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Author Topic: Third Person How Limited?
Kent_A_Jones
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I recently completed a story in Third Person. I found it unsatisfying and distant, even though I thought I had been inside the POV character in most of the narrative. I rewrote the thing in First Person, changing pronouns and such, and found that there were places that needed extra insight that flowed naturally from the character, so I added these and completed the story, (Well, I'm satisfied for the moment).

My topic, though, centers on the Third Person Limited narrative in which I first wrote it. How limited must it be? Can this narrative tell everything that a character thinks, feels, believes? Those extra insights that flowed naturally through First Person did not occur to me in TPL. I tried adding these insights to the saved TPL original and they seemed to trivialize the narrative. Is this an inherent weakness of TPL?

Is there a good full treatment of TPL narrative in print?

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Meredith
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Odd. I often find that I get closer into the character's pov in third person than in first--always depending on the story. There are some things that are easier to describe in third person:

  • gestures and facial expressions that show emotion. These often feel forced to me in first person.
  • thoughts or emotions that the character wouldn't want to admit, since it feel like the character is doing just that in first person.
  • thoughts or emotions that just seem sort of self-congratulatory in first person

But maybe that's me.

It all depends on learning to do a convincing internal monologue for the character, which isn't that different for first- or third- person. And learning to show emotions, rather than tell them.

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extrinsic
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Third person limited refers to omniscience limited to one character's viewpoint, voice, speech, thoughts, sensations, actions and reactions, etc. How deep an access to thought is a matter of psychic distance: detached and no thought access except through external cues, superficial thoughts, conscious thoughts, nonvolitional thoughts, subconscious and nonconscious thoughts, or deeper into the primal hind mind.

Variation also, in all regards above and below, is the spice of narrative discourse.

Theory texts that treat third person limited, narrative discourse in general, include Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction, Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse, Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction, and Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction.

The order above is by accessibility: Knight's the easiest to understand. Knight covers a range of narrative points of view, as do the others, not just third person limited. Lubbock's is the only one available free, through Project Gutenberg.

Third person limited is secondmost by default closest narrative distance, after first person. Third person limited's advantage over first person narration is its stronger reliability potentials; first person, most potentially subjective reliability or artful unreliability.

A crucial criteria for third person limited is use of character voice and viewpoint perceptions to estrange narrator voice and perceptions. Chatman discusses narrator estrangement. Narrator viewpoint is never absent in any regard, whether first person or third person, even second person. This is a main area which I disagree with Dave King's Decoding Narrative Distance.

First person narration mode is as much like third person limited as third person is first person. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, written in first person, expresses summary and explanation at times through narrator voice, though from the voice of Katniss Everdeen as thoughts expressed as if to an invisible bystander participant accompanying her on her adventures. This is instead of close, close viewpoint character-reflector perceptions, which more of the novel is in narrative point of view-wise.

Chatman locates narrative points of view along this axis (viewpoint character is my addition to the axis, where narrative distance feels closest):

Real Author >> Implied Author >> Narrator >> |Viewpoint Character| << Narratee << Implied Reader << Real Reader

The Hunger Games' narrative point of view stays between implied writer and implied reader, mostly in viewpoint character, at times narrator-narratee.

Booth discusses that axis more thoroughly, though he doesn't graph relationships, nor is he anywhere near as accessible as Chatman. Booth uses the Jane Austen novel Emma as an example of close third person limited. However, the novel's close narrative distance is open to question, and ranges from Real Author to Real Reader narrative point of view. It is written entirely from narrator viewpoint, as was the fashion of the time; however, the narrator is the reflected viewpoint, mostly thoughts, of Emma after the fact couched in a third person reflective self-address as if to or in a diary. The narrative point of view makes the novel an ideal exemplar of third person limited's mannerisms from the early eighteenth century. The voice aesthetic of the time, somewhat remote narrative distance, is a convention of classic-era Romanticism.

