Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

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Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sat Feb 21, 2015 8:42 am

A story is written in third person when the characters are referred to by their names, or by such personal pronouns as he, she, they, them, etc. Think of third person as storytelling mode.

There are actually several sub-divisions of third person POV, but in the interest of length and simplicity, I’m only going to cover two of them: third person limited and third person omniscient. If you’re interested in a deeper study of third person, feel free to post a question, or to branch off on your own.

Many novels now considered classics were written in third person omniscient POV. In that POV, the narrator sees all and knows all, including the thoughts and emotions of all the characters. Thus, it wouldn’t be uncommon or wrong to read—even within one paragraph—both how Jan reacted to her shoe-eating dog, and how Ben felt about the fact that Jan refused to clean up the tattered mess.

This POV is not nearly as popular as it once was, especially (according to my research) with publishers. In ultra-short fiction such as the Writing Challenge, it may be best to avoid it. This is NOT a hard-and-fast rule. However, if your POV character is Gertrude for your whole story, and suddenly your reader learns how much Dexter has always secretly despised her marshmallow meatballs, it can be slightly disorienting. If you get comments mentioning POV switches, that’s probably why.

But please—feel free to experiment with third person omniscient POV. It’s a legitimate writing style, and it has its advantages:

1. It’s really fun to be omniscient! You get to hang around inside the heads of all your characters, and to see the plot unfolding from everyone’s viewpoint.

2. It works well in stories where there are several characters of equal importance.

3. It’s probably the most flexible POV—you (the author) are not limited by the thoughts and emotions of one character.

Just be sure that if you’re using this POV in a Writing Challenge piece, you establish it early—avoid having a single incident of hopping into a secondary character’s mind in the 15th paragraph.

The other kind of third person POV is third person limited. This one seems to be most popular in the Writing Challenge, and according to my research, it’s also currently the most popular with publishers.

In third person limited POV, you (the writer) stay inside the head of only one main character. You write what Jan does, what Jan sees, what Jan thinks and feels. Anything you have to say about other characters must be filtered through Jan, and is limited to what she can perceive or infer.

Advantages of third person limited POV:

1. You and your readers really, really get to know that POV character.

2. It’s more realistic than omniscient—after all, we humans are limited to our own perceptions.

3. It gives your piece unity. Your POV character is the thread running through every sentence, paragraph, and chapter.

The obvious limitation of third person limited POV is that sometimes, things have to happen when your POV character is “off the stage”. If that’s the case in your story, you have to signal your reader somehow—set off a section with a row of asterisks, or italicize a paragraph that’s outside of your character’s experience.

Finally, as with first person and second person, third person POV can be either past tense (far more common) or present tense (very contemporary and literary). Here are a few examples from Challenge entries:

Third person, past tense: Almost Missed It uses this combination (except for a present tense epilog). It works well for narratives where the storyteller is able to step back and examine her characters objectively (describing their negative characteristics as well as their positive ones), for narratives that don’t need intimacy or immediacy (which is why I switched tenses for the epilog), and for portraying action.

Third person, present tense: Whispers, which isn’t very well-done, factually, but which demonstrates good uses for this POV: stories where the reader is viewing intimate lives, moody stories with few characters, or a story with a feeling of immediacy. You need to be careful writing in third person, present tense; if it’s not done well, it will sound like paragraphs and paragraphs of stage directions.

Homework:

1. Ask a question or make a comment about this lesson, OR
2. Add to our knowledge of third person by telling us something you know or have observed about this POV, OR
3. Give some advantages/disadvantages of omniscient or limited third person that I have not thought of, OR
4. Link to one of your Writing Challenge entries that uses third person, and tell us a little bit about your writing process.


I'll be on a plane most of today, but will be able to answer posts this evening (and all week, of course).
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by KatKane » Sat Feb 21, 2015 1:16 pm

I wrote this piece for the greed challenge. I chose 3rd person present tense, partly because I've seen it done in other entries and really liked it, and because I felt it would heighten the atmosphere in the piece. My MC was on a journey and it kind of helped convey that. Can't really explain how. As there's really only one character here, I can't decide whether it's an omniscient or limited. My gut says omniscient as it comes across that way, but I could be wrong on this. Anyway, here's the link. http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50217
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sat Feb 21, 2015 11:12 pm

Kat, that's a wonderful piece, and I believe (but I could be wrong) that it's third person limited.

