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Author Topic: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions  (Read 14274 times)

Offline Raptori

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #30 on: April 01, 2015, 02:41:00 PM »
Are you sure he's not writing in 3rd Omniscient, but only chooses to go in one character's head?
I'd consider that quite a strange choice. The main advantages of omni are the range of information you can give and the objective way you can look at the whole situation. Omni for the sake of giving a few details outside the MC's perception frankly wouldn't be worth it, in my opinion.

In general, I'm willing to give a bit of room to limited 3rd POVs noticing or remembering a little more than might be realistic, but only to the extent of them being very observant. Things they couldn't notice have no place, except in omni.

I believe there are many situations where you want to give information beyond what the MC knows. In fact, I think it's pretty classic storytelling: "I'm going to tell you about this guy named Brok. He wasn't the smartest guy, but his heart was in the right place . . ."

I don't think I've ever read a single example like that where it couldn't be improved by showing whatever you're trying to say than telling. As a reader I prefer to work out who the character is on my own, the author telling me something like that. One thing that really annoys me - which telling like that can put you at risk of - is the character's thoughts and actions not correlating to the personality trait that you've specified.


In this scenario though, the narrator is often a character as well, meaning they could be wrong, or the details they're sharing might be lies. Rather than learning about the person being described, you're learning about the narrator through the way he/she describes that person. I think it can work well, off the top of my head I'd say Wuthering Heights does this to good affect, and an example from film, Shawshank Redemption.

Ahh, I thought we were talking about the normal third persion viewpoint where you're describing things from a specific character's point of view (i.e. describing what that character experiences) - a different character as a narrator is a completely different situation imo.  :)
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #31 on: April 01, 2015, 02:45:16 PM »
Are you sure he's not writing in 3rd Omniscient, but only chooses to go in one character's head?
I'd consider that quite a strange choice. The main advantages of omni are the range of information you can give and the objective way you can look at the whole situation. Omni for the sake of giving a few details outside the MC's perception frankly wouldn't be worth it, in my opinion.

In general, I'm willing to give a bit of room to limited 3rd POVs noticing or remembering a little more than might be realistic, but only to the extent of them being very observant. Things they couldn't notice have no place, except in omni.

I believe there are many situations where you want to give information beyond what the MC knows. In fact, I think it's pretty classic storytelling: "I'm going to tell you about this guy named Brok. He wasn't the smartest guy, but his heart was in the right place . . ."

I don't think I've ever read a single example like that where it couldn't be improved by showing whatever you're trying to say than telling. As a reader I prefer to work out who the character is on my own, the author telling me something like that. One thing that really annoys me - which telling like that can put you at risk of - is the character's thoughts and actions not correlating to the personality trait that you've specified.


In this scenario though, the narrator is often a character as well, meaning they could be wrong, or the details they're sharing might be lies. Rather than learning about the person being described, you're learning about the narrator through the way he/she describes that person. I think it can work well, off the top of my head I'd say Wuthering Heights does this to good affect, and an example from film, Shawshank Redemption.

Ahh, I thought we were talking about the normal third persion viewpoint where you're describing things from a specific character's point of view (i.e. describing what that character experiences) - a different character as a narrator is a completely different situation imo.  :)

Yeah, very true. Although, I can think of a few reasons why you might want a normal, third person viewpoint might have similar thoughts about themselves or others. It's typically a bad idea, you're right, show don't tell, but that might be a part of showing for a similar reason to the narrator character scenario, i.e. you want to show that POV as being unreliable, or too hard on themself, or insecure, etc. So it can be useful, but you're right, it's pretty rare.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #32 on: April 01, 2015, 02:55:29 PM »
Are you sure he's not writing in 3rd Omniscient, but only chooses to go in one character's head?
I'd consider that quite a strange choice. The main advantages of omni are the range of information you can give and the objective way you can look at the whole situation. Omni for the sake of giving a few details outside the MC's perception frankly wouldn't be worth it, in my opinion.

