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Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: JMack on March 30, 2015, 03:18:38 PM

Title: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: JMack on March 30, 2015, 03:18:38 PM
So I'm enjoying Erikson's Gardens of the Moon a whopping 35 pages in.
But I'm noticing something I've seen in other books as well. A new charcater comes on the scene, and we get details that can in no way be based on the sight and understanding of the POV character.

Paran is on a road, riding to meet the Empress's Adjunct after a horrific day. His horse stops, and zparan sees an unexpected person in the road:

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

Ok, I think this pretty good overall. Generally I'm enjoying Erikson's writing so far. But:

From at least some distance on the road, Paran is able to see there are rings on every finger above and below the knuckles - not just a bunch of rings. The man doesn't just have leggings, he has linen leggings. His boots aren't green, they'd dyed green. And Paran notices how thin his belt is.

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?

In this scene from Erikson, I'm ready to let it go (after having noticed it). In Debrah Harkness's Discovery of Witches, the writer describes the vampire's shoes when the POV character is sitting across from him at a dining table. Not so much.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 04:02:43 PM
Personally I prefer it when it's strictly limited. For one thing it makes it easier to get into the mind of the character, for another it tends to cut out unnecessary details - pretty sure the majority of that passage could be replaced with just a couple of details that stand out, and the end result would be a lot stronger.  :-\
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 04:11:46 PM
I think this is where a high-level developmental editor really pays off. It literally becomes next to impossible for authors to see obvious mistakes.

I also think that either the U.K. should start spelling grey as gray, or Americans should go back to spelling it with an e.

c
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Henry Dale on March 30, 2015, 04:22:15 PM
I think this is where a high-level developmental editor really pays off. It literally becomes next to impossible for authors to see obvious mistakes.

I also think that either the U.K. should start spelling grey as gray, or Americans should go back to spelling it with an e.

c

As long as an author doesn't place Brazil on the west coast. >.>

Since I read English in the accompanying accent I say we go back to sexy British.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 04:35:09 PM
My wife is a Paulista living in the mid-west. I think she prefers gray.

It's hard to tell though with all her little inho's and zinho's creeping into the works.

Cafezinho, amorzinho, gataonzinho,.....

c
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 04:40:05 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 05:05:18 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 05:09:09 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.
Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 05:42:41 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.

Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P

I'm saying that my editor doesn't let me get away with old habits. English will continue to evolve whether we like it or not.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.

Gandalf the Grey will soon become Gandalf the Gray.

I don't like change either, but--I learned to like the look of a bikini wax, so--I can learn to like the letter 'a' too.

I am a poet/wordsmith, and therefore refuse to speak text.

c
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 05:57:13 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.

Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P

I'm saying that my editor doesn't let me get away with old habits. English will continue to evolve whether we like it or not.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.

Gandalf the Grey will soon become Gandalf the Gray.

I don't like change either, but--I learned to like the look of a bikini wax, so--I can learn to like the letter 'a' too.

I am a poet/wordsmith, and therefore refuse to speak text.

c

(http://www.redcafe.net/img/smilies/houllier.gif)

America isn't the center of the world. There are different subsets of the English language, and none are more or less valid than others. Personally I prefer English spelling and grammar, since I come from England.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Doctor_Chill on March 30, 2015, 06:06:45 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.

Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P

I'm saying that my editor doesn't let me get away with old habits. English will continue to evolve whether we like it or not.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.

Gandalf the Grey will soon become Gandalf the Gray.

I don't like change either, but--I learned to like the look of a bikini wax, so--I can learn to like the letter 'a' too.

I am a poet/wordsmith, and therefore refuse to speak text.

c

(http://www.redcafe.net/img/smilies/houllier.gif)

America isn't the center of the world. There are different subsets of the English language, and none are more or less valid than others. Personally I prefer English spelling and grammar, since I come from England.

America is best Korea. Subsets of the English language matter no more. Write less = work best.  :P
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 06:13:06 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.

Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P

I'm saying that my editor doesn't let me get away with old habits. English will continue to evolve whether we like it or not.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.

Gandalf the Grey will soon become Gandalf the Gray.

I don't like change either, but--I learned to like the look of a bikini wax, so--I can learn to like the letter 'a' too.

I am a poet/wordsmith, and therefore refuse to speak text.

c

(http://www.redcafe.net/img/smilies/houllier.gif)

America isn't the center of the world. There are different subsets of the English language, and none are more or less valid than others. Personally I prefer English spelling and grammar, since I come from England.

I was just teasing and did not mean offence. I do not think we are the center of the world. But there is an undeniable evolution of our bastard language. Romance languages are easier...no spelling are B's required.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: xiagan on March 30, 2015, 06:37:54 PM
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.
Sorry to burst your bubble.
But American English is more conservative and outdated than British.

