Close third person is one of the other most common points of view – you show things through one character’s eyes. (Having multiple viewpoint characters is essentially the same, if you’re showing the scene through only one character’s eyes at a time.) Here’s where I see writers slip out of viewpoint most often, in order to tell us what another character is thinking or feeling. Make sure you’re showing only what your main character can see and hear.
Beware also about slipping out of viewpoint to describe the setting, or action that the main character doesn’t notice. Phrases to watch out for (when “she” is your viewpoint character):
- She didn’t notice as he...
- The day was lovely, but she didn’t notice.
- Wrapped in her own thoughts, she didn’t see...
You can’t tell us what your viewpoint character is not noticing. You can have her barely notice something, or notice but not pay much attention. In a similar vein, you can’t have your viewpoint character fall asleep or go unconscious and then continue telling us what other people are doing or saying. You can have her fall asleep as someone is speaking, but forget the words by the time she wakes up again. But your main viewpoint character MUST be able to see, hear and/or feel whatever you share (or guess at it based on her observations).
And personally, I can’t stand foreshadowing with phrases such as She didn’t know it yet, but... or If she had known then what would happen.... It’s not only a viewpoint shift, it’s lazy writing. Don’t promise me that things will get more exciting in the future – make them interesting now.
Finally, be careful also about describing your main character’s appearance. For example, “Her blue eyes widened.” Granted, she knows she has blue eyes, and she may realize when she’s widening them. But would she really be thinking about the color of her eyes? That’s authorial intrusion, where the writer is trying to shove in some character description. To really stay in your character’s point of view, you have to show the world as she experiences it. You should be able to switch to first person, and still have it feel natural. For example, “I pulled my hair back into a ponytail” sounds natural. “I pulled my shoulder-length, blonde hair back into a ponytail” doesn’t quite, unless your MC is obsessed with her appearance.
Some beginning writers are tempted to use the omniscient viewpoint in order to avoid these complications. But true omniscient has its own problems. First of all, it’s less common today, especially in children’s literature, and can sound old-fashioned. (Writing as an outside, omniscient character can work for fables, folk tales and fairytales, which are traditionally in the storyteller’s voice and are supposed to feel a little old-fashioned). Second, the distance can keep your reader from feeling close to any one character. And third, most people who try it actually write in shifting third person, jumping between characters – which is probably the most difficult viewpoint to pull off successfully.
• Review a recent piece of yours, checking carefully for subtle point of view shifts. Fix them.
• Rewrite a short story, or a scene in a novel, from a different viewpoint. How do things change?