Some authors are getting sloppy with their point of View, and the sad thing is, they don’t even know it

Third-Person Limited: This POV is characterized by the use of “he” or “she” and the character’s name, as in, “John hated math. He hated it immensely.” Unlike third-person omniscient, the third limited spends the entirety of the story in only one character’s perspective, sometimes as if looking over that character’s shoulder and sometimes going inside the character’s mind, and the events are filtered through that character’s perception (though less directly than first-person singular). – Jane Friedman

I write in third person restricted (limited) most of the time and tend to like novels that also use this POV. (Jane Friedman–in the link above–lists points of view, how the function, and the pros and cons of each.) I feel like I should e-mail this link to some of my favorite authors because they cheat, knowingly or unknowingly, when they write in third person restricted. I’m not sure how their editors miss it,

Fortunately–for those of us who are purists–these authors don’t include the thoughts of other characters (unless they alternate the POV chapter by chapter–which is okay). Usually it’s something small, done to keep the reader reading.

Let’s say the main character is named “Bob.” This means that if Bob doesn’t see it or hear it or learn about it from another person, readers can’t know about it.

What I see most often is something like this:

Bob closed and locked the front door to his house, fired up the fishing car he used when following bad guys, and drove down third street toward the waterfront. He didn’t see the dark figure standing in the woods across the street.

This is when I want to shout OBJECTION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the dark figure across the street.”

If Bob didn’t see the dark figure, s/he can’t be in the book. This is a cheap trick authors use to tip off the reader that the main character is being watched/followed.

I also see this:

Bob watched the Benton house on a dark night with a cold moon. They did normal Benton things, cooked hamburgers on their Weber grill, watched the TV news, and went to bed early. They didn’t know this was the last night of their lives.

Oh, so Bob is a psychic is he? Well, that should have been established earlier in the story. If he’s not a psychic, then this sentence can’t be in the book.

I want to shout OBJECTION, NO FOUNDATION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the motion that one or more of the Bentons is about to kick the bucket.”

Sure, we all know why the author did this. Even though we know, we also know that it’s unnecessary. It’s a cheap trick that’s supposed to ramp up the suspense by killing the suspense.

We need better editors.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series, featuring a cat, a conjure woman, and things that go bump in the night




4 thoughts on “Some authors are getting sloppy with their point of View, and the sad thing is, they don’t even know it

  1. True dat. Sadly, despite a plethora of creative writing courses and degrees, many writers now cannot bring themselves to stay in the head they have chosen. I guess they would argue, to your ‘objection!’ that they are, actually, using third person omniscient. In which case they are under-using it woefully.

    My own bugbear from recent readings is the way authors flit from tense to tense, often within a single sentence. It makes my head spin! Writers using the present tense (oh, how wearing that is to read for a whole novel) tend to be the biggest culprits. If one is already nicely nestled in the past tense it seems to be more difficult to stray into unnecessary timeframes.

    I’m guessing a lot of this is because people aren’t using editors to self-publish (I don’t, actually). The rest of it could be because underpaid editing these days is a cursory activity. Or performed by inexperienced editors. But the whole panoply of ‘proper’ English is regularly derided as unnecessary in this age of textspeak. Meaning quickly becomes ambivalent and nuance lost. We are all the poorer for that.

    1. I have no problem with third person omniscient if it’s used throughout the novel, but can’t see it as valid when it suddenly appears in a teaser sentence at the end of a scene or chapter. Multiple tenses in a sentence annoys me as well. Yes, I suppose people are getting to casual about usage. The authors I was thinking about were all big names who certainly should have had publishers providing standard editing.

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