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question about close third person POV

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If your MC doesn't know the word for something, but your reader would, what do you do in close third person? For instance, say you're writing about a future where there is no paper. (just go with me here, it's an example - this is not what my book is really about!) Your MC has never seen or touched paper, has little knowledge of it, and probably wouldn't recognize it on sight. So in close third person, are you allowed to describe it like your character would in first person? Like, "The thing in the box was thin and white, and covered in little blue lines. She thought it would be soft like fabric, but it crinkled a little when she pressed on it. There was no way you could make clothing out of it. She decided to call it 'hard fabric.'"
Does this break some third-person rule? Will readers throw things at me if I do this sort of thing?
#1 - July 07, 2013, 09:21 AM
« Last Edit: July 07, 2013, 10:17 AM by Lwrites »

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I think it would be untrue to your setting to have the mc use the word "paper." Having her describe it so that your readers know what it is but still shows the mc's bafflement creates a little dramatic irony that adds a welcome element to your story. (IMHO)

I don't know your story, but if there are older people who might have described paper and actually used the word legend, your mc might be confused at first, describing all the things you pointed out, and then make the connection - Could this be what the Elders called paper?

Laurel
#2 - July 07, 2013, 10:00 AM

I think you are.  If the third person viewpoint is really showing the events through the eyes of your main character, even if not in first person, it would be jolting to use words and language that the main character wouldn't know.

For instance if you wrote about the French and Indian war, this would not work:

Louis looked up into the sky above the Indian encampment and heard the roar of the river.  It sounded just like an industrial air conditioning unit.

Or something like that.
#3 - July 07, 2013, 10:03 AM
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Yes, your example is a good use of close third, where you are in the MC's head and sharing his/her thoughts with the reader. Using the word "paper" would destroy the credibility, IMO.
#4 - July 07, 2013, 10:33 AM

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Er....guys, I'm a little confused. But I think that A) we are in agreement and B) I did a really bad job of explaining my question.

Maybe I should rephrase.
Say I'm writing in close third person. The main character encounters something they do not know the word for. It is something that would likely be an everyday thing in the eyes of a kid reading this book. (A piece of paper was my example, but pick any hypothetical thing.)
Since I am in close third person, and describing as it would be described by the MC, I am describing this thing without using the name we have for it. I wasn't asking if it would be okay to use our word for the thing ("piece of paper" or whatever) - that would be wrong in the context of the character's life. I was asking if it was awkward to do this in third person, or whether that sort of thing is better left only to first person.

Sorry for the confusion!
#5 - July 07, 2013, 10:34 AM

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Ah, okay, RuthD posted while I was typing. Thank you!

I am really not used to writing close third person...It feels so awkward to me! I've never used it before and I keep second guessing myself.
#6 - July 07, 2013, 10:39 AM

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Have you read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card? He has a entire chapter on third person that does a great job of breaking down the different levels. It might help.
#7 - July 07, 2013, 10:50 AM
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I agree that your example is a good use of close third.

This may be slightly OT, but despite Orson Scott Card's and others' descriptions of the various types of third person usage and levels of penetration, I find that most current readers and newer writers assume that all third person is and should be close. Almost as if the range that should be available to us is becoming forgotten, or is now considered faulty POV when really it's light or cinematic penetration rather than deep. 
#8 - July 07, 2013, 11:07 AM
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I think it's hard to do this very often in a story, it could pull the story down a little, on the other hand in certain sci-fi or fantasy contexts, I guess books have a lot of this.

If the lack of knowledge is central to the character's experience, I suppose this would be an important part of the characterization.

I'm one of those who thinks that, if carefully and subtly done, one can get away with slight drifting off the pov, especially close third--I'm sure this might be seen as cheating but I've seen it done by some really awesome authors and the only reason I notice it at all is that I'm reading as a writer, very very carefully, pretty sure the reader doesn't notice it at all. But again, it's done very deftly. Of course, using obvious things like vocab that are totally outside the character's experience would be jarring in third close, but you say that's not the issue.
#9 - July 07, 2013, 11:14 AM
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I think you could use 1st or close 3rd. Either works for me.
#10 - July 07, 2013, 01:01 PM

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I think the answers to your question--by way of your paper example--was explained very well by previous posters.

If you are telling your story in a limited third-person POV--that is, through the eyes, thoughts, feelings of your main character--then every "sprig" of description must be from your main character's experience and awareness. This is necessary for the narrator of the story to be held by the reader as reliable.


 
#11 - July 07, 2013, 01:28 PM

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I'll echo Dionna. Any thoughts or observations of your main character must come only from him and what he actually knows. You did a great job with your example of showing a character come across something he has never seen, but I have. This is just the way you'll want to handle things in your story. So stop worrying and get back to writing! (Grin)
#12 - July 07, 2013, 01:45 PM
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Hi,
I like where this thread is going, and I was just thinking of looking up all POVs to recall what each one offers in terms of storytelling. I want to branch out from close third person, but what would first person offer that it doesn't?

I see a lot more books with first person various viewpoints lately. I enjoy reading these and I would guess you only do it if it's vital to the plot (different cultures, genders, temperaments), but is there a great book on craft that explains these really well? I see the Orson Scott Card recommendation. Any others? (I recently read Walter Mosley's "This Year You Write Your Novel," which did a nice job, but I'd like more to help it sink in).
Thanks!
Mark
#13 - July 22, 2013, 08:11 PM
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I'm with Dionna in that everything your character sees and explains must be from that character's pov. I like how MATCHED by Alley Condie was written when she's describing things that were no longer a part of her world such as handwriting. You should describe everything and see everything how that character would look at it. If it hasn't been invented yet or exposed to that character, it shouldn't be mentioned.

It's good that you are thinking through this. One small detail can derail a reader from their sense of believability of a story.
#14 - July 23, 2013, 05:36 AM
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