How deep can you get?

By that I mean how close can you like to get to your characters?

With a third person narrative you can choose to be omniscient, dipping in and out of the thoughts of every character and hence its name for the all-seeing, all-knowing, akin to playing God. You the author is the narrator.

But these days that is considered old-fashioned and for me, and most of us, we want to be closer than that and we want to be connected more than that. You might think then that the obvious choice is to use first person and that way you invade and become the character. And yes indeed you do. But third person also achieves this if you go deep.

A more objective third person is more like someone standing at your character’s side and reporting on their actions, but less invasive in terms of deep thoughts. You tend to say things like He watched the girl cross the room. She looked scared he thought. He wondered if she’d ever been here before — perhaps not. He would find out. He would prove it.  What this does is still assume the viewpoint of the character, but the he thought and he wondered reminds us it’s another invisible person telling us. And look how flat this feels. In essence there is nothing wrong with this but if you want that deep connection that really grips … you need to go deep.

I am a lover of the real deep subjective third person where the narrator might still be third person he, she but now they’re not just on their shoulder they’re in their head and there’s no need for the reminders as it has to be him thinking it. So for example,  now we might say: She crossed the room, scared. Yeah she looked scared alright. Had she been here before? Her fists were bunched tightly at her side, her expression fixed, determined, but it was the eyes. Hell this girl had never been here before in her fucking life. And he would prove it.

Okay this is off the cuff and could be better but see how it uses showing which is always better but here we get the third person voice built into the narrative, it’s no longer a neutral invisible third person but we feel his thoughts in the narrative, and the swearing was deliberate here to show that. Which version do you prefer and why?

I read somewhere in a report someone had written for a writer that the third person always needs to be devoid of opinion and should be neutral, rather like the first example. I think the example used in her report was–  you couldn’t say He looked at the tasty looking biscuits because the tasty-looking assumed an opinion of the invisible third person narrator. But I beg to differ, because it depends how deep you go … if you really get into their psyche, your narration, as in the second example, is their thoughts and the reader will know this. And this, for me, is how you can make a third person as close as a first. Do you agree?

With the objective third-person you often see thoughts invaded like this …

He watched the girl cross the room. ‘Run while you can! I know who you really are,’ he thought.

Well I would always lose the inverted commas and the he thought so you could have: He watched the girl cross the room. Run while you can! I know who you really are. Here the italics signify it’s now his thoughts … but I would still go deeper than that. He watched the girl cross the room. She needed to run while she still could, ‘cos he was coming for her. Yeah he knew who she really was.

Better? Why? Deeper?

As close as first-person? Look at this:

I couldn’t move. Jesus the man was standing there with a fucking gun in his hand and all I could do was stand there with my mouth open and think about what underwear they would bury me in.

She couldn’t move. Jesus the man was standing there with a fucking gun in his hand and all she could do was stand there with her mouth open and think about what underwear they would bury her in.

See how using her as a viewpoint character but going deep and subjective the third person gets a close as the first.  Are they really any different?

What do you think and what texts do this well for third person? Is it okay to do it this way?

Here endeth the lesson for Friday … writing to do. Have a great weekend all and sorry about the swearing, but as I tell my mum, it’s not me, it’s the way the characters talk! Honest. I have warped flawed character that cuss, hey what can I say?

Happy weekend is what I’ll say.

writing group

Sorry Mum …



Filed under Bad advice for writers, being a successful writer, First person, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Point of View, Publishing, Third person, Voice

2 responses to “How deep can you get?

  1. Don Nixon

    I like this Debz. It really got me thinking and I am going to try it. I have always had problems with Point of View and been criticised for it on the lines of your `tasty biscuit`ecxample and I suppose that is why in a lot of my short stories I use the first person narrative. It has its limitations but it gives you the sneaky option of the unrekiable narrator which is particularly useful in the crime genre. In the deep method you suggest however you could build the unreliable narrator aspect into the thoughts of your third person narrator.

  2. I like to ‘go deep’ as you put it. I like 1st person too. It depends on the story.

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