I had a problem with posting today. This post showed up yesterday on the blog, thanks to this program I'm trying out called Blogjet. You're supposed to be able to write in Blogjet, then post a "draft." Well, this ain't the first time the "draft" ended up posting for real--all by itself. And I was very careful to click the right thing, so I know it's not my error. I had to delete the post and repost it for this morning. Unfortunately, as a result four comments already posted were also deleted. One was a question. Lynetta, if you'd like to re-post your question, I'll try to answer it.
If anyone has any words of wisdom for me regarding this Blogjet business, I'm all ears.
As I said yesterday, the comments regarding my post last week on “big words” got me thinking. Many of you said an unknown word here or there wouldn’t bother you, or may even cause you to run delightedly to the dictionary. Others said (my paraphrasing), “You dictionary types need to get a life. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story by an unknown word.”
As much as I wish I could use all the unusual words I wanted, I don’t—because I see both sides of the argument. I’ve tried to stick to a few per book, and sometimes even have to fight for those. In light of this topic, I’ve been thinking about what my editors tend to flag in my track changes edits—and why. And I realize that the flagging of unusual words is the result of the editor’s concern over the same thing—that the reader will be “pulled out of the story.”
It’s easy to see why a reader may be pulled out of a scene if the story is written in first person, and some high-falutin’ word is used that the character wouldn’t know or would never think to say. But the lines become blurred in the more commonly-used third person POV. When might a “pulling out” be more likely to happen?
It depends upon the type of third person POV.
There are three types, or levels, of third person POV. Using my non-erudite, not-rocket-science terminologies, I’d label them: (1) Close, (2) Removed, and (3) Omniscient.
Close third person is as near to first person POV as you can get. The reader is placed completely within the character’s head, seeing and perceiving the world as the character would. Words, phrases, terminologies, odd ways of speech, etc., all reflect the character’s personality and the way he/she would describe the situation. Close third person is all the rage these days, and what we’ve grown accustomed to reading. It’s become the norm for good reason, because it has a lot to offer. (A) It’s very intimate, and therefore highly characterizing (if used effectively). (B) Because of its intimacy, it adapts itself to that ubiquitous “show, don’t tell” rule. Readers “see” what a character is thinking, for example, as opposed to being “told” what he’s thinking. (C) At the same time the reader is afforded this intimacy with the character, the third person aspect allows the author to show various viewpoints within the story, unlike first person POV, in which we have the intimacy at the expense of other viewpoints.
Removed third person steps outside the character a bit, inserting some psychic distance between the action and the reader. The reader can still feel somewhat in the character’s head, but not as completely. This POV is less warm, less emotionally intense, but can be very effective in the hands of a skilled writer. For in this POV, the author’s narrative voice is often louder than the voice of the character. In this POV, we’ll find more “telling” than in close third person. But here, the telling—again, if it’s done well—will seem appropriate, and even compelling. Far fewer contemporary novelists write in removed third person. But one author who comes immediately to my mind does it extremely well.
Omniscient third person pulls the narrative voice way back, inserting the greatest amount of psychic distance between the reader and the action. This is the old classics modus operandi, a la Dickens and Chekhov and the like. Readers don’t feel that they’re in the characters’ heads at all. It feels more like hovering in the corner of a room, watching the action. As a result, the author’s narrative voice has full control, all the time. In the classics age, this POV also resulted in a very formal, stiff-sounding use of words.
So, you see how this fits in with the unusual words issue? In close third person, the author has to pay attention to what words the character would use. In removed and omniscient, the author is more free to use his/her choice of words. Therefore, “bigger” or more unusual words can be used more often in the removed and omniscient voices without making the reader feel pulled out of the story.
More tomorrow. We’ll spend some time thinking about all this, and how it affects us as readers and writers. Your thoughts so far?
Read Part 2