This is a short piece I wrote in March, 2008. My goal was to write a scene in third person without any direct reference to what the main character was thinking, but still try to clearly convey his thoughts and feelings. I'm posting this not because I think it's a great piece of writing, but because it illustrates the difficulties of a third person objective narrative voice.
Steven clicked the Submit Payment button, then set aside the power bill and picked up the next envelope from the stack. He slit it open with the letter opener and pulled out another bill. After glancing at the total on the front, he turned to the next page, and then froze with a stunned look. Hearing the doorknob turn, he quickly set the paper down on the desk. Janet poked her head around the door.
“Still paying out the bills?” she asked.
He nodded wordlessly. She had on her suede coat, and was carrying a small handbag. “You heading out?”
She looked down at her purse and began rummaging through it. “Kelly called. She’s having a rough time and needs a shoulder to cry on.” She retrieved her keys and turned away. “Don’t wait up. I’ll probably stay there tonight, especially if we have a couple drinks.” She half turned her head around, not quite looking at him, with a tight smile. “Besides, you aren’t a pile of fun to be around when you’re doing the bills.” She walked briskly down the hall, and Steven heard the door open and close.
He stood and walked slowly to the front room. He watched her through a gap in the living room curtains as she settled into her Honda and backed out of the driveway. After she turned the corner, he continued to stare out into the gathering dusk. Finally, he turned away and retrieved a rocks glass from over the liquor cabinet. He wiped the thin layer of dust out of it with the end of his shirt, selected a bottle of Cuervo Gold and splashed two fingers into the glass.
He swallowed half of it in one mouthful, and made a face as the burn spread from his mouth into a warm glow across his chest. Returning to the spare room, he picked up the telephone bill one more time and did his best to stare it down. Then he shoved it to the bottom of the stack, shut down the computer, and took what was left of his drink to his throne in the living room. Janet had long since given up trying to get him to get rid of the ugly high-backed chair. He sipped the remainder of the drink in the dark, and stared at the blank TV screen long after the glass was empty.
Finally, he washed the glass and put it away. He stood there for a moment, then switched on the light and picked up the phone.
He started to punch in a number, but switched off the phone and set it back down. Then he picked it up again and keyed in the entire number. He put the phone to his ear and waited.
“Hello, Helene? It’s me, Steve… Yes, really… I was wondering if the offer was still open… I know, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” He listened for several seconds. “That sounds nice. Let me get cleaned up quickly, and I’ll meet you there in an hour… Yeah, me too. See you shortly.” He hung up the phone, and went into the bathroom.
As he washed his face and ran a comb through his hair, he stopped for a few seconds to look at the stranger in the mirror. Then he turned away, and changed into a fresh shirt and khaki’s. He locked the door behind him on his way out.
Note that the reference to the stranger in the mirror in the last paragraph is a slip. It is a subjective reference, so it doesn't really conform to the rules I had imposed for the exercise.
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