1. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    Help with writing in 3rd person

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Foxxx, Dec 28, 2016.

    Hey there, been afraid of making this thread for a while, but here goes.

    Basically, I struggle writing characters (or writing in general) in 3rd person. Some of the big criticisms I get of my 3rd person writing include improper use of tense and POV (slipping into omniscient; between past / present). I'm simply at a loss of what to do.

    Because of that, I don't know how to properly get into each character's head, and translate it to the page. The only way I can do it is with italics. So for example: "There was no way he could go back," Jayson thought. This grows tiresome though, and is very... rookie?

    As far as *how* 3rd person is written, is there a difference between the narrator being a separate entity versus the story being narrated by the character(s)?

    The story I'm writing follows two different characters. So it is very important that I can improve my ability to write in 3rd person. I need to be able to delve into their minds, while also maintaining a clear separation between the two characters (each chapter follows either one or the other, but not both). This would also allow for comparing and contrasting the two of them, which means they would feel more alive and real. For parts of the story the characters, a man and woman, are not together; then later in the story they are together and developing a relationship.

    Hope this made sense. Guess what I'm asking for, is some tips? Examples? Maybe some books I can read (whether they be "books about writing" or fiction). I'm already reading a dystopian series called Quarantine, which is written in third person, however the author taps into the heads of many different characters.

    Speaking of tapping into the heads of different characters, what constitutes as head-hopping, and why is that such a bad thing? Or is it a bad thing?

    Cheers,

    -Kyle


    P.S. Other books I'm reading include the Metro 2033 series, and The Hunger Games series. Also dystopian. Trying to read books that I not only enjoy, but might also help me overcome my failure... but so far no dice; something's getting lost in translation. Frustrating.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016
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  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, though your question confuses me a bit.

    3rd person omniscient is when the narrator is most truly a seperate entity. In this mode of writing you can do a few things that you cannot do in 3rd person limited. You can see over the proverbial wall to what's on the other side, even if there is no character "on set" to do the looking. In older works you will also find the narrator giving opinion and thoughts on happenstance and people. In more modern 3rd person omniscient, the narrator doesn't do this so much, and is used more for its ability to be where characters are not and to give us insight into each character's thinking.

    In third person limited the narrator is still seperate from the character, but you stay with one character, or you can do what's called serial 3rd person limited where you stay with one character for a span of time (often a whole chapter). This let's you give the reader insight into each of the characters, but you can't do it from character to character to character in one paragraph and then the next and then the next (head-hopping). ETA: I say "can't", but clearly it does happen and there are lots of examples in published work. Maybe instead of "can't" it would be better to say "people start to gripe".

    The part that confuses me is that at no time in 3rd person is the character ever going to narrate. In third person limited you ride very closely to the character, but never with the character actually being the narrator. The character only speaks when he or she actually speaks and internal thought is given the way you showed, though it's not at all necessary to always give it a dialogue tag the way your example gives, just the same way that normal dialogue doesn't always need a tag. When it's obviously a thought and it's clear who's thinking it...
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The thing with head-hopping is that it can be difficult for the reader to follow. I finished Frank Herbert's Destination Void a few months ago, and jinkies, did he ever head-hop. So, it get's done, it happens, lot's of books have it, but it pissed me off every time a new internal thought was given that didn't make any sense to belong to the character we were just engaging, so who's flipping thought is that?????? Grrrrrr..... If you have a deft turn of phrase and can give a clear signal that we're changing gears before the hop, then you're one of those authors that people cite as examples of where it can be made to work. If you're not, then no.
     
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  4. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    @Wreybies

    Sorry for taking so long to respond, but thank you for the explanation! Definitely gave me some much needed clarity and confidence.

    So basically, in omniscient 3rd person, the narrator is more like a god-figure. That is, he has access to anywhere at anytime, and to every character's thoughts. Regular third person narration only has access to knowledge that they'd realistically have access to--or in other words, it is limited. And the only time the character would be narrating, is if I switched to first-person and it was like a journal / diary entry, for example (unless the character is a Khajiit from the Elder Scrolls!)

    I understand if you're busy, but you appear to have more than a good handle on this sort of stuff. Would you mind taking a look at one page of my current project, when / if you have time? I would like to know if you find anything of particular concern, at least in terms of 3rd person. :)
     
  5. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Most definitely there is a difference! We have numerous threads about the difference between 'close' 3rd person, versus 'distant' 3rd person vs. 'omniscent' 3rd person, but basically what it is is a shift between 'nearness' from the narrator to the POV character. In close 3rd person the narrator sits very close to the POV character. Some people also make a distinction between close 3rd person and 'deep', but I am not opening that cattle of worms right here. I encourage you to google the terms, and when you have read up you can make an informed decision which kind of POV you want and how much narrative distance. And then you can learn to do that - happy writing! :D

    If you have more than one POV character it is certainly possible to give all the facts the reader needs by shifting between their viewpoints - because all of them would see what they have around them which is not necessarily all - but another MC might have a bit of different experience right - and give the reader the missing facts from the first MC? Sorry for the long sentence ;)

    For the 'Hunger Games' we are in Katniss' head the whole time, this is what I'd call close 3rd POV from one MC. I can't give you a good example of omniscent 3rd (I don't enjoy it so I don't read it, sorry).
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2016
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  6. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    Ah okay, that makes more sense.

