1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    So... that third-person voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by OurJud, Aug 28, 2017.

    This thread comes off the back of another where I mention my difficulties writing in third-person.

    I hope it's deemed specific enough for a thread of its own, but if not chuck it in the 'First-person vs Third -person thread'.

    This is not an argument for or against either, but I've always been very puzzled when a person expresses a dislike of writing in FP because it doesn't feel natural to them. This baffles me because a first-person narrative is precisely what we use when we tell others about the day we've had - what we did, who we met, any events that happened... it's all told in the first-person, which makes it my automatic go-to voice when ever I write creatively.

    I've tried writing in third but can never get beyond the constant internal arguments I have regarding the 'voice'. Who's speaking? Does this voice have emotion and a personality (is it a person/persons)? Should the voice change (in tone and personality) when I switch between characters?

    If I had a character with a foul temper, for example, would I show the reader this by the character's behaviour, or would I divulge it as information I'm privy to, as some all-seeing, all-knowing God-like voice?

    From these questions alone you can get a rough idea of why I struggle, but times these doubts, confusion and uncertainties by ten for when I actually try to write in third.
     
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  2. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I used to write almost everything from a first person for the same reason. I usually write horror / thrillers so it's imperative to be inside the mind of the character to make empathy easier. I switched to third person because I found it easier to read, not write. I keep the first person segments by expressing the characters inner monologue. It took me a few stories to get it down where I didn't accidentally revert, but I've got it now, so just practice writing third person, even if the story sucks, just to get some practice.
     
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  3. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    I turned a 1p to 3p today.

    It was easy & gave me the distance I needed to play around. Quite often my process on a 1000 words - when you hit the limit of 1p - is

    'This is silly,'

    Then I scratch, go again with an extra dimension of the 'he' rather than the 'me.'

    'Me' can be uncomfortable to my sensibility, the character being a racist, a sexist & sizest & an ugly pig in general. So 3p provides more room for risk and exploration. Definitely, you can write a 1p lunatic, but that is more tiring.

    Then I go again, stop fooling around entirely make it a straight piece and sincere. That doesn't happen too often. Normally I've posted it red & raw somewhere important :/

    Days later I resurrect the crap, produce a philosophy lecture, the way I roll, & throw it in the bin.
     
  4. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    You know, @matwoolf, I've kind of missed your deranged ramblings. Not much, it has to be said, but a little.

    @newjerseyrunner - I suppose practice will always be the answer to most things we struggle with, but how do you practice something you don't really understand?
     
  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But I don't talk first person in neat, complete sentences and paragraphs. First person shifts me too close to natural, and then the requirements of coherent writing feel unrealistic, so that the whole package feels unnatural.

    That's not really my main issue with first person. I think that my main issue is that I like to have the option of at least a little bit of distance from my characters. If someone's self-deluding, for example, I like the narrative to be able to barely, just barely, be aware of that. I say "barely", because I generally write in close third person, so I can't reach out very far, but I can reach out a little.

    And then, there's the fact that my mental model of people's minds assumes that there's a LOT going on in there. As I'm typing this, I'm vaguely aware of the traffic on the street below, and the water trying to boil behind me, and the smell, on my hands, of the beans I just snapped, and a whole lot of other things. And I consider all of those things to totally be fair game to write about, even in close third person, because bits of my mind are actively processing them right now.

    If I had a character in exactly the same situation, and I wanted to write a paragraph about the beans, I consider that totally permissible in close third person. But I would feel less open to that in a first person narrator, because that POV is a person actually putting together words and sentences, and if they wouldn't go on about the beans, I don't feel that that option is as open to me.

    So in third person, there's a whole buffet of stuff to choose from, and in first person, I feel much more restricted in drawing from that buffet. I could have a first person character with flighty thoughts, but that would affect the actual personality of the character in a way that flitting from thought to thought in third person wouldn't.

    See, I like having that flexibility in voice. What you're experiencing it as a burden, I see as a bonus.

    That depends on whether you're going omniscient, close third, etc. I offer an example of a grumpy close third person moment that I wrote for another first/third person thread. I feel that I'm quite firmly inside this character's head.

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/is-it-ever-okay-to-mix-first-person-and-third-person-in-one-story.153170/#post-1578227

    As a starter exercise, I would suggest that you write something in first person, and then do a purely mechanical translation to third person--just change the pronouns, nothing else. Then let it sit and get stale for at least a day or two, then go back to see if anything else needs changing. I feel that third person is far more flexible, so I think that translation in this direction should work just fine. Translation in the opposite direction would be more problematic.
     
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  6. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I have a feeling that for most it feels unnatural due to the amount of watching that has been done & most don't think in FP. Also, most have a really hard time keeping tense correct. Add in the thought process...

    Yes, or in another way. I feel third person opens up the options greatly.
     
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  7. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    I suppose I've always thought of the third person narrator as having a personality where "personality" is tone, voice, and prose. Characters and plot live separately from the narrator but are portrayed according to the narrator's personality. The narrator necessarily colors the characters and events of a story, and in my experience, that narrator is most often me. It's my personality that shapes a third person story -- it's the main character's personality that shapes a first person story.

    At least that's the reason I've just pulled out of my ass.
     
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  8. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    That's not very kind. I was only saying how I write a piece.
     
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  9. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Okay. Sorry.
     
  10. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Say it properly. Again.
     