In general, I'm willing to give a bit of room to limited 3rd POVs noticing or remembering a little more than might be realistic, but only to the extent of them being very observant. Things they couldn't notice have no place, except in omni.

I believe there are many situations where you want to give information beyond what the MC knows. In fact, I think it's pretty classic storytelling: "I'm going to tell you about this guy named Brok. He wasn't the smartest guy, but his heart was in the right place . . ."

I don't think I've ever read a single example like that where it couldn't be improved by showing whatever you're trying to say than telling. As a reader I prefer to work out who the character is on my own, the author telling me something like that. One thing that really annoys me - which telling like that can put you at risk of - is the character's thoughts and actions not correlating to the personality trait that you've specified.


In this scenario though, the narrator is often a character as well, meaning they could be wrong, or the details they're sharing might be lies. Rather than learning about the person being described, you're learning about the narrator through the way he/she describes that person. I think it can work well, off the top of my head I'd say Wuthering Heights does this to good affect, and an example from film, Shawshank Redemption.

Ahh, I thought we were talking about the normal third persion viewpoint where you're describing things from a specific character's point of view (i.e. describing what that character experiences) - a different character as a narrator is a completely different situation imo.  :)

Yeah, very true. Although, I can think of a few reasons why you might want a normal, third person viewpoint might have similar thoughts about themselves or others. It's typically a bad idea, you're right, show don't tell, but that might be a part of showing for a similar reason to the narrator character scenario, i.e. you want to show that POV as being unreliable, or too hard on themself, or insecure, etc. So it can be useful, but you're right, it's pretty rare.

Nah I think it's perfectly fine to read that character's thoughts about themselves or others, that usually works (within reason for show vs tell reasons like you mentioned). But when it's specifically information that the viewpoint character does not know, then it doesn't work for me. Like the MC seeing someone approach, and thinking "That's Justan, professional fanboy extroadinaire", then approaching the person and not actually knowing their name or occupation. For me that kind of thing is jarring, even when it's not as obvious as that.

If the detail that is inserted is relevant to the plot, then it's a poor way of giving the information to the reader (essentially a slip into omniscient). If not, then it's just unnecessary exposition.  ;)
« Last Edit: April 01, 2015, 03:01:57 PM by Raptori »
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Offline Nyki Blatchley

Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #33 on: April 01, 2015, 03:52:52 PM »
Nah I think it's perfectly fine to read that character's thoughts about themselves or others, that usually works (within reason for show vs tell reasons like you mentioned). But when it's specifically information that the viewpoint character does not know, then it doesn't work for me. Like the MC seeing someone approach, and thinking "That's Justan, professional fanboy extroadinaire", then approaching the person and not actually knowing their name or occupation. For me that kind of thing is jarring, even when it's not as obvious as that.

If the detail that is inserted is relevant to the plot, then it's a poor way of giving the information to the reader (essentially a slip into omniscient). If not, then it's just unnecessary exposition.  ;)

The point is that omni is a very specific POV that can work fine, as long as the author's chosen to use it and handled it properly. It tends not to work when it's used as a convenient short-cut for giving information more easily.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #34 on: April 01, 2015, 03:57:49 PM »
Nah I think it's perfectly fine to read that character's thoughts about themselves or others, that usually works (within reason for show vs tell reasons like you mentioned). But when it's specifically information that the viewpoint character does not know, then it doesn't work for me. Like the MC seeing someone approach, and thinking "That's Justan, professional fanboy extroadinaire", then approaching the person and not actually knowing their name or occupation. For me that kind of thing is jarring, even when it's not as obvious as that.

If the detail that is inserted is relevant to the plot, then it's a poor way of giving the information to the reader (essentially a slip into omniscient). If not, then it's just unnecessary exposition.  ;)

The point is that omni is a very specific POV that can work fine, as long as the author's chosen to use it and handled it properly. It tends not to work when it's used as a convenient short-cut for giving information more easily.

