1. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    Writing First Person, but with Third Person Pronouns

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Mikmaxs, Jan 21, 2017.

    So, here's a conceit I'm considering for a short story: Someone is part of a cult, and has had her identity pretty much overwhelmed and, in her mind, she no longer exists as an individual. It's told from her perspective, but because of her frame of mind, she thinks of herself as just that 'She'. So instead of saying 'I walked across the room', she would say 'She walked across the room', or something similar.

    The idea is that partway through the short, something will happen that reaffirms her identity, breaking her out of that mindset, and from there on she'll think of herself in the First Person again. Or, rather, she always WAS thinking in the First Person, but now she's referring to herself as 'I'.


    The question is, how do I clearly convey this? I can't think of any real explicit differences between Third Person Subjective and First Person using third person pronouns, so I can't think of a way to subtly foreshadow this with style at the beginning without just explaining it to the audience in a blunt, explicit way.
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Wasn't something like this done in Anthem? It's been too long since I read that... oh, no, I think Rand just used plural pronouns for the first part, rather than singular. Similar vibe, but different technique. And really not too subtle, as I recall!

    Using third person... hmmm. Like you, I have trouble thinking of a difference between close third and first beyond the pronouns. Could you do something with dialogue? Have your MC struggle to say her name, or use "I" even when speaking?

    That's all I can think of...
     
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  3. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    She doesn't struggle, actually, she just straight-up doesn't use "I", even when talking explicitly about herself and what she is doing. That's the one method that's probably going to reinforce it, but I'm still concerned that the prose won't reflect it, and it may come off as too jarring when I make the transition without some other kind of reinforcement.

    (I never read Anthem.)
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To echo @BayView as regards the use of dialogue to make it clear to the reader, you could have a bit of dialogue at some point where someone is clearly referring to her, yet she responds as she.

    "Do you truly believe?" asked Jill.

    "Yes, she believes." Doubt filled her. Eyes welled with tears.

    "I do not hear conviction in your voice." Jill flicked her hair back in disgust.

    "She believes! She swears to you!" The tears spilled and would not stop.

    Melodramatic and silly, but you get the picture. :)
     
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  5. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    As a former member of such a cult, I might be able to help. Marines in boot camp aren't allowed to use anything but the third person, so sentences come out like "Sir, Private Aschendale requests permission to ask the Drill Instructor a question!"

    "What, f*ckface?"

    "Sir, my, er, the private's mother-"

    "MY!?! MY?!?! On your face, bend, one two one two..."

    Errors like that can reveal how she's speaking, and exist in the real world.
     
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  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Cthulhu on a pony, I'd forgotten about this. It was the same in USAF basic. I wasn't there long. Having the full high school JROTC got me out of basic in week two. I don't have a basic grad picture, though. Shame, that. :bigfrown:
     
  7. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    You only had two weeks of basic because of some high school classes? The Marine in me is frowning even harder than he usually does at zoomies :)
     
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  8. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Trust me when I say that the airmen we left behind (there were three of us dipping out early) were just as unimpressed with our departure. :whistle:
     
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  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Wait - you called the DI 'Sir' in the marine basic ?

    In the UK army that would generally elicit the response " Sir ? SIR? I'm a fucking sergeant, shithead, I work for a living"
     
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    Yeah I like @Iain Aschendale and @Wreybies idea of the pronoun switcheroo, where she would go from third to first person in the dialogue. Doing that with the narrative POV would be tough, but not impossible. I would have her refer to herself by name maybe? Like:

    They only served beans. Angela hated beans. Wait a minute, Angela loved beans. Beans were good.

    Then later on she narration would switch to "I". I'm not sure. It's not impossible but it has a lot of cheese potential if not executed exactly.
     
  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Bigsoftmoose feels that this could be confusing for the reader unless it is somehow signaled or explained
     
  12. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    Mikmaxs agrees, but the question is... How?
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Pretty much you've got to do a bit of telling or showing about why she feels this way ... in someways this would be easier to do in third as you could write her without a personal identity... doing it in first you'll need to show her thinking to demonstrate why she doesn't have an identity and that's going to be difficult without using 'I'

    I suppose one option is not to explain but to write the first part seemingly in third without identifying who the narrator is, the go to the big reveal at the start of part 2 when the reader realises that 'she' is actually 'I'

    Another option is the dreaded prologue or equally dreaded flash back/dream written in third to show her losing her sense of identity and explain why
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2017
  14. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps you can ease us in? Does she have to go directly to the she pronoun off the bat? Can she ref herself in 3rd person with other syntax? In Spanish we have a particularly syrupy form of formal address where the speaker refers to him or herself in the 3rd person through certain stylized phrases.

    Este humilde servidor se permite enviar a la honorable embajada unos documentos.....

    This humble servant permits himself to send the honorable embassy some document....


    This is just part of how we speak in Spanish. It's had to translate into English (I'm a translator and interpreter by trade) because we have no such tradition of repurposing the 3rd person in this way that doesn't sound condescendingly servile, almost mocking. The use of reflexive is often in play as a way of clearly indicating self rather than other. So, not as a constant, but perhaps as an introduction her manner of self address?
     
  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but in boot camp and boot camp only, after that it was a PITA to have to actually read the rank on people's collars rather than just screaming "AYE AYE, SIR!" at them.

    Short fun story, I was sent to one of the offices while in boot camp and saw another recruit respond to a female Staff Sergeant with "AYE AYE SIR!" before bolting down the passageway. The look on her face was, well, remember the look on Indiana Jones' face before he shot the guy with the scimitar? The look that was later attributed to diarrhea chills?

    Yeah, that. Shoulda said "ma'am," but there are very few "ma'am's" at that station...
     
  16. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Back when I was serving we didn't have ma'ams in the RGJ - you'd see female admin staff , wait staff etc but they were civilians on contract.

    in terms of addressing the DS during training we either used rank or with the friendlier ones you could call them 'Staff'. Admittedly I was a POC so technically we outranked the noncoms training us... very very technically and not at all in real life. A POC who tried to pull rank with a DS would find himself having a short, painful, and one sided conversation in which his many failings as an officer and a man would be plentifully explained and disected
     
  17. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Senior Member

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    I didn't initially think it relevant, but I suppose it bears mentioning that this is a piece of fanfiction - Specifically, Warhammer 40k fanfiction. This saves a lot of time with setup, because many elements are inherent to the setting. (The inner workings of the cult, basic setting stuff, the general dehumanization of the populous in general and the specific dehumanization of cultists and soldiers.)

    Since it's a short story, though, (probably gonna be ten or fifteen pages,) I don't want to let the story drag on too much with backstory. This isn't about how she became a cultist or was indoctrinated into believing herself to be nothing - The history isn't important. It's the jumping off point, that's all.


    Would it help to write in present tense? I feel like the shift would work better in that context, because the shift is being narrated live as it happens.
     
  18. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I don't know anything about warhammer so i can't really help there - in general terms i think the problem is that 10 or 15 pages written in she is just going to read as a story written in third.
     

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