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Author Topic: 3rd person
Member # 5489

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Okay I'm having problems with getting into 3rd person. I've been rereading lately with that in mind, and I can see how well others do it, but I'm not seeing the creating process.

When I do it, it seems more stilted, and in my head I always hear it in first person.

Is this just a question of doing it more and it will seem more natural?

thanks for any pointers, walt

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Member # 5814

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I agree, it seems hard for me as well to write in 3rd person than it does for me in first person. I personally like first person as it gets you intimately into the head of a person or three without being too god-like. I will be trying to write more 3rd person eventually, that is when I get to write again.
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Member # 5137

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I have a harder time writing in 1st person, actually! It's too close, too personal. I feel like the character I'm writing has to actually BE me and that's too much.

Third person, my trick is to get all movie-director on myself. You know "she sat at her computer, it's late, the only light in the room comes from the glow of the monitor. She wondered if the throbbing in her head will go away anytime soon, or if she's going to have to pony up the big drugs. Damn, that prescription will run out soon, she thought to herself."

All about me at this moment, but far less personal than "Here I sit, ..." you see?

For my part, I also think that the first person is a little over done in the marketplace. I don't prefer reading first person stories (partly because it often takes them ages to name the character which just bugs me.) I certainly have enjoyed some, but I find it hard to get past the "why is the author telling me all this?" framing problem in first person. In 3rd, I don't experience that problem as a reader because I comfortably pull up my "fly-on-the-wall" chair and watch the action unfold.

Not sure if this helps at all, but there's one point of view!

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Member # 5638

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I do like KayTi does, make like a movie director.

I see the scene in my mind's eye as though through a movie camera, complete with zooms, pans and cuts, and try to write what the camera sees and the microphone hears.

My camera and mike are often mounted on the shoulder of the POV character. Invisibly of course.

Hope this helps,

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited September 22, 2007).]

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Member # 1955

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Of course, it depends which third person you're talking about. There's third person omni(3PO) and there's third person limited(3PL). And within 3PL, there are degrees: Light or deep.

3PL is told from the perspective of a single viewpoint character, the narration reflecting thier thoughts and observations. In that respect, it's very similar to first person(1P), only the pronouns are changed. With either 3PL or 1P, my camera is located inside the viewpoint character's brain.

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited September 22, 2007).]

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Describe third person omni for me?
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Using the movie analogy - in 3rd person limited, the camera is, as Pat said, mounted on the shoulder of the POV character. Invisibly, of course. And unbeknownst to the poor slob. Don't forget the little sensors that snake from the camera into the POV's brain so we can get some of that interior dialogue, thoughts, feelings. Gotta get those with 3rd person (deep. I don't personally see the point in doing 3rd person limited to one point of view and NOT going deep into that person, at least on occasion.)

In 3 person omni, EITHER, the camera and those sensors move from person to person (switching points of view and enabling access to that person's inner dialogue - more often seen in novel-length work) OR the camera is fixed and just dispassionately observes the scene, like a security camera, making no assumptions about anyone's motivations beyond what can be seen "on camera." Of course in 3rd person omni, the camera moves from room to room as the characters do, so it can continue to record their movements.

3rd person limited, the POV character has to be present at any action you want to directly show/tell the reader. Anything else would have to be TOLD to the POV character through other chars. If Sue and Tom had a fight but George is the POV character, Tom has to TELL George about the fight, or Sue has to storm in and George has to think to himself "Oh boy, they must have had a fight again."

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okay, what i thought. I had a pov comment i while ago, and had been mulling over 3rd person POV limits. thanks, kayti
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Member # 5709

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I just plain can't write 1st person. I recently did something in 1st person instead of my usual 3rd PL and had to go back and change most of the pronouns since I forgot 1/2 way though. It was so annoying.

It's partially because I'm not crazy about reading 1st person, I suppose. I have no problem hearing my characters. It's like evesdropping on someone and I tend to write what they say. They aren't me and trying to write as though they are just doesn't work for me.

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Member # 5952

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I often study how other people write, maybe even try to mimic their style for fun. Eventually all my knowledge melds together and I come up with my own style. So yeah, I think it's a matter of persistence, and experimentation. If one way doesn't work for you, try another. Keep at it--eventually you'll get more used to it.