Yeah exactly, a couple of excellent examples of omni: Lord of the Rings and Dune. As you said, it's when it's used as a short-cut that it doesn't work.  :)
« Last Edit: April 01, 2015, 03:59:23 PM by Raptori »
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #35 on: April 01, 2015, 05:14:12 PM »
I think this is a writing question, and I'm interested what you all think. In limited 3rd person POV, should descriptions be limited to what can be noticed realistically in the current light, time and situation? Or do we give the writer a pass and let her fill in the full picture? Does it just depend on how well it's done?

I think in any writing point of view you need to only relay what's important to the story. When people say that writing is painting a picture with words, it doesn't mean you literally draw a picture and then colour it in. Our minds are like robotic artists--yes, we all have an android Picasso in our heads! The words on the page are merely the coding they use to paint with. And as with any coding, the more convoluted it is the greater the chance the machine gets confused and halts with an error.

So let's break this paragraph down piece by piece:

"The figure - a man by his height - was swathed in shades of green: cloaked, hooded, wearing a faded tunic and linen leggings above green-dyed leather boots."

The first thing that struck me here is why does height = man? A better word would have been build or bulk, but if you just want to clarify the gender just say: The figure--a man--was swathed...
In terms of colour, this goes back to colouring in the picture. A question for you: What does it matter if one reader imagines him in blue, another red, another tan, and another in white with bright pink polkadots and flourescent green stripes? I'd say the only time you should mention the colour of anything is if it's relevant--and it may well be. For example, if the world has three factions and it's well known one wears green, one blue, and one violet, then if you see this stranger approaching on the road you'll immediately go, "Aha! Green. He's part of the Cordani Clan." I'm pretty certain that's not the case here, because the author goes on to use the knife as an indicator of where this individual's allegiance lies.
As for describing the attire... meh. For me this falls into the region of excess detail. Clothingwise, there's nothing this guy's wearing that stands out from what every single traveller in a fantasy world wears. This is like writing the description of a modern day businessman as, 'He wore a white buttoned shirt beneath a black blazer, his ironed trousers dyed dark blue, and leather shoes so polished you could see your reflection in them.' That may be a nice descriptive sentence, but it doesn't give the reader anything they didn't already know after seeing: businessman. That's the word of code that's set their internal artist off painting the picture in their head.
Finally, there's a repetition. We already know the man is swathed in shades of green (swathed is a nice word btw :) ), so what's the relevance that his boots are dyed green? Surely his entire attire has been dyed green? If it's a case of emphasising the guy has a thing for green it's already been done. Just let the boots be boots.

"A single long-knife, the weapon of choice among Seven Cities Warriner's, was slung through a thin belt."

This is good. I'd remove the word 'single'. replace 'a thin' with 'his', and question the hyphon, but otherwise Yora nailed it earlier when she said that what she got from this piece is 'Big knife'.
When I do character descriptions I look at it as relaying their personality rather than drawing their person. What's important is not WHAT they're wearing, but WHY they're wearing it. And it's those unusual items which show the reader the individual's character. For example: if someone is wearing a crucifix do you think, "Ah, that's a pretty necklace," or, "Christian."? The crucifix immediately gives you insight into this character's religious views, and you didn't even need the bland sentence, 'He/She was a Christian' to do it.
That's what the knife here is doing--giving insight into this new character's affiliations. And although the author's needed to explain that due to it being a world quirk, that's okay, because this is exactly the sort of thing our PoV character will notice. Fuck his green clothes! He's got a Seven Cities Wariner's knife at his side!

"The man's hands, faintly grey in the afternoon light, glittered with rings, rings on every finger, above and below the knuckles. He raised one now, holding up a clay jug."

