A huge element of style is the point-of-view a writer is most likely to write in. Is everybody clear on exactly what ’3rd person limited’ is? If not, here’s a quick run-down of the POVs.
First person’s easy. Your second grade papers were most likely written in first-person. And of course I’m writing in first person now. In a story, the writer assumes the main character’s (MC’s) viewpoint and writes only what s/he is thinking.
…making the main character psychic. The MC shouldn’t know what someone else is thinking, etc.
It’s immersive. The reader gets into the story by living in the main character’s head, experiencing exactly what s/he’s thinking and seeing.
If other characters split up and leave the MC, the writer might have the tough task of showing the reader what happened to those characters. It can be problematic. Should the writer have the characters catch up with the MC later and fill him in? Or jump into another person’s head for awhile (This method can be used, but it’s jarring to the reader to adjust to a different character in first person)? Either way, it’s difficult to pull off.
Second person is just like the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series of books:
As you enter the cavern, you discover what appears to be a forgotten ruin. Lantern in hand, you approach a stone doorway. On the floor around you are four carved runes in a circle. A stone—emitting an eerie green light—is hovering above the rune to the north.
Okay. I got a bit carried away with that example. (I used to read CYOA books all the time. My favorites were always the ones about pyramids, dungeons, knights, ruins, etc.)
Aaaanyway, second person is pretty rare. Can you name a good book that was written in second person? :)
…using 2nd person unless your storyline really honestly fits this unusual POV.
You can write Choose Your Own Adventure-style books! Or you can play mind-games with the reader. This style is definitely avant-garde. A prolific writer might be able to pull off interesting stunts using it. (Maybe you can even hypnotize the reader?)
Readers don’t like this style for a reason. By employing it, the writer is essentially making the reader the main character. Telling the reader what they are doing, how they are feeling, etc, is a whole new level above using words and punctuation to force the reader to interpret writing a certain way.
There’s a few ways to tackle third-person: omniscient and limited (and people sometimes try to invent other ways, too).
3rd Person (Limited):
Third person limited is young; it became prominent in mainstream books in the early 90′s. It’s a POV that sits neatly between the advantages of first person narration and third person omniscient narration. IMO it is the best of both worlds, making it my favorite POV to write in.
Limited has you go into each scene choosing a particular character. The reader experiences the scene through that character’s eyes, knowing only what that character knows, observes, or thinks. The writer can jump into another character’s head by either getting to the end of a scene, chapter, or doing a simple page break between paragraphs.
Choosing different viewpoint characters for particular scenes can be the difference between ‘dull’ and ‘interesting’. So choosing the ‘correct’ character for a given scene is quite the challenge.
If a dragon is coming to attack a city, the scene can be written from the dragon’s point of view. It can also be written from a city guard’s point of view. It can even be written from a scribe’s point of view in the middle of the city during the panic. Each of these options tell the same scene in very different ways.
…psychic characters. There’s no way the POV character is going to feel what another character feels or know what they are thinking. Also, avoid purple prose. Try to come up with ways to show instead of tell whenever possible.
When the reader is aware of only one character’s perception in a given scene, you can hide things from them. You can let the reader feel shocking revelations right along with the character. The plot twists can be more impactful. The frightful scenes can be more scary. And because third limited lets the reader connect with many of your characters, when one of them succeeds at something they’ve struggled with, it can be very uplifting for the reader. And a death can be utterly devastating.
You don’t have quite as much freedom in description and can’t ‘head jump’ as liberally as you can in omniscient. It spreads reader sympathy over many characters instead of just one like with first person, and too many POV characters can leave readers disoriented and confused.
3rd Person (Omniscient):
Omniscient is where the narrator is a separate character who knows what is happening everywhere. The writer can say phrases like ‘Meanwhile…’ or ‘Little did they know…’ using omniscient. This god-like narrator also knows that birds dipped through the clouds 5,000 meters above the action and that a horseless cart is careening towards a defenseless baby a block and a half away. Fellowship of the Ring is written in this style.
…’purple prose’. A writer can easily fall into the trap of telling more than showing using omniscient. If they get too carried away, they might find themselves describing unimportant details, like the detailings of a tea set in a room.
It’s easy to jump from one group of characters to another mid-chapter or even mid-scene. You can describe where the wind blows, what a random stranger is thinking, or build suspense as a killer approaches the MC from behind with a dagger.
The reader doesn’t get to live inside a character’s head. They are told everything, which doesn’t leave much room for mystery.
A quick recap:
First Person: I entered the store.
Second Person: You entered the store.
Third Person (Limited): Joe entered the store. Making his way to the refrigerated section, he ran into his friend, Johnny.
Third Person (Omniscient): Joe entered the store. Little did he know, Johnny was loading a gun in aisle six.