re: What’s the Beef with Third Person Objective POV?

posted 7/25/13

Dear Editor…

I’ve always liked the idea of writing in 3rd person objective, which never describes characters’ thought or feeling in favor of a cinematic feel. I’m planning to use it for my multiple-quest YA, but considering I’ve never seen a YA novel written in this POV, and that it’s not mentioned in your Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, I wonder if it’s generally despised by readers/agents/editors.

Thanks for your thoughts on this,
Harry

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Dear Harry…

YA readers in particular yearn to connect emotionally with characters. Hence the prevalence of first person (“I”) POV in YA fiction. Third person limited also lets us in on the thoughts and heart of a character. Third person omniscient can drop us into anyone and everyone’s heart and mind. But third person objective stays outside all characters, leaving readers to interpret character moods and thoughts from the action and dialogue. To avoid flat, emotionless storytelling that fails to engage readers, your “show, don’t tell” craftwork needs to fire on all cylinders. If you do pick this POV, use settings with features and props that characters can react to or act upon in truly revealing ways. Imagine two teens arguing, then one storming out a door. Now imagine that teen yanking the doorknob only to have it rip out in her hand. Does she sigh and rest her head on the door? Turn and make up? Kick the freakin’ door down? Force behavior that reveals emotion.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

P.S. For more on this topic, read Characterization, Point of View, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
Comments to "re: What’s the Beef with Third Person Objective POV?" | Add a Comment
    1. Christine Kohler wrote (on 07/25/13 at 2:52 pm) :

      They are MG, but look at HOLES by Louis Sachar and THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt for interesting omniscient POV narrators.

      I agree with Dear Editor regarding YA, however, one step further, ask yourself, “WHY do you feel the need to write this story in 3rd person omniscient objective?” Could you achieve a better result in an omniscient subject narrator? (Look at THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Kuzak, narrated by Death,)

      Have you considered multiple POVs if the object is to show from different characters’ viewpoints? Read this article on multiple POVs for examples of many books, and what is different about how it is written in MG & YA as opposed to head-hopping in adult market books: http://www.christinekohlerbooks.com /blog.htm?post=907090 [note, take out space between com and /blog…]
      Good luck with your trilogy!

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 07/25/13 at 5:30 pm) :

      Great books included as examples in your blog post, Christine. Thanks for expanding the discussion.

      [Reply]

      Christine Kohler replied (on 07/25/13 at 7:09 pm) :

      Thank you Deborah. I hoped you didn’t mind me posting the blog post. I was just trying to nudge the letter-writer into looking at different options.

      [Reply]

    2. Teresa Robeson wrote (on 07/25/13 at 5:01 pm) :

      Well, I feel a little dim because I’m not sure I know what 3rd person objective is (versus limited or omniscient). Guess I’ll go learn about this. 🙂

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 07/25/13 at 5:24 pm) :

      Do these examples help, Teresa? First person: “I wish I didn’t have to do this. And now I’ve got Jessica following me. Bet she hopes I fall flat on my face.” Third person limited, limited to what Toby can think/feel/observe: “Toby went into the room. He didn’t want to do this. Jessica followed him. He wasn’t pleased about that at all. He knew she was hoping he’d fail.” Third person omniscient, dipping into both characters’ thoughts and feelings: “Toby went into the room. He didn’t want to do this, and he sure as rain didn’t want Jessica to watch him try. Jessica followed him—she couldn’t wait to see how he pulled this off. Always showing off, he was, and she was sick of it.” Third person objective, which stays out of characters’ heads altogether: “Toby went into the room. Jessica followed him. He tried to shut the door before she could slip in, but she shoved her foot in quickly to block it.”

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      Laura C. replied (on 07/25/13 at 5:37 pm) :

      I love your examples, Deborah! In addition to showing the differences in writing the POVs, you made it clear that third-person objective POV never shows motivations or feelings. I think it really leaves the reader out of the loop. You can “see” a character doing something, but you never know why he’s doing it. You can only guess at motivation, and you may guess wrong…

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    3. Scott wrote (on 07/26/13 at 6:31 am) :

      I read this POV in Hemingway’s The Killers, and thought it was effective for that, but in general, I think being objective and ‘cinematic’ ignores the best part of writing, and also, misses on where writing can trump movies.
      In the book Twilight Bella and Edward are doing bio lab together and we get all these insights into Bella, but in the movie Kristen shows this by breathing hard. (I wonder how the movie would be perceived by someone who hasn’t read the book, and I think it might be confusing, or at least shallow.)
      Books should play to their strengths, which is making a connection with the character’s inner life. Movies have actors, music, and visuals to convey this, but books have the ability to expose the character’s deepest secrets, and if a reader is going to make the longer commitment of reading a book they should get a character to care about and know deeply. That’s why, in a competitive market, the writer should choose a POV that can best exploit a book’s unique strength.
      Thanks for the great blog and this opportunity to share, Ms. Dear Editor.

      [Reply]

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