    I think my story would benefit from having a closer 3rd person, rather than distant. Although, being the tools that they are, I'm sure there might be a few instances - even during the story - that adding a little distance might bear some sort of use. I'll be sure to give this some consideration.

    Don't worry about the omniscient 3rd person, I wasn't planning on writing it. Just wanted to make sure I knew what it was, and had a clearer understanding of the facets. :-D

    -Kyle
     
  7. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Just found a good blog http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/26/point-of-view-the-full-story-introduction/ with a good introduction into how the different narrative distances work. I always get confused so I stick to my own preferred writing distance - just for the record I am not opposed to omniscent POV, its just that I personally don't enjoy it but to each his own :)


    edit to add:
    You are very perceptive. Indeed it is! :)
     
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  8. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    Thanks for the blog resource, Lifeline--love it and have bookmarked it! And to the OP, I struggle with getting this "just right" in terms of tense, etc. also and I will catch this (hopefully) in revisions. (Revise, revise,revise!) I am also in a writer's group with some very experienced writers and we "catch" each other slipping out of POV all the time. Point being, write the story and fix some of this on revision. As far as giving the character's thoughts in 3rd person, it is fine to say (for example): As John ran from the exploding building he thought that there was no way he could go hack. (no italics or quote makes needed.)
     
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  9. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    This is a good example. Be aware, that the 'he thought' is a 'filter' in narrative distance, it removes the reader a bit from the feelings of the MC - and in this situation, action-loaded, this is something I'd never do. The reader should feel the immediacy.

    I'd write something like (in my brand of close 3rd POV):
    John ran from the exploding building. His heart pounded. No way could he go back, on all counts.
     
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  10. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    Agree--much better!
     
  11. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    and to round it up add something like

    John ran from the smouldering building. His heart pounded. No way could he go back, on all counts. The hot shockwave of the explosion reached his back and an ear-shattering blast squelched individual sounds. No chance, at all.

    :D
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2016
  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The only thing I can promise with complete certainty is that I'll flake on you. o_O Just running this place takes most of my free reading time. Sorry. @Lifeline has a good grasp of the concept and the finer variations on 3rd limited, which are much harder to explain and come down to subjectivity and style. It looks like you've got all your requirements in line to make use of the Workshop. I would suggest you avail yourself of it. Remember that you don't have to post something from your actual WIP. Write something for the sake of learning and feedback and post that. It's still your writing, your style, your words. Feedback on it will benefit you as much as an actual set of paragraphs from your real live WIP. Think of it like training for a marathon. You don't train in the marathon itself. There are uncounted runs that happen well before you pin that entry number to your chest. :)
     
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  13. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Did you just volunteer me @Wreybies ? No, I don't mind ;) Thank you for the compliment btw :)

    The OP can send me a page - but be aware that I have committments to my critiquers, my Alpha/Betas and more than that is not possible at the moment.
     
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  14. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, no. Not volunteering you so much as availing myself of you as an example of the fact that we have a knowledgable membership base here in the forum. I'm certainly not the only one who understands these concepts of POV and there most certainly are those who know it better than I do. ;)
     
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  15. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    THIS.

    This this this.

    That's what I was trying to get at in my original post, when I mentioned using "he thought".

    What I don't understand, is how would "No way could he go back, on all counts." be John's thoughts? Isn't the narrator saying that? Or is it just assumed those are John's thoughts? <-- That's my disconnect with trying to grasp this.
     
  16. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    In this example John is the 3rd person narrator. Distance is not there, the reader IS John, and the use of 'John' is (almost) interchangeable with the use of 'I' in 1st person. This is what I'd call 'deep POV' (though @BayView might have a different opinion ;) ). So any sentence you might read is most definitely John speaking - the reader is in his head.

    In this brand of 'close 3rd', you have to be very careful to make sure that the reader knows the difference between John's thoughts and events he observes. This is very important if there are more than one characters on the scene and John interacts with them. In conversation this can lead to confusion if you as the author are not very, very clear. Any Beta worth his salt should point out these confusing instances, though as you get more experienced writing in this style you get more adept at catching them while typing.

    As Wreybies has said, writing is a continuing effort and you or I can't ever lean back and think we are adept at it. There'll always be 'mistakes' where you fall out of voice in first draft - this is only normal. Just don't give up learning, ever!
     
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    There isn't generally a personified narrator in close third POV. It may help to think of it as the narrative coming from inside the character's head, but not from the character herself?