Contemporary writers who write in close limited third person's Realism convention include Jonathan Franzen and John Grisham. A comparatively easy to access close third person limited narrative point of view can be located in many contemporary novels; for example, Dave Wolverton's science fiction novel A Very Strange Trip. Close distance, both narrative and aesthetic, are found more developed generally, than Romanticism, and progressively in Realism, Modernism, and Postmodernism's efforts to develop illusion of reality imitation through written word expression.

Close as narrative distance-wise: viewpoint character voice and viewpoint. Indirect discourse is secondhand, narrator emphasis, direct discourse is firsthand, viewpoint character emphasis. Booth discusses narrative distance and aesthetic distance at length. Aesthetic distance is the degree readers feel involved in a narrative. Though Austen's Emma feels to general readers today as wide open aesthetic distance, the narrative distance close, all character viewpoint and topically abstract, its aesthetic distance feels open due to being mostly narrator indirect discourse.

A few examples of close narrative distance third person omniscient narrative point of view, along two axes: one indirect discourse, one direct discourse; either tagged or free.

Indirect discourse, dialogue tagged by "said."

Larry said he wouldn't ride the Bamma-Jamma Rollercoaster for any amount of loving from Merita.

Direct discourse, tagged dialogue.

"Yeah," Merita said. "You will, or we is broke up for good and all."

Direct discourse, sensory viewpoint, untagged.

Purple bubbles erupted out the candyfloss cauldron, splashed and splattered sticky gunk goops onto a children crowd.

Indirect discourse, sensory viewpoint, tagged by "thought."

Merita went to help the children clean up. Stayed where he was, thought up a way out the rollercoaster ride, Larry settled down on a bench for the wait.

The details required either way are "telling details," crucial antagonsim, causation, and tension features and motifs, reported in what's known as writing modes. Twelve of them, most important for scene sequence development are action, sensation, introspection, conversation, and emotion: Description, Introspection (thought), Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization (tell), Exposition (introduction), Conversation (dialogue), Recollection, Explanation (tell), Transition. DIANE'S SECRET. They often overlap, even in single clauses. Conversation, for example, can also be a speaking action, summarize, explain, and recollect, etc.

Also scene-sequence crucial is Antagonism, Causation, and Tension, ACT, all three as much as possible in every sequence, every word as much as possible. Antagonism is dramatic complication's want and problem satisfaction in opposition. Causation is cause and effect, action and reaction, stimuli and response, etc. Tension is empathy or sympathy and curiosity: readers' emotional caring and curiosity.

ACT also relates to event, setting, and character, in that order of priority, Events are initially easier for readers to relate to than settings and characters, and settings easier than characters, though antagonizing events in antagonizing settings happening to antagonizeable and antagonized characters all at once is the ideal. For this reason, oftentimes putting a viewpoint character in sentence object position subtly develops characterization and, hence, subtly aligns readers with a character and viewpoint and voice through syntax demotion, less narrative character self-involvement.

Tension is accomplished by showing a viewpoint character in an antagonizing crisis challenged by a moral value system clash between noble selflessness and wicked selfishness. Pity and fear for a viewpoint character in crisis is the most common emotional caring cluster, and a cluster it must be. Golden Age science fiction's emotional cluster convention included awe and wonder, and oftentimes pity and fear as well.

Elements of scene sequences are Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, Event, and Discourse: SPICED, which is definitely all-essential in every moment possible.

Put all together into a single mnemonic, scene sequence criteria, for third person limited or any narrative point of view: DIANE'S SECRET SPICED ACT.

[ April 03, 2014, 04:54 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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jerich100
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I never let the narrator know any more than the POV character. If the POV character changes to a character that knows more, then the narrator knows more. If the POV changes back to the original character then the narrator reverts back accordingly. To me, this helps the reader to "stick" to the current POV character.
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Pyre Dynasty
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One of my go-to pieces of advice for someone struggle with pov is to write the same scene in the different perspectives. It sounds to me that first person serves this narrative better. That doesn't reveal a weakness in TPL, it just worked less well for this project. Perhaps it works less well for you in general. First doesn't serve me well personally, my characters always turn out way too snarky. I think about TPL as shoulder angel/devil.

How limited must it be? You are the writer, it must be exactly as limited as you want it to.
Can this narrative tell everything that a character thinks, feels, believes? Yes, but everything might be overwritten.


