Using POV character's name


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  1. #1
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Using POV character's name

    First of all, a disclaimer: I may be improperly using the term "POV", so let me provide my definition and then feel free to tell me how wrong I am
    For me, POV is not necessarily a character telling the story in the first person. It may be told in the third person, but still concentrating on the character's thoughts and emotions, and depicting the events the way the character sees/experiences them.

    So, with that said, and assuming I am writing such a "third-person POV" story, how would you feel if that person were to be occasionally referred to by his/her name, as opposed to strictly and exclusively pronouns? And I mean not by collocutors in the dialogues, but rather as part of the narration.

    Let's say, I have a female character named Jane.
    Consider the following 2 variants:
    Jane looked up. She saw a man entering the room.
    as opposed to
    She looked up. She saw a man entering the room.
    "Jane," said the man.
    Obviously, if this were in the first person, there would be no such question. No (moderately sane) person refers to herself by name.

    In the case of third person, though, I suspect that using the character's name may be detrimental to the reader's focus on "being in the character's head", as if adding more indirection.

    What do you fine folks think?
    Is this a legitimate concern, or am I overthinking it?
    Last edited by KHK; February 15th, 2020 at 05:55 AM.

  2. #2
    I think using their name is pretty conventional. I try to mix up my name and pronoun so that I’m only using one of each per longer paragraph, in general, if I can.

    Here is a random third person limited paragraph from my last trunk novel:

    Ada let the stars guide her. A bright constellation near the horizon pointed the way west. Superstition warned against using the world-eating serpent as a guide, but she found scarcely little reason to believe in evil portents, at least until now.

    Edit: in retrospect, I don’t like the sentence order here. I think waiting to call constellation by name until the later sense is a writerly bit of false tension (trying to be interesting) and almost a POV break because she would have recognize the constellation before she started navigating by it.

    Also: “a bright constellation” is so abstract as to be meaningless, in a scene where I needed to be more concrete.
    Last edited by JohnCalliganWrites; February 14th, 2020 at 09:21 PM.

  3. #3
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I think using their name is pretty conventional. I try to mix up my name and pronoun so that I’m only using one of each per longer paragraph, in general, if I can.
    And that's exactly what I've been doing too.
    The thing is, when writing certain segments where I got into the flow, and really managed to get into the character's head, I found myself referring to her almost exclusively as "she". As if that would be the most natural thing to do for her (not for me).
    So this got me thinking... Am I doing this wrong?
    Last edited by KHK; February 14th, 2020 at 09:20 PM.

  4. #4
    I think being in the flow and in a characters head is more important. When you revise it, if the pronouns sound too thick and repetitive to your ear, you could change them then.

  5. #5
    Member hvysmker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I think using their name is pretty conventional. I try to mix up my name and pronoun so that I’m only using one of each per longer paragraph, in general, if I can..
    You could use a thesaurus. There are many on the Internet. I use a downloaded one named "artha". A free cross-platform English thesaurus that works completely off-line and is based on WordNet."wordnet" is the Windoze version. I think it is still free.

    All I see used are she and her name. How about "her" and "that girl", etc?

  6. #6
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hvysmker View Post
    You could use a thesaurus.
    How would a thesaurus be of any help here?
    Names and pronouns don't have synonyms, AFAIK... Or do they?

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by KHK View Post
    First of all, a disclaimer: I may be improperly using the term "POV", so let me provide my definition and then feel free to tell me how wrong I am
    For me, POV is not necessarily a character telling the story in the first person. It may be told in the third person, but still concentrating on the character's thoughts and emotions, and depicting the events the way the character sees/experiences them.

    So, with that said, and assuming I am writing such a "third-person POV" story, how would you feel if that person were to be occasionally referred to by his/her name, as opposed to strinctly and exclusively pronouns? And I mean not by collocutors in the dialogues, but rather as part of the narration.

    Let's say, I have a female character namde Jane.
    Consider the following 2 variants:

    as opposed to


    Obviously, if this were in the first person, there would be no such question. No (moderately sane) person refers to herself by name.

    In the case of third person, though, I suspect that using the character's name may be detrimental to the reader's focus on "being in the character's head", as if adding more indirection.

    What do you fine folks think?
    Is this a legitimate concern, or am I overthinking it?
    You might be mixing up "POV" and "person" to a degree, at least it seems so. They are related, though.

