We authors all know that writing fiction in a third person limited point of view comes with a lot of challenges. Yesterday, someone asked me if I could write specifically about two of them.
- When your narrator is limited to following one character, how do you stay in that one character’s POV consistently?
- How do you develop other characters without getting into their heads too?
Fleshing out a Supporting Cast
First off: If this is something you struggle with, I suggest you read or reflect upon the Harry Potter series. It is a fabulous example of efficient characterization with a third person limited POV.
JKR’s books aren’t perfect, but man, does she flesh out characters such as Snape, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Lupin! And the narrator never gets near their heads. The reader is always with Harry.
This characterization problem also makes me think of my first published novel, because my narrator is always with Kora and stuck knowing only what she knows
I did employ some tricks to develop other characters. And while a couple of bad reviews show that not everyone thinks I did a great job, most reviewers have said they connected with the characters in the novel. Thinking back on how I approached the problem of developing secondary characters:
- Eavesdropping. Eavesdropping doesn’t have to be intentional, and once or twice in a novel, it can provide a nice way to throw the focus on a secondary character without breaking POV.
- The awkward spectator. Your protagonist doesn’t always have to be the focus of the action. You can definitely include some scenes where s/he happens to be present when some aspect of life for someone else blows up. This puts that someone in focus. Just one way to employ this next tip:
- Give a glimpse of a secondary character’s “other life.” Remember your secondary characters will have goals, dreams, and lives separate from their connection with the protagonist. Bring those aspects of their personality into play. Let them create tension and frustration.
- Make great, great use of dialogue. Don’t underestimate how much dialogue can do to reveal the thought processes, desires, fears, and reservations of your characters. And don’t forget: what someone doesn’t say can reveal just as much as his words. (This post, if you’re interested, is all about characterization through dialogue.)
- Use gestures, actions, and other physical cues to show what a character is feeling. You don’t have to get in a character’s head to describe her pulling on her hair or biting a nail. Or to note that he’s leaning in with narrowed eyes in an act of intimidation.
- Your protagonist can ask for help and/or advice. None of us can do it alone. Not only your supporting cast, but your protagonist as well will come out as real, developed people with strengths and weaknesses when they work together and share the load.
- Consider changing to an omniscient POV. If you’re having issues developing characters other than your protagonist, consider allowing your narrator into their lives too. If a limited POV is too tough, maybe your story is telling you limited isn’t the way you should go. You don’t have to end up changing: but it’s worth the contemplation, right? You don’t have to worry about “head-hopping” (or breaking your limited POV) if you go omniscient.
I talk about “head-hopping” at length in Writing for You. It’s one of the topics I specifically wanted to include in the book because I’ve never talked about it on the blog, and I wanted new content in the book for those who follow my blog regularly.
In the POV chapter, I talk about how head-hopping isn’t always a negative thing. People do if effectively all the time when they have an omniscient narrator. The trick is to set the reader up for the change and provide a transition. To go into head-hopping deliberately and with a focus. I go into great detail about how to do that in my upcoming release.
So, have you had issues with head-hopping or developing secondary characters? How did you solve them? How distracting is to you when you read a novel with head-hopping?
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