Is there a good full treatment of TPL narrative in print?

One of the best TPL I've read was Ender's Shadow.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Kent_A_Jones:
My topic, though, centers on the Third Person Limited narrative in which I first wrote it. How limited must it be? Can this narrative tell everything that a character thinks, feels, believes? Those extra insights that flowed naturally through First Person did not occur to me in TPL. I tried adding these insights to the saved TPL original and they seemed to trivialize the narrative. Is this an inherent weakness of TPL?

No, it's not an inherent weakness. TPL can be every bit as intimate as 1st, if not moreso (in fact, I rarely find 1st to be as intimate as good TPL) and can show all the same stuff.

I'd guess what you did with the failed 3rd person version was add as "he did, he thought, he whatever'd" (external narrator) rather than actually from the character's POV. Thus:

He got falling-down drunk.

vs

He'd had too much booze. The room wouldn't stop moving. What was the floor doing in his face??

which isn't so different from:

I've had too much booze. The room won't stop moving. What is the floor doing in my face??

[Note that this last is NOT necessarily in present tense, but rather displays the tense shift of first person internalized, a term I just now made up. Other parts of the same story might be in ordinary past.]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:

He'd had too much booze. The room wouldn't stop moving. What was the floor doing in his face??

which isn't so different from:

I've had too much booze. The room won't stop moving. What is the floor doing in my face??

[Note that this last is NOT necessarily in present tense, but rather displays the tense shift of first person internalized, a term I just now made up. Other parts of the same story might be in ordinary past.]

This analysis is for illustration purposes, not as a critique.

Though the above examples are closer narrative distance to character viewpoint then "He got falling-down drunk." Closer yet narrative distance portrays more scene features: event and setting details that develop character as well. However, the dramatic import of the scene sequence might be satisfied enough by the somewhat summary fashion of the examples.

The principle of a sequence's dramatic import emphasis relates to time management. More time expended in a sequence; more dramatic emphasis. Seymour Chatman treats time management as story time and narrative time. Story time flows close to a real time elapsed within the illusion of reality imitation. Story time sometimes moves slightly faster, sometimes moves the same, sometimes slightly slower than a story's elapsed reading time. Narrative time either suspends time movement, similar to the way a crisis event, like an auto wreck, feels and reads slowed down; or sped up, or altogether skipped time.

Both story time and narrative time relate to reading time. When reading time passes at or nearly the same rate as story elapsed time, the two times are parallel, dramatic emphasis is stronger than when narrative time is compressed by summary portrayal--tell. When narrative time passage is extended, story time is suspended, dramatic emphasis is stronger still. When narrative time is compressed, emphasis is less or least of all dramatically important.

"He was falling-down drunk." Compresses perhaps several hours of story time. "He'd had too much booze. The room wouldn't stop moving. What was the floor doing in his face??" Compresses perhaps a minute or so or more of story time.

Highly dramatic moments that involve external events are as a best practice actual elapsed or slightly compressed story time. Ones that involve internal events, interior life, are as a best practice extended narrative time. Extended narrative time stalls or suspends story time movement. Say, for example, a viewpoint persona causally triggers into a deep thought reflection, perhaps a detailed analysis of a circumstance of the moment, perhaps a recollection and comparison of a similar past event. Or narrative time jumps past dramatically insignificant events; for example, trivial, nonantagonizal, noncausal, nontensional travel time bewteen scene settings.

Summary like "He was falling-down drunk." Signals that the dramatic import of being drunk is negligible.

"He was falling-down drunk." Is a stasis statement; it is a state of being, signaled by the to be verb "was." That statement may be all that's needed in the moment of a story if drunkenness has no dramatic import. It could be a summary of a prior scene sequence where getting drunk was the dramatic event. Drunk is said and done, though an ongoing event that holds story time open for a period of time. How long before he's sober again? Readers who have experience with drunkenness will know and accommodate accordingly.

"He'd had too much booze." Is likewise a stasis statement. Note that "He'd [he had] had" is a use of pluperfect past tense to have in a to be application. However, the story time sense is that he is at the present moment drunk and will be for a span of time.

