Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mom, Dad, and Deep Third POV

Periodically on whatever writing loop or group I belong to, someone asks everyone else whether to use "Mom" and "Dad" in the narrative for the deep third POV character, or "his mother/mom" and "his father/dad."

It seems like such a simple question. You want your third person POV to be as deep as possible, climbing under the skin of your main character and showing the reader his world and experiences through his eyes. So, if he calls his parents "Mom" and "Pop," then perhaps they should be "Mom" and "Pop" throughout.

I have to admit, that never really set well with me, and recently I figured out why.

During the day, I've been editing a manuscript in which the author wrote in the deep third person POV of an eight-year-old child I'll call Cheryl. Cheryl called her mother "Mommy." So, I read sentences like these: Cheryl looked for Mommy, Cheryl helped Mommy, Cheryl tried not to get Mommy mad, and so on.

In the evening, I've been reading Brandilyn Collins's Double Blind, which is written in first person, in the POV of Lisa. Lisa's mother showed up at her door, taking her entirely by surprise. Collins alternates between calling Lisa's mother "my mother" and "Mom," but when she calls her mother "Mom," it's natural because of the first person POV: "Mom and I exchanged a glance" (quoting from page 123).

Seeing the difference between these two novels brought the answer home to me. The reason using "Mommy" in deep third hits me wrong is because the main character herself is still called by her name.

I rarely if ever think or speak of myself as "Linda." I use the first person pronouns. But when writing in third person, we have no choice but to put in that distance where the character "calls" herself by her name. "Cheryl tried not to make Mommy mad." It seems odd to me that, as the reader goes from paragraph to paragraph, she will call the main character by her name, but the MC's parent "Mommy."

I don't recommend calling "Mommy" Francine while in the main character's POV, but "her mother" is okay, or "her mom." Of course, an alternative is to make sure you have to identify her at all. As I said in "Proper Nouns, Pronouns, and Deeper POV," it's okay to use pronouns. If you've already identified "Mom," it's okay to call her "her" as long as you're not confusing your reader.

So for what it's worth, there's my opinion about something that has confused quite a few newbie authors. Maybe even now it's clear as mud.
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  1. Good points, Linda. And I so agree! I would find the first example very annoying.

  2. I'm writing a memoir in first person. One other thing to consider is, as a young child I called my mom, Mommy. As I age it becomes Mom. But too many Mommy's in a passage would be about as welcome as a two year old chanting, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommmy!" so one has to use even those terms just a few times in a scene.

    1. I agree. This applies when an author is CONSTANTLY using a character's name, too. I don't need to be reminded every sentence or two or three what the main character's name is. Trust me, I remember his or her name just fine if I only see it every couple of paragraphs or so and see he/him/his or she/her in between. That's annoying to the nth and a guaranteed way to have me tossing a book aside. Nails on a chalkboard have nothing on that bad writing habit where I'm concerned.

  3. So true, Heather. Thanks for the tip!

  4. With my current WIP, I made a conscious decision to put some emotional distance between my protagonist and her mother. So far, throughout the whole book (written in third person), I've managed to refer to the mother as "her mother" without having the MC address her directly by name at all. I actually haven't even given the mother a name. I'm finding a few awkward sentences (mainly due to having to specify "which HER are we talking about, as you described above), but overall I'm pleased with the effect :)

  5. Good advice, Linda. I never really thought about it before but, I have tried to do the same as you suggest. I guess I sort of follow examples of other writers I like unconsciously. In this instance, that was a good thing.

    1. Usually following the examples of other writers is a good thing!