    POV (Point Of View) - the character who is acting like the 'camera' if your story was a movie.

    Person/POV (example: 'This story is told in third person POV") is really just saying that the story is in third person. That perspective will be employed in writing that POV.

    So your actual question which I think is when to use the POV character's name and when to use a pronoun. I would argue that the whole reason for any of it is to keep the reader from being confused.

    If that is the case then it has less to do with how you write one line than how you put your prose together.

    Third-person example:

    Jane had been waiting half an hour when a tall silver-haired man finally arrived, frowning when he saw her.

    "I gather you don't have an appointment," he snapped, walking past her to the locked door.

    "I haven't had one before, why start now?" she said, standing and following him.

    He could try to slam the door to keep her out but she had worn her sh*t-kickers today and she would put her foot in that door. Or wherever.

    ***
    Okay, not a great example but does it help at all?

  8. #8
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    First of all, thank you for the detailed response.

    Quote Originally Posted by Foxee View Post
    You might be mixing up "POV" and "person" to a degree, at least it seems so. They are related, though.
    POV (Point Of View) - the character who is acting like the 'camera' if your story was a movie.
    Person/POV (example: 'This story is told in third person POV") is really just saying that the story is in third person. That perspective will be employed in writing that POV.
    As I said, I'll be the first to admit to incorrect use of terminology. The important part is that I, apparently, managed to convey the spirit of the question
    Speaking of which...

    Quote Originally Posted by Foxee View Post
    So your actual question which I think is when to use the POV character's name and when to use a pronoun. I would argue that the whole reason for any of it is to keep the reader from being confused.
    Exactly!

    Quote Originally Posted by Foxee View Post
    Third-person example:

    Jane had been waiting half an hour when a tall silver-haired man finally arrived, frowning when he saw her.

    "I gather you don't have an appointment," he snapped, walking past her to the locked door.

    "I haven't had one before, why start now?" she said, standing and following him.

    He could try to slam the door to keep her out but she had worn her sh*t-kickers today and she would put her foot in that door. Or wherever.

    ***
    Okay, not a great example but does it help at all?
    Uhm... Sorry to say, but I'm afraid it doesn't. It actually is an example of confusing text, where the Person/POV (or whatever ) seems to be floating from one character to another, and back. And that is precisely what I'm trying to avoid.
    Let's see.
    The first line implies (or at least gives me the sense of) that Jane is "the Person". She sees the man arriving, and he doesn't have any apparent way of knowing that she had been waiting for half an hour.
    The second line kinda shifts the perspective a bit to the guy, but not in a definitive way. Could still be either, but together with the first line I could let it convince me that it's still Jane.
    Third line: Jane again? Or is she? Unclear, but more likely that she's the one.
    And suddenly the forth line slams the door on my presumptions heretofore (sorry for the pun ), making me think that the guy is the protagonist... Unless these are her ideas on what he could do? Not without some struggle through the sentence.
    And after rereading the whole piece I start thinking that maybe it was her all along... But my main point still stands: it's confusing. I was forced to try to "pick sides", and had a pretty hard time doing that.

    I understand that if I were given a wider context, this analysis would probably be moot. But then again, if there is even a portion of the text that confuses the reader (as the one above does), that could break the reader's focus - and we don't want that, now do we?

    Now, had it opened with "She had been waiting..." - I would have had no doubts at all that she's the main character here, because of the way it is implied the story teller (and with the story teller, the reader) already supposedly knows who this "she" is. And that's exactly what my original question is about.

  9. #9
    I hope I’m not exposing my ignorance here, but as I see it, you’re treating the narrator as part of the story. In third person, the narrator is an observer telling the story from your character’s point of view. If you sat down with a friend and told him what Tom did at work, you would definitely use his name. And in that story you could mention other people that were involved. Then you would add a name to help identify who’s who. So instead of saying, and that was his last day at work. You would say, and that was Tom’s last day at work. Both are correct.

  10. #10
    I apologize in advance for how this post looks. The system doesn't seem to be working correctly for me with bringing in all the quoted text that I want.
    As I said, I'll be the first to admit to incorrect use of terminology. The important part is that I, apparently, managed to convey the spirit of the question
    Don't be mad, please, but I disagree. The whole reason for terminology is so that we understand each other. I'm not trying to criticize you on this, I'm trying to help you so that you can express yourself well.