Third person came rather naturally to me. I sometimes see my book unfold like a movie. More often, I identify the personality of my character within myself, and feel what they're feeling, or think what they are thinking. I spend a few minutes before I write sort of invoking this character.

I think it's usually easier to write in first because we're naturally self-centered (not meaning that in a derogatory way). We start out in the world telling our own stories--I did this, I did that, I feel this way. However, I argue first person is harder to do well. It's difficult _not_ to project your own voice into the story, but to write the character's story in their's. The reason I find third person easier is that I'm already removed from my self, and it's easier for me to see the world with their eyes, instead of my own.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited September 22, 2007).]

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Member # 2883

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OSC covers some good advantages and drawbacks of both first person and third person in Character's and Viewpoint. I think it helps to know them before you chose one for your story.

[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited September 22, 2007).]

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Lord Darkstorm
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What POV you use can also depend on the type of story you are telling. First person does limit the story to that person. It would be very jarring to have the story change the definition of "I" once it has started. While it might have been done, I'm sorry, it would be very confusing to keep straight who's eyes I'm supposed to be seeing through. So first person is single person.

Third does have a range of types, the limited form is the one I use pretty much all the time. Unlike first, I can switch pov characters if I need to, but only with a section/chapter break. It is also important to make sure it is clear who the he or she is when it changes so the reader is clear. Since there is no "I" in third, he and she can change without it clashing inside the mind. This is a pov that does stem directly with the pov character that is being followed. Unlike a camera (which is far too limited to even come close to being the same), the only things that are seen or heard (touched, smelled, or even tasted) must be experienced by the pov character. You can't know what another character is thinking, or feeling, only the one that is the pov character. This might seem limited at times, but it is amazing what you can have happening outside of the pov characters knowledge that you never have to mention or tell about until it becomes important. Hiding information doesn't apply if the character has no way of knowing.

There is also a another obscure pov called second...the prime use was for text adventure type novels:

In the distance you see a light. The smell of blood is in the air. If you will investigate the light go to section XXX, if you don't go to section YYY.

In second, you are the main character. It is interesting, but while I've heard there are a couple books written in it that were good....I wouldn't try it myself.

Last, and sadly overused by many, is omni. Omni is probably one of the hardest pov's to do correctly. It is done badly almost every day by new writers who haven't yet figured out how to write in a viewpoint. It is the excuse for explaining why the pov shifts and changes so quick and jarringly that it leaves a reader confused. Omni is written as 3rd person (he/she), but no section break is required to jump from one characters head to another. Also the author can drop in side notes to the reader whenever desired (He reaches for the door handle, only he has no idea of how much of a mistake that will be.) Omni has a lot of attraction for being unlimited to show anything, go anywhere....but there is a downside. Don't show the reader something that was important that happened elsewhere and you are guilty of hiding information. You are showing all the important things that apply to the story, so anything that will impact the plot is something that you will have to show as well. Expect no forgiveness when you try and cheat and keep something from the reader.

There is the camera on the wall pov as well. I don't include it with omni because it doesn't get inside anyones head. It is the true movie camera...it doesn't relay the characters feelings...only what they show outwardly. Probably the most impersonal pov out there. I'm sure someone has done wonders with it...I haven't found any myself.

I would like to point out that relating writing to movies and tv is probably not the best of advice for new writers. TV has some of the worst writers around pumping out enough tripe to choke the world. TV has more cliché events, cardboard characters, and flat out unbelievable dialog it isn't funny. Even when they try to make it funny. Let the tv and movie people keep their tools to themselves and the rest of us look to novels and other written works for examples of good writing. Most books can't be turned into a movie and have the same effect. The silver screen can't show you the feelings of the characters...their thoughts, their internal struggles. Only the actor can try and make some of those things come across. It is a different medium and while it could benefit from better writing, mimicking them will not make your writing better.

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The G-Bus Man
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I prefer to write 3rd person too though I certainly don't discount 1st person.