From The Origins and Development of the English Language by John Algeo and Carmen Butcher (p.200):

(http://i.imgur.com/8pGnTH1.png)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 06:50:18 PM
Grey. Always grey. Colour instead of color, honour instead of honor, and so on and so on until the ends of the earth.  8)

I dothst sympathize, yet--pray--mark me, I dost afear thine days of olden speak, are numberedth.

Gray is the new Black.

Wot u sayin m8... we got 2 typ lyk ppl rli typ? An tlk lyk dey rli tlk?  :P

I'm saying that my editor doesn't let me get away with old habits. English will continue to evolve whether we like it or not.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Mid West of America is the current seat of the English language empire. It is up to us that live here to drag the rest of the world into the 21st century.

Gandalf the Grey will soon become Gandalf the Gray.

I don't like change either, but--I learned to like the look of a bikini wax, so--I can learn to like the letter 'a' too.

I am a poet/wordsmith, and therefore refuse to speak text.

c

(http://www.redcafe.net/img/smilies/houllier.gif)

America isn't the center of the world. There are different subsets of the English language, and none are more or less valid than others. Personally I prefer English spelling and grammar, since I come from England.

I was just teasing and did not mean offence. I do not think we are the center of the world. But there is an undeniable evolution of our bastard language. Romance languages are easier...no spelling are B's required.

Lol ok, couldn't quite tell - and I've had experience with people (Americans in particular) getting overly passionate about that  ;D

Yeah there's definitely ongoing evolution, the interesting thing is that it's evolving in multiple directions at once, all in different places around the globe. Most of the different strains aren't isolated from each other so they're not diverging completely, but there are a huge number of different dialects. I imagine it wouldn't take long for it to splinter into dozens of languages if we were unable to communicate so quickly across long distances  :)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: JMack on March 30, 2015, 06:52:05 PM
Meanwhile, back to the OP...
  ;)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 06:52:23 PM
I'm going to start writing fantasy in Portuguese instead.

Eu muinto mais gosta palavras dos brasilieras, e gosta muinto ella's bumdinhos tambem. Brasil tem sol e prias bonitas. Aqui esta muinto mais mao e frio. Os palavras do Englese no esta bem.

c
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Yora on March 30, 2015, 06:55:51 PM
Personally I prefer it when it's strictly limited. For one thing it makes it easier to get into the mind of the character, for another it tends to cut out unnecessary details - pretty sure the majority of that passage could be replaced with just a couple of details that stand out, and the end result would be a lot stronger.  :-\
That was also my first impression.

It's no secret that I favor short format and focused fiction and Erikson is the absolute extreme opposite of that. But a description like that seems like pretty pointless and needlessly drawn out to me. When I read it, what of it really sticks? By the end of the sentence, I will probably have forgotten that his boots are green because the moment I read it, it seems like a completely irrelevant and meaningless detail. My ADD certainly makes it worse for me than for other people, but by the end of the paragraph the only thing I took note of was "big knife". The rest blurs out completely as my brain is constantly and automatically trying to sort out important information from irrelevant.
I very much love evocative descriptions and always find it disappointing when they are absent, but I prefer the descriptions to be what the character takes note of, not so much the author describing a photograph of the situation.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: ScarletBea on March 30, 2015, 06:57:46 PM
I'm going to start writing fantasy in Portuguese instead.

Eu muinto mais gosta palavras dos brasilieras, e gosta muinto ella's bumdinhos tambem. Brasil tem sol e prias bonitas. Aqui esta muinto mais mao e frio. Os palavras do Englese no esta bem.

c

hehehe about 90% is misspelled, but I understood everything ;D
And I much prefer English than Portuguese: I usually say portuguese's my "mother tongue", english's my "heart tongue" :D

I also fall under the group prefering the 'straight to the point' class of descriptions. I capture the environment more by the characters' actions and words than by the writer's descriptions (and one of the reasons I'm not that keen on 19th century books is the sheer amount of description... pages and pages of it, with nothing happening)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on March 30, 2015, 07:11:42 PM
Personally I prefer it when it's strictly limited. For one thing it makes it easier to get into the mind of the character, for another it tends to cut out unnecessary details - pretty sure the majority of that passage could be replaced with just a couple of details that stand out, and the end result would be a lot stronger.  :-\
That was also my first impression.

