Viewpoint – How close is too close?

How close to the character do you have to be when narrating from a third person perspective?

First, let’s review the difference between perspectives.


First person perspective is written from behind the character’s eyes.  This is the easiest way to narrate if you are starting out because this is how we all live our lives.  We wake up, brush our teeth, go to work, come home, have dinner, and go to bed all without knowing what anyone else is thinking.  We have only what we see and hear to tell the story of our day.


This is more than using pronouns like he, she, or they.  There are two types of third person narration: singular and omniscient.  Omniscient is all knowing and drifts between different characters’ thoughts within a scene.  Singular follows only one character’s thoughts in a scene and is what we’re talking about in this post.


The problem with new authors, myself included, is that third person singular narration sometimes floats away from within the character’s head.  Readers don’t need to feel every subtle twitch of emotion, but the narration should flow from what that character sees, hears, and feels.  No one thinks about the color of their own eyes while they’re in a firefight, but they should feel that anxious shutter as the adrenaline grips them.


The general rule is that if the character is unaware of something, that something shouldn’t be written.  If that something is critical to the story, drop pretty obvious clues that the character observes and overlooks but the reader may pick up.  This is a great way to surprise your character in the same way you are surprised in your own life by things you should have paid attention to in the first place.


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