I'd be interested in why you chose not to give him a name.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by Allison » Sat Feb 21, 2015 11:31 pm

Do you think it's safe to say that fantasy is commonly written in third person omniscient, maybe even more so than third person limited? To me, it makes sense in fantasy novels, because you need to get sense of an entire new world, and one character's POV isn't going to give you that whole world perspective. In non-fantasy novels, you know that this is happening on earth, in whatever time period it's written in, and you can expect that certain rules will be followed. For example, your MC isn't going to suddenly transform into a bird, unless its in a dream. But in a fantasy novel this is possible, because the rules of earth don't apply.

So what I'm trying to say is omniscient might be better when you need to convey an entirely new world, with new laws and new... well, everything. You need to know what that creature is thinking, because, hey... maybe there's a valid reason this creature is attacking another, and you wouldn't know that unless you get inside the heads of both characters. Also, it's far less jarring in fantasy, because when reading fantasy, it's almost like you're omniscient yourself, looking down on everything to try to piece everything together.

But for realistic fiction, it feels odd, since you can't look down on everything in real life.

I hope all of that made sense.

Anyway, this time I'm going to try to follow your rule and only post ONE challenge article. It will be a hard decision as to which one to pick, though.

I chose a recent one that did well. This was for the suspense/thriller topic, something I never thought I was good at. In fact, I want to say that since the challenge was switched from volunteer judges to editors, this is my first serious piece that did well that was pure story form. I've had other serious once place, but they've either been poetry, or an alternate format. (Journal, Skits, a back and forth between two characters where the reader knows the thoughts of both, etc.)

I got the idea for this one when I searched for writing prompts online. One of the prompts was "End your story/chapter with "I found peace in the rain." Or something like that. Then there was one that was "write a story about this picture" and it was a raging forest fire. So I started thinking about why someone might be running through a burning forest, if he/she wasn't a firefighter. Well, the forest fire got nixed, and this is what I came up with. I was also kind of thinking of "The Hunger Games." I was joking it's "The Hunger Games" meets "The Giver" meets a post-apocalyptic world. I also wanted to combine some sci-fi into it, since I didn't get to enter that week. So... yeah. This was the end result.

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Also, while I'm thinking about it, Jan, since I know you like sci-fi (or at least I think you've said you do...), what would you suggest for someone like me who doesn't necessarily like "alien" stories, but loves sci-fi like "The Giver" series, "The Hunger Games," and "Ender's Game?" Do you have any suggestions? Sorry. I know this is off topic. But it came naturally when thinking about my entry I posted. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by KatKane » Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:13 am

I chose not to give him a name because this piece was more allegorical than a narrative. The plural in the title was completely deliberate, because mine referred to two things - a mine as in the deep shaft underground and mine as in the possessive. The story could be either be literally an event (obviously fiction) or an allegory of the how it's possible to be trapped and damaged by the possessive form of mine. The other unnamed character in the back of the frame is who (or, perhaps, Who) knew the person needed to be rescued. I want the reader to draw their own conclusions, and I think if I had given either this mystery character or the MC names, I would have given them the conclusion.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by DustBSH » Sun Feb 22, 2015 7:23 am

I did this challenge entry on greed in the third person.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50232
I never really knew much about all these diffferent possibilities in wrtiting and so forth. I always wanted to write, but it never really took off, until I joined Faithwriters last year. I just wrote without knowing what I was actually doing. Ha. But I am amazed to see how writing is such a beautiful art, in which so much has to be learned and so much can be done to really grow as a writer. Thanks for all the input here. :D

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Sun Feb 22, 2015 1:25 pm

Here is a link to my entry “Inmate 4859.” I wrote it in third person limited from the POV of Witold Pilecki. I described his thoughts and feelings as well as his words and actions as he came to the realization that the Nazis were exterminating the Jews:

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=49905

I don't think first person would have worked for this entry. If I were to write in first person, I think I would have to use present tense. Somehow it just doesn't sound right.

In the second part of the entry, I wrote a conversation between two unnamed English government officials. I think the switch of POV was necessary for two reasons. First, to the best of my knowledge, Pilecki never actually met face to face with members of the English government. Second, even if he had, it is doubtful that they would have expressed to him so directly, their contempt for the Poles. By hearing the English POV, we understand why Pilecki’s reports of the Holocaust were ignored.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:51 pm

KatKane wrote:I chose not to give him a name because this piece was more allegorical than a narrative. The plural in the title was completely deliberate, because mine referred to two things - a mine as in the deep shaft underground and mine as in the possessive. The story could be either be literally an event (obviously fiction) or an allegory of the how it's possible to be trapped and damaged by the possessive form of mine. The other unnamed character in the back of the frame is who (or, perhaps, Who) knew the person needed to be rescued. I want the reader to draw their own conclusions, and I think if I had given either this mystery character or the MC names, I would have given them the conclusion.
Great explanation! I liked the effect, and I wanted people to see what your rationale was, and how writers make those sorts of considered decisions to maximize the effectiveness of their writing.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:53 pm