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  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is exactly why I dislike first person. All those stories I tell personally are extemporaneous to the events themselves. They have to have happened already for there to be a story to tell. So when I'm reading a life and death event told in first person I'm always left wondering how a character can run from a burning building, shoot zombies over their shoulder while continuing to narrate. I understand that the narration is not meant to be interpreted literally--really, I get it--but it still feels weird to me.

    Also with first person the narrator has be be really, really interesting to get me into the book. A weak or annoying character might get to slide a bit in third person if the rest of the story is good and I can distance myself from the MC's insipid thoughts, but in first there's no escape. The worst is the snarky/whiny first person MC's. Absolute non-started for me.
     
  12. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I'm very sorry you were offended by my post, matwoolf.

    @Homer Potvin - I understand all that to a certain extent, but if it's illogical narration that we're talking about, here's where my trouble with third comes in. In third, we're listening to a 'voice' who magically knows the inner thoughts, feelings and memories of a character. Who is this person narrating the story? How do they have access to the minds of these characters?

    The most ridiculous aspect off all this is that I have absolutely no problem reading novels written in third, it's just when writing from this POV that my obsessive refusal to accept it kicks in.

    The scary thing is, when I think about creative writing too much, I start to question every aspect of it, and how silly the whole concept of 'making up stories' really is, whatever POV is used..
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2017
  13. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's you, silly! And you have access to everything because you invented everything.
     
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  14. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    You know what I mean. Yes, it's the writer, but it's only the writer as far as the writer is concerned. When I read someone else's stuff written in third, then it's no longer me, is it?

    I think I'm an existentialist.
     
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  15. Dracon

    Dracon Contributor Contributor

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    Of course, I don't literally read out loud, but the words are repeated to myself in my head, which then gives the impression that the I of the story is me. Crazy, I know, but that's what it feels like to me. I keep thinking to myself "this isn't me!" or when a character makes a decision, I think "Well, I wouldn't do something so ridiculous as that" And then that leads to all sorts of further questioning that sort of leads to loss of immersion in the novel, and I can't bring myself to carry on reading about me making decisions I wouldn't make in a world I do not inhabit full of people I don't know.

    As in first-person writing, you only divulge the information that is privy to the POV character only, if it is third-person limited, although other authors sometimes prefer an omniscient point of view. (Though I am less well-placed to describe the subtle differences and leave that to somebody else.) For example, my MC... she is a bigot. She hates a certain class of people and cannot understand how they view things. Therefore, in her internal narration, she is always right - it doesn't matter whether this is actually the case. But I leave it to the reader to contemplate that perhaps her own thought process might just be flawed. But I wouldn't want to impose that on the reader until she actually comes round to changing her view herself. In some respects, it is quite similar to first-person in this way.

    So if you have a character with a foul temper, show it. Show how confrontational they are, how easily they are riled up, but they don't necessarily know that they are short-tempered and there's certainly no obligation to tell this explicity to the reader either.
     
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  16. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To do this:

    You would do this (with a similar sentiment):

    The trick is to write how your characters see the world. Not how you (the writer) see the characters.
     
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  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    @Dracon - that's a wired one, that. The seeing of 'I' as you, I mean. I can understand how off-putting that would be to a reader, but I can honestly say that thought has never even entered my mind. When I read a novel written in first, I'm listening to some guy telling me his story - simple as that.
     
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  18. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    And this for me is why I have no inclination to write in 1st person. I'm not telling my own story, it's more like someone told me the story from their 1st person POV, and then I'm relaying it to others through their eyes. I'm reminded of Andy from Parks & Rec retelling and acting out Roadhouse in front of a captive audience when the cable goes out unexpectedly.

    Like this is almost literally what happens in my brain when I'm writing:

     
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  19. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    But as I said in an earlier post, creative writing is all a bit silly whichever POV you use. It doesn't really make any sense.
     
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  20. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    A quickie regards the confusion I've mentioned about the 'voice' in third person.

    If my character is the type who would refer to a prostitute as a 'whore' during dialogue, should I (the narrator) refer to them as whores too?
     
  21. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Now that's one that you can use to your advantage.

    If you, the author, want to make the point that your MC is "that kind of guy" you could refer to them as prostitutes in narrative, but as whores when MC speaks, or when it's obviously his internal thoughts. If you're in close third, though, most of the world is filtered through his internal thoughts, so you wouldn't have to decide which was which; they'd just be whores.
     
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  22. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I think this is what I'm used to when reading books with a third-person POV. I get the sense that the narrator and the character are the same person.

    But from what I've read about voice etc, everything suggests the narrator is NOT the character. I know that logically they can't be, otherwise he'd be writing in first-person. This is why I get so confused.

    Anyway, having read through the paragraph using both options, it 'feels' right to be calling them whores in the narrative too, so that's what I'll go with.
     
  23. Taina

    Taina Member

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    I have this problem too, writing sometimes feels like a very strange thing to me. But I tend to stick to the third person because otherwise sentences become so subjective that I end up endlessly writing and rewriting and eventually deleting the whole thing. I've thought about this being an existential struggle too, it is indeed a very deep disquiet.
     
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  24. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    @Taina - glad it's not just me. I'm a chronic over-thinker, but when you tell people it's a curse they inevitably fail to understand or sympathise.

    Every single word, punctuation mark, and new paragraph (should it be a new paragraph? Yes? No?) goes through the old brain-mill over and over again until I either grow tired of it or come to some conclusion / decision.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
  25. Taina

    Taina Member

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    @OurJud Yes! Over-thinking always leaves very little to work with. It is a cruel censor.
     

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