    Okay this example thing did not do what I expected, I think because you're really trying to take away more than what I tried to put in!

    Originally Posted by Foxee
    Third-person example:

    Jane had been waiting half an hour when a tall silver-haired man finally arrived, frowning when he saw her.

    "I gather you don't have an appointment," he snapped, walking past her to the locked door.

    "I haven't had one before, why start now?" she said, standing and following him.

    He could try to slam the door to keep her out but she had worn her sh*t-kickers today and she would put her foot in that door. Or wherever.

    ***


    Uhm... Sorry to say, but I'm afraid it doesn't. It actually is an example of confusing text, where the Person/POV (or whatever ) seems to be floating from one character to another, and back. And that is precisely what I'm trying to avoid.
    Line-by-line I can show you why this is not so.

    Jane had been waiting half an hour when a tall silver-haired man finally arrived, frowning when he saw her.

    You say, "The first line implies (or at least gives me the sense of) that Jane is "the Person". She sees the man arriving, and he doesn't have any apparent way of knowing that she had been waiting for half an hour.

    - Jane is not described, instead what Jane sees is described. She sees a tall silver-haired man, she sees him frown when he catches sight of her. The fact that the reader sees specifically what Jane sees indicates that her eyes are the camera, the POV in this scene.
    - The fact that she has been waiting for half an hour is there to give you a sense of time. It is a narrative fact and also fits within Jane's POV because she was the one waiting. It is irrelevant to Jane at this point whether or not the man knows (or cares) that she has been waiting.
    - Also indicating Jane's POV is the word 'finally', this indicates that the half hour wait felt like a long time to her. This provides a tone for how she feels about things.

    "I gather you don't have an appointment," he snapped, walking past her to the locked door.

    The second line kinda shifts the perspective a bit to the guy, but not in a definitive way. Could still be either, but together with the first line I could let it convince me that it's still Jane.

    Non-POV characters can absolutely dialogue with the POV character. Just because Jane observes him speaking, moving, going to a door does not shift POV to him. Rather it strengthens the idea that Jane is your POV character. Once again she is the 'camera' observing all of the things the man is doing.

    "I haven't had one before, why start now?" she said, standing and following him.

    Third line: Jane again? Or is she? Unclear, but more likely that she's the one.

    Jane delivers a line of dialogue, stands up, follows the man. Imagine that your camera can talk (yeah, that's where it doesn't quite match up with the movie-making idea) and has dollied toward the man at the door. We are still securely in Jane's perspective, in her POV, writing in the third person.

    He could try to slam the door to keep her out but she had worn her sh*t-kickers today and she would put her foot in that door. Or wherever.

    And suddenly the forth line slams the door on my presumptions heretofore (sorry for the pun ), making me think that the guy is the protagonist... Unless these are her ideas on what he could do? Not without some struggle through the sentence.

    I'm sorry if I was inadvertently confusing but I'll try and explain because this is another way that Jane's POV is showing. She is thinking about what the man might do and how she might counteract it.

    So in this example the POV character, Jane, has observed, spoken, acted, and thought.

    HOWEVER you have just used a different word..."protagonist". So now I am understanding that you are not just asking about the POV character but you're asking about the hero of the story, the person we should root for. And that's not even mildly what this example was meant to do. You are right if you're talking about figuring out who the protagonist is, it could be Jane, it could be the silver-haired man, it could be neither. There is nothing in this example that can give that information in this little bite.

    And after rereading the whole piece I start thinking that maybe it was her all along... But my main point still stands: it's confusing. I was forced to try to "pick sides", and had a pretty hard time doing that.

    I understand that if I were given a wider context, this analysis would probably be moot. But then again, if there is even a portion of the text that confuses the reader (as the one above does), that could break the reader's focus - and we don't want that, now do we?


    Now, had it opened with "She had been waiting..." - I would have had no doubts at all that she's the main character here, because of the way it is implied the story teller (and with the story teller, the reader) already supposedly knows who this "she" is. And that's exactly what my original question is about.

    And I completely misunderstood your original question. Sorry I couldn't help you. I did want to quibble with the idea that I had written this in a confusing way. Trust me, I did not.

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