This is the criteria I use; it might seem counter-intuitive, but I think it works:

If it's mainly a character story, I use 3rd person. Just a little bit of emotional distance is necessary to establish the main character as a separate character, and 3rd person establishes just the right amount of that distance. I like to describe it as a voyeur situation, observing the character intimately yet separately.

For other aspects of the MICE quotient (the milieu, idea and event parts, that is) it really depends for me. For example, if I'm writing a milieu story, I would use 3rd person for alien environments since the reader would need to be introduced to this new environment in some fashion, thus a 3rd person main character acts as somewhat of a tour guide. If it's in a familiar setting, a 1st person POV gives more of a feeling of "being there." This is something to keep in mind for idea and event stories as well - chances are, the author wants to have the reader get the feeling of actually "being there."

As for how to write in third/first person, OSC gives some pointers in his how-to books. My personal advice: write just like you would the other, except replace "I" with "she" and vice-versa. Of course it's not quite that simple, and you have to be careful of POV, but I find that it's a nice start to get established with. Really the only thing you need to do is just to be sure to catch yourself and think things through in terms of whether or not it would make sense to reveal it in 3rd or 1st person.

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Member # 5493

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I just finished a massive dissertation project that was incredibly impersonal, passive text. I have had an explosion of first person, just because it is so fun and juicy. When I get tired of it, I'll move on to other stuff. But it's been very liberating, especially the real manic, jittery characters. I love writing them first person!
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First Person requires a character. OSC points out that a careless writer will write first person narration that sounds like the writer's voice. Each story, each narrator, should have a unique voice that reflects education and accent (without resorting to butchered dialogue.)

Among other things, First Person implies a narration that occurs at a time and place. They survived and have the benefit of knowing the end. They're telling it in the past, unless the author uses present-tense (which I personally don't enjoy too much.) He has distance from the story; a distance of time.

OSC says that third person has a distance of space and first person has a distance of time. Yet, writers struggle to break down both barriers. I've always thought that was interesting.

And if the narrator knows the end, why are they withholding information? Why are they building up tension and unfolding events at a carefully measured pace, rather than just telling us how it ended. (Some stories tell us the end in the first paragraph.) This isn't wrong, but I think it implies a first person narrator is something of a storyteller, in addition to the writer. Just like they have a reason to tell the story, they have a reason to tell it in the manner they do--as a story.

OSC points out that modern convention lets the author get away with this. The first person narrator doesn't have to be a story-telling type of person. As long as we know what they knew at each point, we allow them to tell a perfectly plotted story even if they know nothing of plot and structure.

The narrator takes part in the story. There's no fourth wall. Thus, the narrator should have a reason for telling the story. OSC says this implies the narrator also knows who his audience is (though who he thinks it is might not be the actual reader. He might be telling his fourth cousin.) This can often lead to frame stories and tale-within-a-tale stories. They can also be letters, diaries, confessions, etc.

OSC also says that first person is considerably harder than third person, though most novice writers are attracted to it from the start. It feels more natural.

"Most commonly, the novice writer inadvertently confesses in the first page that the first-person narrator is a fraud, that he is merely a mask behind which an incompetent writer is trying to hide...." --OSC

This is usually done by breaking PoV and telling the reader things the narrator could not have known at that point in time, such as other character's emotions.

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Like anything else, being able to write well in first and third person takes practice. If you don't work on it, you'll never be good at it.

I'm pretty good at first person, but I've only sold 2 first person stories vs 17 third person stories. 7 of my 38 stories on the market are first person, one is second person, and one is obtrusive omniscient. That leaves 29 in third person.

Sometimes first person is the right voice for the job, many times it is not. A good writer use whatever POV the story needs.

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Member # 1646

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You're not going to figure out how 3rd person is crafted by reading it. You have to write it.

I used to write in first person too. When I first started writing, my stories were basically all wish-fulfillment and I was the hero. So *I* was the hero.

I dabbled in third person for a while before I embraced it, so yeah, it does take some practice to get into that mindset. Thing is, now that I'm there I can't go back. One of the reasons that I wanted to do 3rd person was that I personally found that when reading *other* people's stories I couldn't get into first person as easily as third. Also, I found that 3rd was more powerful, gave you more POV's, and more power. Frankly, I find that with 3PL I don't lose any of the closeness of first person.

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