© Max Detrano. All Rights Reserved.

Why Write Multiple Points of View in“Close Third Person”?

Modern writers, myself included, are often infatuated with first person point of view. It appears clean, reliable, direct and controllable. What the narrator sees is what the reader gets. This can be very effective especially if the narrator is telling the story from an informed point of view, looking back in time. But it lacks flexibility.

Third person omniscient point of view is seldom omniscient. Someone is telling the story, even if the reader is clueless as to his or her identity. Omniscient third person confines the writer and the reader to one perspective at a time. It, too, can be confining. The old fashioned “god’s point of view” has gone out of favor with readers and writers alike.

That leaves us with “indirect third person,” often called “close third person,” or “free indirect style.” This technique requires a subtle shift in language and observation that is unique to each character’s perspective and personality. The author (in close third person) goes into character, so-to-speak, by mimicking the language and sensibilities of that character.

Like different dimensions coexisting in the same story, the reader (and the writer) experience something different from each perspective. If done well the reader never wonders who is telling the story, but moves with ease from one dimension to another, from one point of view to another, and experiences a unity that is more than the sum of its parts without resorting to the old fashioned “god’s-point-of-view” omniscient third person.

You can find a good explanation of close third person POV in  How Fiction Works by James Woods to whom I credit my limited understanding. Here’s the way I use the technique in the opening sections for my recent novella, The Transplant.

The Transplant
© 2010 By Max Detrano. All rights Reserved.

1   Michael took a right turn on Queen Anne Avenue heading down the steep Counterbalance Hill toward downtown and the Pike Place Market. The old Schwinn began to pick up speed. Michael loved zooming down the steep grade, but it was dangerous when there was traffic. It was a long, steep, straight hill with moguls and waves, like an amusement ride. Today for some reason, dumb luck, he thought, he had the hill to himself. He put his arms straight out to his side as if getting ready to fly.

2   Parked on a hill on Olympic Place, a small curving street a block from the bottom of the counterbalance, Jesus Menendez wrestled to get a lawnmower out of the back of the trailer of his landscaping truck. The handle of the mower was tangled in the railings. The rakes and collection bins had not been stored correctly the night before. The old Chevy truck was parked facing down the hill. A block of wood was forced under the right rear tire which was old and bald. The block of wood was black with grease and age.

3   Michael went airborne as he came off the first mogul. He felt his ass rise right up off the seat and his stomach leap into his mouth. He gripped the handle bars to keep the bike from tearing out from under him. Usually this was the point in the ride that he began to brake, but today the pavement was dry. There were no cars in front of him. There were no cars behind him. There were no cars climbing the hill. There were no buses. This was THE day if ever there was one to ride like there was no tomorrow.

  As Michael Peretti raced to meet his fate at the bottom of the Counterbalance Hill, Betty Ann McNamara was walking to her job on Western Ave. She had parked in the garage at the corner of First and Yesler and begun her familiar trek, past the old Trattoria Mitchelli building and north on Western Avenue. Seattle Monthly occupied the top floor of the CD Boren building, which was mid-block between Columbia and Marion Street. Betty Ann was in a hurry. She had a lot on her mind this morning. The fall fashion shoot was this afternoon. Her brain was full of layouts and designs, because that was her job….