It's no secret that I favor short format and focused fiction and Erikson is the absolute extreme opposite of that. But a description like that seems like pretty pointless and needlessly drawn out to me. When I read it, what of it really sticks? By the end of the sentence, I will probably have forgotten that his boots are green because the moment I read it, it seems like a completely irrelevant and meaningless detail. My ADD certainly makes it worse for me than for other people, but by the end of the paragraph the only thing I took note of was "big knife". The rest blurs out completely as my brain is constantly and automatically trying to sort out important information from irrelevant.
I very much love evocative descriptions and always find it disappointing when they are absent, but I prefer the descriptions to be what the character takes note of, not so much the author describing a photograph of the situation.
Yep exactly. And it can become an even bigger problem when there are one or twoof the details that are important to the plot or characters for some reason, because they can get lost in the minutiae for most people. I usually find that a shorter description highlighting two or three key points is much more effective for bring a character into focus.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Conan on March 30, 2015, 07:19:16 PM
So I'm enjoying Erikson's Gardens of the Moon a whopping 35 pages in.
But I'm noticing something I've seen in other books as well. A new charcater comes on the scene, and we get details that can in no way be based on the sight and understanding of the POV character.

Paran is on a road, riding to meet the Empress's Adjunct after a horrific day. His horse stops, and zparan sees an unexpected person in the road:

Quote
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 prose readers stumble over florid detail. The broader target audience probably identifies better with a sparse style.
I think varying styles cannot be governed by our peers, only the demand of the market. I eat Melville for breakfast, but I can also see why many people do not gravitate toward it. Our modern world moves pretty fast, sometimes you just have to get to the point and move on with the plot.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Rukaio_Alter on March 30, 2015, 07:32:34 PM
Honestly, I'm not really fussed one way or the other. Unless the hidden bits are massively important to the plot, I'd rather have the character description over and done with in a nice single chunk, rather than bits continually being added on as the person becomes more visible.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Elfy on March 30, 2015, 11:39:58 PM
I prefer it to be more limited, because like the OP said, when they start to go into details I find myself wondering exactly how they know this emphatically from just looking at someone, and is that at all relevant to the plot or the character? I could understand it, if it were Sherlock Holmes or someone similar, when his superhuman powers of observation are relevant to both plot and character, but if not it pulls me out of the story. Erikson's fairly notorious for it, though. There's a fairly well known blogger who has often said that part of the way Erikson can knock out a mammoth doorstopper of a book every year is that the books barely have time to go through the full editing process. I read a lot now and wonder where the editor was and if a more ruthless edit couldn't have made the book both tighter and a more enjoyable read. Lejays17 has a friend who is a professional editor and the lack of editing in many books drives her to frustration.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: RussetDivinity on March 31, 2015, 01:49:21 AM
I also prefer a very limited POV unless things are explicitly omniscient or (as with Sherlock Holmes) there's a very good reason for revealing those details. The thing that tends to bother me as I'm reading more than the idea of a book being tightly written (considering I love Les Miserables, which is called "the brick" for a reason, I have no problem with long, rambling books) is that it shakes my suspension of disbelief when the narration reveals something the POV character couldn't have known at that point.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz on March 31, 2015, 05:59:41 AM
Are you sure he's not writing in 3rd Omniscient, but only chooses to go in one character's head?

Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Nyki Blatchley on March 31, 2015, 12:47:54 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz on April 01, 2015, 06:02:46 AM
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 . . ."
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on April 01, 2015, 06:14:02 AM
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.

For example, Shallan in Stormlight Archive is always referenced by herself and other characters as a shy retiring person... yet nothing she does or thinks is shy or retiring imo. If it didn't specifically say that she was, I'd have never guessed that's what Sanderson intended her to be.  :-\
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz on April 01, 2015, 06:34:35 AM

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.

You were keying in on the fact that it was telly. That wasn't the point.  The point was that sometimes a writer wants to tell a story about a single person, but introduce information outside that character's perspective.
That choice can be to introduce humor or to introduce suspense.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori on April 01, 2015, 11:24:45 AM

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.

You were keying in on the fact that it was telly. That wasn't the point.  The point was that sometimes a writer wants to tell a story about a single person, but introduce information outside that character's perspective.
That choice can be to introduce humor or to introduce suspense.
Yeah I got the point, it's easier to think of examples where it's telling but I did understand you didn't necessarily mean that.  :)

My point was that I don't ever remember that working for me.  :-\
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Justan Henner on April 01, 2015, 02:21:44 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori 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.  :)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Justan Henner 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori 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.  ;)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Nyki Blatchley 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Raptori 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.  :)
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: D_Bates 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Ryan Mueller 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: sennydreadful 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Justan Henner 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:

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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: JMack 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.

Thanks!
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Ryan Mueller 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:

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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: RussetDivinity 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Elfy 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz 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.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: jefGoelz on April 03, 2015, 06:53:29 AM

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

that probably means you didn't realize it was omniscient until he did something very invasive.  I've gotten 3/4 through a novel before I realized the narrator was omniscient because he was not very invasive and was on the objective end of things.

