JRNutt's picture
JRNutt from California is reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes October 30, 2011 - 1:11pm

Alright, So I've been working with a story of mine as of late, but finding a voice in third person proves difficult. How do I create likable characters and references people can identify with without that first person appeal? Does anyone have some canter advice, or perhaps some veritable third-person literary experts?? Any help would be incredible.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 30, 2011 - 1:21pm

Occasionally go into third person limited and dip into the voice of a character, particularly the protagonist or multiple protagonists. Stick to one character. Or if you use various protagonists, stick to the same character for each section and change to another for the next.

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 30, 2011 - 3:42pm

The key to third Person narrative is to have characters whose dialogue is masterful. The narrator simply connects the dots and allows the characters to work with each other to present the story through thought, monologue and dialogue or multiple character conversations. First person is much more difficult to manage becaseu you can be only in scenes that the protag is in unless you try to write through multiple first p[ersons. UNless oyu have already won your Pulitzer for fiction, I wouldn't recommend it.

The narrator is simply a neutral voice or a voice that fits the setting. You can be a narrator that has an identity of your own. Think of the man who called himself Ismael in Moby Dick. His first sentence created a mystery which has never been resolved. When he said, "Call me Ismael," he was not saying his name was Ismael. Was he making reference to the biblical Ismael? Was he in disguise? He proceeded to become a narrator who had a unique voice but his characters had their own voices and identities separate from his.

Studs Terkel used a voice similar to the setting. His narrator spoke about characters he knew but he was not a part of the story--just relating it.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 30, 2011 - 4:24pm

When writing in third person, you don't always have to write "So-and-so thought, ...." and then put his/her thoughts in italics. As I mentioned, just dip into their mind (and voice) on occasion. Best to maintain the same point of view for each individual section or chapter. It's much easier to write in third person and use multiple point of views than to write in first person and do the same considering if you're writing in first, you'll need to make sure the characters sound different throughout the entirety of each new section. While in third, you only need to worry about that when you occasionally dip into their voice. Otherwise, you can maintain your own "writing style."

When writing in third person omnipresent and occasionally switching to third person limited and maintaining the same character's POV, writing things that the character doesn't know while the narration is in omnipresent mode is fine, but don't have the narration leave what the character is experiencing unless you switch to another section or chapter and to a different character. Avoid changing POVs in the same section unless the narrative is nontraditional or experimental.

I wrote one novella where it switched POVs between three characters, but only the protagonist was written in first while the chapters from the POV antagonist and a secondary (yet less malignant) antagonist were written in third because I didn't feel like I had the ability to write in first person for three different characters and have all their "voices" sound significantly different. So its result was a little awkward since there was no reason for that choice story-wise, but the novella ended up being pretty good regardless.

JRNutt's picture
JRNutt from California is reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes November 2, 2011 - 4:54pm

Awesome. Thanks for the advice. I have been writing this story for some time now and haven't really figure out how to maintain the purpose for the story yet. Hopefully inspiration will come in time. Keep your eyes peeled in the workshop. I think i'm going to unveil a chapter or two soon. :)

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters November 2, 2011 - 5:22pm

In third person I like to read minds.  I'll dedicate a section to the thoughts of one character, maybe the next will open the door to a different charcter's mind.  It can be tricky.  I'm practicing.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts November 2, 2011 - 7:36pm

Thoughts kill story for me. If I can't figure out what a person is thinking from what they say or do, I'm fucking up somewhere. Why would I give two turtle shits about what they think anyway? So I avoid it as much as possible.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs November 3, 2011 - 5:15am

Books aren't movies. There's no reason to restrict them so the narrative never reveals what the protagonist is thinking. This is the one of the major advantages that books have have over movies (although sometimes movies have lazy voiceovers to express a protagonist's thoughts or cool noir-y voiceovers).

Writing "So and so thinks, 'blah blah blah" is pretty lame. I think flashback scenes are also a waste of time and space. Rather than writing them, I incorporate the characters' past histories into their thoughts, although usually the majority of their backstories don't make it into the book. Rather, the backstory influences the character's behavior.

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters November 3, 2011 - 6:12am

If you don't care what a character in your book is thinking...I feel like there is something wrong there.  But that is just me. 

I think the best thing about a book is being able to get inside a person's head and see their motives. 

I agree on not writing "So and so thinks, 'blah blah blah", it is lame.  I sometimes change the narrative style to reflect the way a character thinks.  If a character is, say, panicing - I'll write short choppy sentences to reflect this. 

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. November 8, 2011 - 6:00pm

I think its important to know what the characters are thinking unless that's part of the plot to conceal their true motives. Being locked out and seeing things only from the outside seems very limiting especially since people read stories to get those extra details and depth that film can't always give. That's why fiction that relies heavily on plot and not character doesn't interest me like really dry scifi or fantasy full of settings and guilds and incidental people.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts November 9, 2011 - 3:11am

I think it's different approaches of proposing ideas, there's telling them answers and asking them questions (them, the readers.) Or, the difference is moreso in the varying sequences of question and answer. A character's thought is hardlining an answer, or explanation of an idea, to a question yet asked. Action/dialogue expresses that same idea but proposes a question of the motives. So a reader's response to either at some point would be something like Why is he going to kill Karen? or He has to kill Karen (bad example but still.) It's a negotiation between intrigue and understanding and which one takes precedent at that point in the story.

Everything I just said may be nonsense.

starnessports's picture
starnessports from San Antonio November 10, 2011 - 8:35am

i think one of the most difficult aspects of writing is maintaining a high level of interest while simultaneously giving your characters an identity that will help carry the story later on.

It's a tricky line you must tightrope, because not doing it correctly leaves your book splattered on the pavement.

If you don't capture the reader's attention early, and maintain it for the first 100 pages, they are very likely to put the book down and never get to the epic conclusion.

However, if you don't build up the characters early, then readers won't be emotionally invested enough to care when the huge climax comes near the 3rd quarter of the book.

Having said (written actually) that, i feel it's easiest to write from the 3rd person... because a good enough writer will make a characters thoughts and feelings known through superb action and dialogue.