Going back to character descriptions as a means of relating personality traits, this again isn't too bad. It's questionable whether you'd see the rings or man's hands as being grey from the distance we're assuming he is. This also applies to why he's raising a jug to our protagonist when, in our heads, he's upwards of a mile down the road. It almost feels like there's a sentence missing to let us know that the characters have come a lot closer and are now within speaking distance of one another.
As for the description, I don't know what the relevance of grey hands is. Maybe the author's trying to be metaphorical in the sense that the man's a shady individual, or perhaps they're trying to dump in the scene's time of day which, if so, is in completely the wrong place. But I suspect it's more about colouring in the picture again, in which case it can and should be cut.
The rings are clearly aimed to show the man's wealthy--possibly a trader as he has a jug? But the author went into way too much detail for the sake of giving him a noticable quirk. Though it's correct that every bend in your fingers are called knuckles, I suspect most would only picture knuckles as those bony protrusions where your fingers join the hand's body. Even knowing what is meant, the idea of somebody with a ring on every part of every finger begs the question: how do they use their hands? While fingers bend, metal doesn't, and if you put that much on you will more or less be locked open-handed. I'd pull this description back by just saying there was a ring on every finger, and if you want the quirk mention that each was inset with a different coloured gemstone, lined up like a rainbow had been grafted over his knuckles... Or you could just make them all green peridots. The guy seems to be in need of a little more green on him.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2015, 11:57:23 PM by D_Bates »
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #36 on: April 02, 2015, 06:05:42 AM »
Passages like that remind me of why I don't get on with Erikson's writing. I'm not really sure exactly what POV he's writing in. If often feels omniscient even though you're with one character at a time. However, that handling of POV can work. The most famous example is the Harry Potter series. It's written in omniscient, but only on a few occasions do you leave Harry's head.

For me, the way Erikson writes feels very distant, and that keeps me from identifying with any of the characters. I really struggle to see why it's hailed as being so great. Is it the most epic, complex stuff out there? Yes. But other than that, I'm not all that impressed.

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #37 on: April 02, 2015, 06:20:06 AM »
anyone have hitchhiker's guide handy?  clearly written in third omniscient. clearly with one main character.  Don't know if Adams went into other character's heads.

Offline sennydreadful

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #38 on: April 02, 2015, 11:26:36 AM »
anyone have hitchhiker's guide handy?  clearly written in third omniscient. clearly with one main character.  Don't know if Adams went into other character's heads.

There are certainly chapters, particularly in the later books, where Arthur isn't present and we're seeing events through Ford or Zaphod or Trillian's POV.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #39 on: April 02, 2015, 02:07:23 PM »
Nah I think it's perfectly fine to read that character's thoughts about themselves or others, that usually works (within reason for show vs tell reasons like you mentioned). But when it's specifically information that the viewpoint character does not know, then it doesn't work for me. Like the MC seeing someone approach, and thinking "That's Justan, professional fanboy extroadinaire", then approaching the person and not actually knowing their name or occupation. For me that kind of thing is jarring, even when it's not as obvious as that.

If the detail that is inserted is relevant to the plot, then it's a poor way of giving the information to the reader (essentially a slip into omniscient). If not, then it's just unnecessary exposition.  ;)

Oh yes. I see what you mean, and agree with you.

Passages like that remind me of why I don't get on with Erikson's writing. I'm not really sure exactly what POV he's writing in. If often feels omniscient even though you're with one character at a time. However, that handling of POV can work. The most famous example is the Harry Potter series. It's written in omniscient, but only on a few occasions do you leave Harry's head.

For me, the way Erikson writes feels very distant, and that keeps me from identifying with any of the characters. I really struggle to see why it's hailed as being so great. Is it the most epic, complex stuff out there? Yes. But other than that, I'm not all that impressed.

The prose cleans up a lot as you progress, and becomes a lot more concise. The reason it stands out as one of the best for me, is because of the philosophy, unique characters that I've never seen anywhere else - they're allowed to be eccentric, or crazy, or flamboyant for the sake of it, and for the sake of the plot - and creative plotlines. I've yet to read a scene that rivals:

Spoiler for Hiden:
The burning of Y'ghatan. Or the mule duel between Kruppe and Iskaral Pust.

Or the humor of Bugg and Tehol. You're right about the characters being distant though. I didn't attach to any but Paran in the first book, and it wasn't until the second that I started to really care about them.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2015, 02:18:33 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline JMack

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #40 on: April 02, 2015, 02:12:17 PM »
Note that I'm enjoying Erikson and Gardens of the Moon quite a bit.
But I do find numerous weaknesses in the writing. Just finished a particularly awful two pages.  :P

One thing is that he seems to shift from omniscient to limited. Others have commented on lack of editing in his books.

