Point of view.

I have one thing to say about point of view: It ain’t easy.

(Yes, I have just freely, of my own will and choice, used the word “ain’t.” My husband would be proud.)

I have been instructed to use third person restricted in my fiction piece. This means that I have to write through a narrator that sees through the eyes of my main character, but I can’t see into the thoughts of that character (or any other, for that matter). My professor described it as seeing through a camera on top of the main character’s head. I can see everything that the character can see, but I can’t go into his or her thoughts.

At first, I thought, it would be awesome. I loved the challenge of it. I had no problem being limited to third person restricted. Bring it on, I thought.

And then I started writing. And then I realized: It ain’t easy. 

As I was writing my first idea, which I already shared with you, I kept having this urge to explain Mary’s thoughts. The story just wasn’t interesting without them. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Without any obvious thoughts, Mary was just a mindless drone, not the vibrant character that I meant for her.

Here’s the story I planned: Mary, an employee in a quiet ice cream shop, would observe an engaged couple walking in and get their order. The couple would sit down and start talking. At first, Mary secretly hates the couple because they seem practically perfect in every way, but she is also envious of them. She has a boyfriend who is skinny and nerdy, and in comparison with this picture-perfect couple, she feels increasingly lukewarm about her own love life. But then the couple start getting into an argument, and by the time they leave, they are icy cold toward each other, and Mary begins to realize the complexity of love, romance, and marriage.

You see? How could I make this work without going into Mary’s head?

I shared this predicament with my class, and they gave me some great ideas. I could put more people into the scene, so Mary would have someone to talk to. (But I really loved the idea that the engaged couple would care so little about her presence, they would buy into the illusion that they were alone.) I could describe Mary’s feelings through her expressions and gestures. (But I didn’t think that fit well with her character; she wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing how she felt about them so openly.) I could turn Mary into a different character, or I could turn the engaged couple into different people, or I could put them all into a different scene.

These were all good ideas, and if I were a better writer I would probably take them, but I was too attached to the characters I had already created in my mind to try to mess with them so much. I wanted to give Mary a point of view she could work with, not try to force her into the box of the assignment.

But I still love the assignment. I still love the challenge of having to adhere to the strictness of third person restricted. So I decided to put Mary’s story away and maybe come back to it another day. It was back to the drawing board.

I’ve started another story and I’m about a page through it. I’m feeling much better about this one. It flows a lot better with the third person restricted, and even though I do still feel the urge to describe my main character’s thoughts, I’m actually enjoying the necessity of leaving it more open, giving the reader a little more trust. This time, it makes sense.

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One Response to Point of view.

  1. Carrie says:

    Okay, now I want to read that story! I think you’re right that it just doesn’t work with third person restricted. I needed to know what Mary was thinking to care about her character. (But actually, I think the real reason I want to read your story is that I want to hear YOUR thoughts.)

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