"The room won't stop moving." "Won't" is the statis statement verbal of that sentence: verbal auxilliary, contraction of will not.

"What was the floor doing in his face?" Likewise, a stasis statement: "was" and "doing." Present participle verbs like "doing" are also state of being verbs like to be verbs.

Stasis statements hold story time open. They are indeterminate, nonfinite, static, though perhaps artful for extending or compressing narrative time. They are signals of summary and explanation mode, whether viewpoint character or narrator: tell. Not that stasis statements--tells--are to be rigorously avoided, only that they ought as a best practice be timely and judiciously deployed.

Process statements, on the other hand, portray action sequences. Robust and dynamic verbs, consistent present or past tense, move story time and, as the case may be, narrative time forward. Inconsistent tense stalls, backtracks, or restarts story and narrative time by fits and leaps. The pluperfect "had had," for example, steps back in time to an event completed at some nonfinite time in the past. Instead, for closer narrative distance and in the moment: //Gin bottle upended, last drops splashed on his tongue--he had drank too much booze.// Process statement, process statement--stasis statement. Event sequence, event sequence--event summary.

For the next sentence, "The room" is a summary of a setting; "won't stop moving" is a summary and explanation of the room's apparent motion. The irony that the room isn't actually moving, though, is the dramatic point, and a tension-worthy moment. Tension's empathy or sympathy more so; why he's drunk for curiosity's sake. A visual sensation of the room is indicated instead, if this moment is dramatically important. What visual setting details are the "telling" details? //Lamps melted into end tables. Paintings wiggled and slumped. Curtains, windows, walls--the room spun.//

Similarly for "What was the floor doing in his face??" Conversion to a dynamic process statement, and instead of a rhetorical question: //Parquette floor sucker punched his cheekbone.//

Those above are farther along the way from "He was falling down drunk." Toward developing the all-important illusion of reality imitation for a scene sequence, though they are still somewhat summary. Added introspection, emotion, perhaps conversation, perhaps additional event action, setting sensation, and character development, would, if the scene sequence was dramatically important and emphasis was intended and indicated, strengthen the illusion of reality imitation. These above features authenticate a narrative's illusion of reality imitation and preserve and enhance willing suspension of disbelief, for close limited omniscient third person narrative point of view. First person narrative point of view isn't appreciably different.

[ April 04, 2014, 05:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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Never has such an off-the-cuff example spawned so much in-depth analysis [Smile]

But that's an interesting point, about how the quick-tell 'compresses' the timeframe and makes it "nothing much, move along now", vs how more showing-detail 'holds it open' which makes it "pay attention, something more might happen". And the more detail, the longer the moment lingers (or drags on, if overdone).

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Similarly for "What was the floor doing in his face??" Conversion to a dynamic process statement, and instead of a rhetorical question: //Parquette floor sucker punched his cheekbone.//

I find this causes a shift in camera direction.

"What was the floor doing in his face??" comes from the POV-character as focus, and after the event, which we don't experience (next time don't drink so much and you'll notice when you fall down).

"Parquette floor sucker punched his cheekbone." comes, well, from the floor as focus, and during the event.

So to my ear, the latter is not merely an extension of the former, but rather comes from a different perspective, as it jerks the camera out of our drunk's head (that's what happens when you bang your head on the floor!) -- which may be the desired effect if he passes out but you don't want to just 'go blank', but rather leave the reader with the image of him flat on the floor.

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extrinsic
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Falling down drunk could very much feel to him in the moment like a sucker punch from the floor, from his viewpoint. It ironically signals he's flat on the floor. I'd add another transition signal for the next sequence though. Maybe he does pass out, though I rigorously avoid viewpoint character loss of consciousness. When I do use one, a scene transition signal like a line break or a section break is usually indicated instead anyway.

This sucker punch floor is the same as a process statement like Jamey bruised the other guy's knuckles with his face bones.

Lingered in sequences is one principle worth development. "Dragged on" is its opposite challenge.

[ April 05, 2014, 02:35 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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