    For my writing, I distinguish actual thought words from general thoughts with italics. So "No way could he go back, on all counts" would be a sort of paraphrase of what John's thinking and wouldn't need to be set apart from the other text. But if John actually thought something in words, it could be set apart and, to my taste, shifted to first person.
     
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  18. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    When I started out I had the same problems and questions you do now. What really helped me was researching it, as Lifeline suggested, and reading as many critiques on this forum as possible. You can do a search on this forum for "point of view" and find tons of threads on the subject. I do limited (or close) third person, and the narrated thought--or whatever is the official term for it--in Lifeline's example is all over my story. In fact, I'd say it makes up a big part of my writing style. If I want a direct thought from the character, I like to italicize it and write it in first person present tense:

    John ran from the smoldering building. His heart pounded. No way could he go back, on all counts. The hot shockwave of the explosion reached his back and an ear-shattering blast squelched individual sounds. No chance, at all. He pulled Mellisa closer to his chest.
    How will I keep her safe without a place to live?

    VS.


    John ran from the smoldering building. His heart pounded. No way could he go back, on all counts. The hot shockwave of the explosion reached his back and an ear-shattering blast squelched individual sounds. No chance, at all. He pulled Mellisa closer to his chest.
    How would he keep her safe without a place to live?
     
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  19. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    The way I think of it is that you are literally telling the story from the POINT OF VIEW of the character. You are not only describing what that character would see, smell, hear, and feel, but also what the character would think and feel on an emotional level. You are allowing the reader to experience the scene literally as the character experiences it--it, obviously, makes the scene much more alive.
     
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  20. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, so yes, I understand what you're getting at here because yes, we are in a realm where we are very close up against the line with this particular example, the other side of that line being the realm of 3rd person omniscient, where this observation would be an opinion that the nameless narrator is giving us. Is the narrator intruding, or is this John's engagement of events that's being reported to us? We could probably spend 10 pages' worth of posts arguing back and forth simply because it is arguable. In this particular case, for me, it's clearly John's thought process that is being given to me, 3rd person, through the narrator. Context is building up to and supporting this. It fits that he would be thinking this in this particular example. I can literally see him looking over his shoulder as he runs thinking this thought, even if it weren't necessarily a thought that John rationalized in words in his head, but was more of a visceral acknowledgment. It doesn't feel like an unsolicited intrusion of the narrator at all. If the narrator were to say something instead like:

    John ran from the exploding building. His heart pounded. John was an idiot.

    Clearly now that last bit isn't coming from John. Not the way it's written. If John were thinking himself an idiot for, say, having caused the aforementioned explosion, we would need a syntax that more clearly links the thought as a thought or observation belonging to John. As is, it's a random observation without enough contextual support to make that jump and that doesn't feel like it belongs to anyone, so can only belong to the narrator intruding into the scene.

    But again, this particular example we're playing with makes me think of something I was once told: It's very easy to explain to someone the difference between ten in the morning and ten in the evening as regards how things look outside. It's the difference between 11:55 am and 12:05 pm that will have you at each other's throats. ;)
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read the whole thread, but you don't need the italics there. Or the quote marks either. It's not a direct thought, as you've written it. If you start using quote marks for thoughts, then it's going to become very difficult when you start using dialogue as well.

    This would be a direct thought:
    A direct thought shows the wording exactly as the person would be thinking it. I know some folks don't agree with me, but using italics for direct thoughts is really handy. In fact, you could eliminate the 'Jayson thought' tag altogether, and just use the italics, if the context is clear who is doing the thinking.
     
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  22. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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  23. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Yeah, me too ;) But be aware that this way of talking has numerous pitfalls. It was not easy to learn for me - took the better part of a year. Also: once you start talking like that it's almost impossible to forget and slip out again. On the plus side I am now a better critiquer :)
     
  24. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    Happy New Year! Thank-you for the help everybody! Definitely have a much clearer idea of where I'm at, and where I'm going.

    I think one of my issues, is I feel that I never really "learned" english. Not from a textbook anyway. I mean yeah, I did well in school, but mainly I learned from reading, speaking, writing-- you know, just using the language. I've always been a more hands-on learner.

    That being said, I don't know if it's really an issue. I'm not worried about it, anyway. But my point is that it is very interesting to delve so deep into these mechanics of writing. It's stuff you don't really notice when you're reading; I just know that there's "something" I like, or don't like, about a book. But it's cool how the more I learn, and the more I continue to try (thanks to some sort of madness, or foolishness), the better I get, and the more I can specifically define *what* I enjoy, or dislike, about a book.

    Really, my writer's journey feels like the journey of becoming a magician.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2017
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  25. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    Yeah, I always get surprised when a 'gut feeling' I rely on in my writing suddenly gets explained. Writers have to rely on instinct, or ability so deeply anchored that we never think of it - else we wouldn't get any words down :)

    But I enjoy reading blogs on and off about the mechanics of writing, and mull over how I write.
     
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