the differences between distant and close third person. I found numerous blogs and articles (links to some of the more helpful ones are at the end of the post) but I came away with three takeaways about close third person POV:
- It uses third person pronouns, but moves the point of view from outside of the characters to inside of a single character’s psyche, where emotions, thoughts, and assumptions become available, and where tactile details and actions external to the character are filtered through that characters’ individual experience.
- It tells the tale in the individual characters’ voice, not in the voice of a consistent narrator (or author).
- In the last few decades it has been gaining in popularity and usage in publishing and writing.
I set a schedule to finish the editing in two months—one chapter every two to three days. Each chapter was told from a different characters’ viewpoint, so I expected the editing would simply bring more life to the book by making each character more vivid.
Editing the first few chapters went smoothly, but they were strong chapters with clear motivations, conflicts, and actions. Three weeks into the editing, I got to a part of the manuscript that was not as strong. In particular, I got to the chapters told from the viewpoint of a female protagonist who had played a decisive and active role in the opening chapters, but who then became passive in later chapters as events played out on larger stages. I had struggled with those chapters and that character’s passivity through many revisions, and while I had given her more to do, the chapters were still flat.
When I started rewriting those troubled chapters, the simple editing became something far more complex. It was as if the closer POV gave that character back the voice that had been suppressed, and she was not about to sit passively still while chaos rained down upon her. She became active, not passive. And every time she chose to do something rather than let things be done to her, she created new plot elements, entire storylines, new possibilities that would echo through the work to the end.
I stalled out on the editing because it was becoming far more change, and far more work than I had bargained for. At a loss to know whether to stop or to continue, I sat down and just re-read the manuscript, to figure out whether it was worth all the work. [Read more…]