But anyway, it's interesting how pretty united the the opinions are in this thread.

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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #41 on: April 03, 2015, 01:56:52 AM »
Nah I think it's perfectly fine to read that character's thoughts about themselves or others, that usually works (within reason for show vs tell reasons like you mentioned). But when it's specifically information that the viewpoint character does not know, then it doesn't work for me. Like the MC seeing someone approach, and thinking "That's Justan, professional fanboy extroadinaire", then approaching the person and not actually knowing their name or occupation. For me that kind of thing is jarring, even when it's not as obvious as that.

If the detail that is inserted is relevant to the plot, then it's a poor way of giving the information to the reader (essentially a slip into omniscient). If not, then it's just unnecessary exposition.  ;)

Oh yes. I see what you mean, and agree with you.

Passages like that remind me of why I don't get on with Erikson's writing. I'm not really sure exactly what POV he's writing in. If often feels omniscient even though you're with one character at a time. However, that handling of POV can work. The most famous example is the Harry Potter series. It's written in omniscient, but only on a few occasions do you leave Harry's head.

For me, the way Erikson writes feels very distant, and that keeps me from identifying with any of the characters. I really struggle to see why it's hailed as being so great. Is it the most epic, complex stuff out there? Yes. But other than that, I'm not all that impressed.

The prose cleans up a lot as you progress, and becomes a lot more concise. The reason it stands out as one of the best for me, is because of the philosophy, unique characters that I've never seen anywhere else - they're allowed to be eccentric, or crazy, or flamboyant for the sake of it, and for the sake of the plot - and creative plotlines. I've yet to read a scene that rivals:

Spoiler for Hiden:
The burning of Y'ghatan. Or the mule duel between Kruppe and Iskaral Pust.

Or the humor of Bugg and Tehol. You're right about the characters being distant though. I didn't attach to any but Paran in the first book, and it wasn't until the second that I started to really care about them.

The thing is I've read through five books, and I don't really feel like it's gotten better. It's not bad. I just have a lot of trouble forcing myself to read a book that long that I'm not enjoying all that much. I feel like most of these books would have benefited from being shorter. When they get into the good parts, they're great, but first you have to wade through 700 pages of not-so-great.

I will admit that I found Bugg and Tehol amusing at times in the fifth book. I might pick up the series again at some point (because I have this obsessive urge to finish every series I start--well, maybe not every series. I can't see myself ever picking up Bakker's series again). With these books, though, I usually end up reading them over the space of weeks, or even months.

Offline RussetDivinity

Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #42 on: April 03, 2015, 03:54:46 AM »
I'd quibble ever so slightly with using Hitchhiker's Guide as an example of 3rd person omniscient that stays in one character's head if only because the narration has a voice of its own rather than simply being there to lay out the story.

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Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #43 on: April 03, 2015, 05:13:06 AM »
Note that I'm enjoying Erikson and Gardens of the Moon quite a bit.
But I do find numerous weaknesses in the writing. Just finished a particularly awful two pages.  :P

One thing is that he seems to shift from omniscient to limited. Others have commented on lack of editing in his books.

But anyway, it's interesting how pretty united the the opinions are in this thread.

Thanks!
You have to keep in mind that it took Erikson and Esslemont about a decade to get GotM published. In some ways it was a guide for what he wanted to accomplish with Malazan as a whole. I think it does settle down a lot in subsequent books, although the obvious lack of close editing remained an issue for me.
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Offline jefGoelz

Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
« Reply #44 on: April 03, 2015, 06:30:00 AM »
I'd quibble ever so slightly with using Hitchhiker's Guide as an example of 3rd person omniscient that stays in one character's head if only because the narration has a voice of its own rather than simply being there to lay out the story.
that's classically what third person omniscient has been. It's not a mutant form at all.