Limited and omniscient are not mutually exclusive (though some older discussions of it make that distinction).

Limited involves a narrator who limits how many characters will have their thoughts or emotions directly revealed. Usually it is one character per unit of narration (sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, whole novel - - it varies from work to work, but most are towards the end of that list).  Note: if the POV character could reasonably infer the thoughts or feelings of another character, the narrator is free to mention that.

Omniscient means the narrator reveals information that would not be available to the character at that moment (note, in first person, the narrator can reveal information that he didn't know at that time if it is a faux memoir, written after the events happened).

Invasive means the narrator interjects his own thoughts and feelings.

Subjective means the narrator does relate the thoughts and feelings of characters, while objective means the narrator only shows the characters' thoughts and feelings by their actions and words.

Classical 3rd person omniscient tends to be: subjective, invasive, and not limited.
It does not have to be any of those things.

And most of these distinctions are gradients rather than dichotomies (a narrator can be on the objective end of things, seldom going inside the head of character).


Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: D_Bates on April 03, 2015, 01:16:23 PM
The text in this particular example isn't omniscient writing though. Not that I consider myself an expert, but as I understand it, omni writing is when the narrator is the all seeing eye of god that's looking down on events from above. This isn't the case here, because the narrator doesn't even know the traveller is a man until he makes a judgement call on his height.

If this were omni surely we should be getting specific details of why this man's on the road and his motives in order to build tension for the inevitable meeting with our protagonist. This piece reads like a disjointed third-person where the author is trying to give the suspense of a mysterious figure approaching from the distance, but failed to actually bring him up to our protagonist before he jumped into describing him.

Even still, this is a moot discussion. As the term Point of View states, the only thing that changes between each style is... the Point of View. The events, characters, and world remain constant. Regardless of PoV this scene is still: Protagonist meets traveller on the road --> things happen. The structure of the scene should be: Setting > Approach > Meet > Relevant Character Description > Action/Narrative. Why would an omni style describe sombodies appearance from a mile away when they'll be face to face with our protagonist within two paragraphs later?

Going a little bit deeper, as omni I could write this traveller as:

He was swathed in shades of green, a ring on every finger--above and below the knuckles--as well as every toe within his tall boots. A scar, leftover from when he tumbled while playing tag at the age of five, ran all the way down his left shin beneath his linen leggings. A long knife, it's blade slightly curved--the weapon of choice among Seven Cities Wariner's--hung loosely from the belt securing his tunic. In its swing it occasionally aggravated a rather swollen carbuncle that had, only the other day, formed on the outskirts of his butt cheek. The pain was enough to put an awkward limp into his saunter. Sighing, he scratched wearily at the half-milimetre of stubble on his jawline before turning his jagged nails onto a mole just inside his nipple. The waning afternoon sun was wearing him down.

That's ridiculously descriptive, but at what point did you start to think, "This guy's just making bullshit up for the sake of wordcount." Which is exactly what it is, because 90% of that is likely be irrelevant to the greater story.

As another example, were I writing in first person and my protagonist had a distrustful personality trait I could well take note that this traveller is decked out fully in green:

"Who the hell wears all green? What's he trying to say here--that he's safe? Trustworthy? I'm sure that's really the case when you've got a Seven Cities Wariner's knife at your side. And just look at all those rings he's wearing. Bet he thinks he's some real hot stuff. Screw this dude. I'd better watch my back."

Though I've relayed the exact same information about this traveller as the original piece, every object is there for the express purpose of showing that my protagonist thinks this guy is about to hoodwink him. When in actual fact,  the guy might well be a friendly individual who happens to carry a knife for protection while he travels the wild roads to check on his daughter's farmstead.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: JMack on April 03, 2015, 01:30:33 PM
Somewhere in the posts, someone typed "Wariner" for "Warrior".
This is relevant to nothing, except that in high school we had a Wariner English Grammar text that flund it's way into our D&D games as a terrifying relic of Law.
This is somehow fitting for a discussion about story rules.
Title: Re: Limited 3rd person POV and detailed descriptions
Post by: Nora on April 12, 2015, 04:35:44 AM
Ok, I think this pretty good overall. Generally I'm enjoying Erikson's writing so far. But:

From at least some distance on the road, Paran is able to see there are rings on every finger above and below the knuckles - not just a bunch of rings. The man doesn't just have leggings, he has linen leggings. His boots aren't green, they'd dyed green. And Paran notices how thin his belt is.


Here is my answer to you my good man. Have you considered that your main character here might simply be gay?
Afterall gay men often have, like most women, a very powerful fashion radar. Dyed shoes? Dear lord can't you spot that like a km away?  8) ;D