DustBSH wrote:I did this challenge entry on greed in the third person.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50232
I never really knew much about all these diffferent possibilities in wrtiting and so forth. I always wanted to write, but it never really took off, until I joined Faithwriters last year. I just wrote without knowing what I was actually doing. Ha. But I am amazed to see how writing is such a beautiful art, in which so much has to be learned and so much can be done to really grow as a writer. Thanks for all the input here. :D
Good example of thrid person writing!

I'm glad that you're continuing to learn and to hone your craft.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:54 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:Here is a link to my entry “Inmate 4859.” I wrote it in third person limited from the POV of Witold Pilecki. I described his thoughts and feelings as well as his words and actions as he came to the realization that the Nazis were exterminating the Jews:

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=49905

I don't think first person would have worked for this entry. If I were to write in first person, I think I would have to use present tense. Somehow it just doesn't sound right.

In the second part of the entry, I wrote a conversation between two unnamed English government officials. I think the switch of POV was necessary for two reasons. First, to the best of my knowledge, Pilecki never actually met face to face with members of the English government. Second, even if he had, it is doubtful that they would have expressed to him so directly, their contempt for the Poles. By hearing the English POV, we understand why Pilecki’s reports of the Holocaust were ignored.

Cinnamon Bear
I love reading about writers who make these sorts of stylistic decisions based on the kind of story that they want to tell. Thanks so much!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by rcthebanditqueen » Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:56 pm

I have a question for clarification.

Gotta play with my little mental blocks to keep it straight in my head. Okay. So in manuscript A that I'm working on, Ritchey is the main character (3rd person) and no one else has a POV. That would be 3rd person limited.

Manuscript B alternates chapter by chapter (or scene by scene) between Chance's POV and Audie's POV. I don't go into the heads of all the characters, just those two. Does this count as 3rd person omniscient? For some reason I had in my head that omniscient meant a whole group of different POVs, like 3 or more.

Hope my question makes sense.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2015 4:04 pm

rcthebanditqueen wrote:I have a question for clarification.

Gotta play with my little mental blocks to keep it straight in my head. Okay. So in manuscript A that I'm working on, Ritchey is the main character (3rd person) and no one else has a POV. That would be 3rd person limited.

Manuscript B alternates chapter by chapter (or scene by scene) between Chance's POV and Audie's POV. I don't go into the heads of all the characters, just those two. Does this count as 3rd person omniscient? For some reason I had in my head that omniscient meant a whole group of different POVs, like 3 or more.

Hope my question makes sense.
Actually, I'm not sure, but I don't think it's omniscient when each character has their own POV scenes. It's when the reader experiences different POVs within the same scene. I think.

Here's an example of two paragraphs of third person omniscient POV from "To Build a Fire," by Jack London:

***

[The man] plunged in among the big spruce trees. The trail was faint. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over, and he was glad he was without a sled, travelling light. In fact, he carried nothing but the lunch wrapped in the handkerchief. He was surprised, however, at the cold. It certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numb nose and cheek-bones with his mittened hand. He was a warm-whiskered man, but the hair on his face did not protect the high cheek-bones and the eager nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty air.

At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, gray-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment. In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero. Since the freezing-point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained. The dog did not know anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink along at the man's heels, and that made it question eagerly every unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.

***

Notice that this is all the same scene, but the reader is told the thoughts and perceptions of both the man and the dog.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by rcthebanditqueen » Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:40 pm

A-HA! Thank you, Jan! Now I understand. So it's within a scene. Good to know.

That excerpt was fun. That happens to be one of my favorite stories, although I never recognized the omniscient POV before this lesson. "Favorite" as in "leaves me shredded every time I read it but I can't get enough of Jack London's writing OMG I must have more more more". :mrgreen:

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SHE WRITES IN THIRD PERSON

Post by JudySauer » Sun Sep 27, 2015 9:05 pm

Jan,

I learned a lot in this lesson and did not know more than one third person POV exists. It was eye opening. I've written third person POV using omniscient however I do not have a link to that writing.

Thanks for the useful information.

By the way, ever since taking some classes, I find myself editing my words be it tight writing or another lesson. Thanks for increasing my skills which have quite a way to go with knowledgeable expansion.

Judy
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