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Let's say you have a scene with Maria, written in third person from Maria's point of view. Then you have a scene with Akash, written in third person from Akash's point of view - and suppose they do not know each other.

Next, we have a scene with Maria meeting Akash for the first time, written in third person from Maria's point of view. Before Maria finds out Akash's name through dialogue, how should the narrator address Akash in the scene?

For example (1st scenario):

Maria saw a handsome man.

"Hi," the man said. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Maria said.

"Do you know the time?" the man asked.

"It's 3:00PM," Maria said. "What's your name?"

"Akash," the man said.

Then from here on I would address "the man" as just "Akash" in this scene.

OR (2nd scenario):

Maria saw a handsome man.

"Hi," Akash said. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Maria said.

"Do you know the time?" Akash asked.

"It's 3:00PM," Maria said. "What's your name?"

"Akash," Akash said.

My hunch is the first scenario, but I wanted to see what others thought. The reason I ask is because of timing. Let's say the scenarios above are much longer, and Maria doesn't find out the name of Akash until much later in the scene, or she finds out his name in another scene later on.

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Just because a scene is written from a character's point of view does not mean it is written based only on information available to the character. The first responsibility of the narrative it to make events clear to the reader, so it should generally be written in terms of what is known to the reader.

Think about the difference between exploring a new place for the first time yourself and showing a familiar place to a new person who has not been there before. If you are familiar with the place, you will see your companion noticing features of the place, but they will be places that are known to you, and you will think of they by their usual names. You can certainly imagine, and share sympathetically in, the delight your companion is feeling in seeing the place for the first time, but you can never yourself see it with entirely new eyes again.

So your reader, once you have taken them to a place or introduced them to a person, can never entirely go back and see them with entirely new eyes, even if they are following the POV of a character who has never been there or never met this person. If you introduce Akash as if they were an entirely new person, the reader will not only assume that that Maria has not met this person, but they have not met them either. Then when that person is revealed as Akash, the reader will feel that the writer has intruded to conceal from them the identity of a character they have already met.

We tend to talk about POV as if the so-called limited POV as if it were an iron clad and wholly time-synchronous box from which the narrative could never escape. But trying to maintain that approach leads to all kinds of problems, such as the one you describe.

Life gets a lot easier if you regard all third person narratives as inherently omniscient narrative in which the writer may choose, temporarily and for effect, to follow the POV of one character, with the complete liberty to pull back to the broader view whenever narrative convenience demands it. Indeed, if you are switching POVs in a story, this is implicitly what you are doing anyway. So don't be afraid to linger in the omniscient a while between one POV and another in order to smooth the transition.

And remember that as far as the reader is concerned the entire story is experienced from the reader's POV. The author controls what that POV is at any given moment of the story, but the reader's POV is consistent and continuous from where the reader sits, and you can't, for effect, un-tell them any part of the story that you have told them already.

  • Really good answer. In my opinion there could be situations where concealing something - in this case, Akash name - could be used to generate suspance, but Mark's point are quite valid. – Reinstate Monica. Aug 8 '17 at 11:24
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    @Liquid, Yes. but equally you can create suspense through dramatic irony by revealing that the man who is still a mystery to Maria is in fact Akash, with all that may imply for Maria's future prospects. Suspense often come more out of what we do know than what we don't know. There is more suspense in a horror movie when we know the madman is in the house than when we don't. We know -- better than that characters -- what the danger is, the suspense lies in not knowing who is going to die first, when, and how. But there is no suspense until we know that there is danger. – user16226 Aug 8 '17 at 11:39
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Such situations in writing could be resolved once you attribute certain qualities specific for your character.

When Akash is introduced in a scene (before meeting Maria), make sure to detail his appearance and behaviour specific to him. Next, when he meets Maria, she notices these peculiarities in him while still addressing him as 'the man'. So the readers know Maria has met Akash in that particular scene, while she can remain ignorant about his identity in as many scenes you choose. Better yet, introduce him in a particular setting, defining his entire look, and in the next scene he bumps into Maria.

For example, Akash is a handsome young man with specs, keeps his beard trimmed, is not comfortable around strangers, and constantly fidgets with things when nervous. In his introduction scene, he was in his office, dressed in formals, negotiating a deal with his clients. Next, he comes in cafeteria and meets Maria.

Maria saw a handsome man (describe his look briefly). He scratched his beard as he approached her.

"Hi," the man said. "How are you?" He ran his hands on the bridge of his nose.

"I'm good," Maria said.

"Do you know the time?" the man asked nervously looking at his empty wrist.

"It's 3:00PM," Maria said. "What's your name?"

"Akash," the man said.

Remember not to overdo the description or it might reduce the impact of the scene. Just drop subtle hints specific to the character and bring it back when needed.

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Ultimately, it's up to you what you prefer stylistically and what best serves your story. As an extreme example, consider a mystery novel where clues are peppered throughout, for a savvy reader to find and assemble. In that case, you're taking the reader on the same path as a detective investigating the mystery, and having the reader preempt the dramatic conclusion may be rewarding, as long as it's not too obvious. They might revel in their own "eureka" moment, or exult "I knew it!" when the game is up, so to speak.

On the flipside of that, a thriller/horror story might be better served by demonstrating early on from an omniscient POV that Akash is a ruthless serial killer, so that every moment Maria spends getting closer to him makes the reader's skin crawl - because of course, from her POV, he's a handsome stranger.

So to relate back to your example. If Akash is a very well established character, naming him from the outset colours the reader's perception of the "handsome man". If it better serves your narrative to illustrate Maria's perception of him without the reader's preconceived notions, then he becomes "the man", possibly with little clues for the savvy readers. If it better serves your story to clearly illustrate that two of your main characters are meeting for the first time, name him.

On timing, I'd be very wary of deferring identification of Akash until a future scene, unless you have a compelling reason to do so.

Enforcing a strict POV will make your job and potentially the reader's job more difficult, so it's really up to you to draw a line where you feel comfortable. For me personally, the only real rule I adhere to is to enforce hard separation of inner monologue. For instance, I would avoid the following:

Damn, Maria thought. That is one fine gentleman.

You, smiled Akash, silently regarding his next victim. Yes, you will do nicely!

For me, jumping POV so quickly is really jarring - but your mileage may vary! Stylistically, you might decide that contrasting the characters' inner monologues like that enhances your narrative.

It really is down to your personal preference and what best serves your narrative. Good luck!

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    Oh, and sorry for personifying Akash as a serial killer. I'm sure he's a great guy. – Vocoder Aug 8 '17 at 5:23
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You can choose to not use narration. Use dialog and action instead.

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    Welcome to Writers! Can you expand on this? – Neil Fein Aug 9 '17 at 16:00

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