The Rayne Tour
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.

Third Person POV, Part I

Most novels are written in third person point of view (POV). But did you know there are different types, or levels, of third person? I label them (1) close, (2) removed, and (3) omniscient.

This month and next we’ll look at the differences in these three types, with an example of each.

1. Close third person is as near to first person POV as you can get. The reader is placed completely within the character’s head, seeing and perceiving the world as the character would. Words, phrases, terminologies, odd ways of speech, etc., all reflect the character’s personality and the way he/she would describe the situation. Close third person is all the rage these days, and what we’ve grown accustomed to reading. It’s become the norm for good reason: It has a lot to offer. (A) It’s intimate, and therefore highly characterizing (if used effectively); (B) because of its intimacy, it adapts itself to that ubiquitous “show, don’t tell” rule. Readers “see” what a character is thinking, for example, as opposed to being “told” what he’s thinking; (C) at the same time, the reader is afforded this intimacy with the character, the third person aspect allows the author to show various viewpoints within the story, unlike first person POV, in which we have the intimacy at the expense of other viewpoints.

Close third person is my POV of choice. I love the way it helps characterize the people in my novels. But it’s not easy to write. Using close third means I must write each POV in a completely different voice so the reader can “hear” the character speak.


In this excerpt from my novel Deceit, the reader meets Melissa. I wanted Melissa’s teenage voice to be immediately heard, as opposed to the adult voices of the other characters. At the same time, Melissa is a bright girl and precocious in her thinking, so that, too, must be evident.

Wow. Sixteen-year-old Melissa Harkoff’s jaw hinged loose. The house was crazy.

She gaped through the back window of the Jackson’s fancy car. A Mercedes. That should have given her a clue. But nothing could have prepared her for this mansion. Two-story, with big gray stones around the front door, and chimneys on each end. The driveway circled in front, a long sidewalk sweeping up to three wide steps of the porch. Green, thick bushes lined the sidewalk, and big pots of flowers sat on the porch. The windows were large and clean. And the house went on for . . . like, forever.

How many rooms did a house like that hold? Twenty? Fifty? Each one must be as long as a yacht.

And one of them was for her. A bedroom. With a sturdy door she could close.

Tears welled in Melissa’s eyes. This couldn’t be happening. Any minute now she’d wake up back in her mother’s filthy trailer. She’d open her eyes to a stained, saggy ceiling. Hear her mother’s hack and cough, the clink of the first bottle she’d pulled from a paint-peeling cabinet. Gin. The whiskey would come later. Melissa would smell the trailer’s stale mustiness of dirt and despair. A life going nowhere. She’d pull on old clothes and slip out the door to school before taking a true, deep breath . . .

2. Removed third person steps outside the character a bit, inserting some psychic distance between the action and the reader. The reader is still looking only at one character at a time and can feel somewhat in the character’s head, but not as completely. This POV is less warm, less emotionally intense, but can be very effective in the hands of a skilled writer. For in this POV, the author’s narrative voice is often louder than the voice of the character. You’ll see more “telling” than in close third person. But here, the telling—again, if it’s done well—will seem appropriate and compelling. Far fewer contemporary novelists write in removed third person. Dean Koontz is one author who does it extremely well.


Here is an excerpt from the opening scene of Koontz’s new novel, What the Night Knows.

The thump of the wipers matched the slow, heavy rhythm of John Calvino’s heart. He did not play the radio. The only sounds were the engine, the windshield wipers, the rain, the swish of tires turning on wet pavement, and a memory of the screams of dying women.

Near the main entrance, he parked illegally under the portico. He propped the police placard on the dashboard.

John was a homicide detective, but this car belonged to him, not to the department. The use of the placard while off duty might be a minor violation of the rules. But his conscience was encrusted with worse transgressions than the abuse of police prerogatives.

At the reception desk in the lobby sat a lean woman with close-cropped black hair. She smelled of the lunchtime cigarettes that had curbed her appetite. Her mouth was as severe as that of an iguana.

After glancing at John’s police ID and listening to his request, she used the intercom to call an escort for him. Pen pinched in her thin fingers, white knuckles as sharp as chiseled marble, she printed his name and badge number in the visitors’ register.

Hoping for gossip, she wanted to talk about Billy Lucas.

Hear how the description of John in the third paragraph is more of a removed “telling?” Rather than being completely in his head and feeling guilt as he remembers something in his past, we are simply told that his conscience is “encrusted with worse transgressions.” The strength here lies not in the complete immersion into the character’s mind, but in the author’s voice. Note the repeated use of “the” in the last line of the first paragraph. Koontz did this for the sake of sentence rhythm. While in close third person we would “feel” these things more with John, here Koontz relies on the strength of his narrative.

Next month we’ll take a look at omniscient third person.


Excerpted from Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins.

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