Agent Observations

Before You Hit Send v.3

What’s on iTunes: I Don’t Want To Be by Gavin Degraw

As I work through some queries (I love that I have thirty million tabs open on Internet Explorer), I thought I would post in the continuing series Before You Hit Send. Today I’m going to talk about 3rd Person POV.

There’s a lot of dialogue out in cyberspace between what is more acceptable, what is published more, what works better for what genre. Today I’m focusing on Young Adult. I have read my fair share of 1st Person POV in YA. The idea is that 1st person works best for YA because of the immediacy it creates that lends to a more authentic YA voice. Cause, ya know, teens are generally self-centered, and not necessarily in a bad way. Even current psychology makes this point.

Now, let’s talk about 3rd Person POV. There are just as many fantastic YA novels written in 3rd Person. In the days of Dickens or Austen or Poe, 3rd Person was a distant narrator, like a sports commentator looking down at all the action from a bird’s eye view. This created a sense of all knowing. The reader was given long, drawn out prose about the time period, the country-side, all the characters on the page. But unlike the days of yore, today’s novels written in 3rd Person POV must be a deep point of view.

So what does it mean by DEEP POINT of VIEW? It means that while a story is told from more of a distance, we’re still reading from one character’s point of view. Sometimes a secondary character’s point of view is added, or in the instance of romances, the hero and heroine swap between points of view to heighten the relationship and conflicts.

But writing in 3rd Person is by no means easier than 1st Person. Your main character can not know everything going on inside the head of another character. When they start mentioning that the other character feels this way, or knows certain things, this is what is called “head-hopping” or even “author intrusion.” 3rd Person characters still have limited insights. Remember that the story is still being told by one character, especially true in YA.

I’ve read more times than once sample pages that were like this (this is my own bad example) :

“Let’s take a walk in the woods,” Lane said to Myra.

Myra scrunched her nose. No way was she going with Lane in those woods by herself. Lane extended his arm to Myra. He knew she was afraid of dark places. What better to play on her fears and have her clinging to him than a walk in the woods.

Like I said – bad example – but in just two small passages we jump POV. From the start of the second paragraph, we’re clearly in Myra’s “head,” and then we get Lane’s reasoning for asking her into the woods. So we’ve jumped perspectives. It can be a simple editorial fix during revisions. Changing the tone or the wording so that the thought is Myra’s as opposed to Lane’s. Like this :

“Let’s take a walk,” Lane said.

Myra scrunched her nose. No way was she going with Lane in those woods by herself. He extended his hand and lifted his eyebrow, expectantly. Was he up to something? Did he know how afraid she was of dark places? She realized it was the perfect opportunity for him to play on her fears and make her clinging. She hated being clinging.

Again not the best example. But you can see how the thoughts that were originally in Lane’s head are now Myra’s.

Another example of distancing 3rd Person is overuse of the character’s names. I think of this as a first draft occurrence. As an author, when you’re writing that first draft, subconsciously you probably use the characters name frequently to tell you as the writer who is in the scene, who is experiencing things, doing the action, ect. One revision pass should focus on cleaning up the character names. By switching to he/she/them/ it/ they/ her/him (where it is possible) will pull the reader deeper into the character’s point of view. The exception would be when there are more than two characters, generally of the same sex in the scene.


A cheesy example of that would be between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Bella would have to differentiate between Edward and Jacob, but as a reader knowing Bella, she would use he more for indicating Edward. CRAFT trick – the reasoning is that for her she thinks more intimately about Edward. So if Twilight were in 3rd Person it might look like this – Bella stood between him and Jacob. He glowered at Jacob, who growled. “I lover her,” he said. “So do I and I was there when you left,” Jacob said, his fists twitching at his side. Bella pushed Jacob further into the woods but shot Edward a stay put glare.

Oaky pretty bad, but hopefully you get the idea.

Again another example:

Myra slapped her hand in Lane’s. Lane pulled Myra down the path under the darkening shadows of the overgrown pine trees. Twigs snapped under Myra’s feet and goosebumps traveled up her spine.

Lane pushed his hair out of his eyes. Lane gave Myra a secretive smile and a wink. Myra rolled her eyes. Myra was an idiot for letting Lane convince her to enter the woods.

There are only two people in the scene. And only a guy and girl. So it would be a deeper point of view as this:

Myra slapped her hand in Lane’s. He pulled her down the path, under the darkening shadows of the overgrown pine trees. Twigs snapped under her feet and goosebumps traveled up her spine.

Lane pushed his hair out of his eyes. He gave her a secretive smile and a wink. She rolled her eyes. She was an idiot for letting him convince her to enter the woods.

Again not the best example, or a very elementary one.

A final thought about 3rd Person POV. This pertains to authors who use this POV because they want to include another character’s POV in the story. As I mentioned, dueling POVs are almost required in adult romances, but many YA stories also use this as well. When you have dueling POVs in a story, you still have one main character telling the story, but if you switch POVs, remember that to get the most from the scene the POV character must have the most at stake in the scene, must face the most emotional impact, and have the strongest reactions to the action or outcome of the scene. So just remember when deciding whose POV to use, which character has the most to lose or gain in the scene. Let that help dictate who will be telling the story.



  • michelle4laughs

    Thanks, Cate. Great post with good points. I’m a 3rd person girl myself. Prefer to read it and always write in it. I think a good writer can get just as much inner thought characterization as in first person.

    And your itune song! It’s the best! One of favorites.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: