Writing in Third Person

I’m making some headway with my current Work In Progress. I have over 3800 words done, and I am practically finished introducing the characters. It has been harder than I thought, primarily because I am writing in third person for the first time.

They say that writing in first person is more common for a new writer, primarily because it feels more natural. It lets the writer really get into the head of their character and tell the story as if it happened to them personally. Third person is therefore more difficult, because it puts a wall between you and the character. I can verify that this is true. I can also say that while it isn’t easy to tear down that wall, it is possible.

The main reason why I am writing this story in third person is because of my protagonists. Yes, that is plural. My story is meant to focus on more than one person, which makes it very difficult to tell from a first person point of view. If I wrote it in first person, I would be limited to telling it from only one person’s perspective, and if I did that I may as well cut half of my cast.

I know that I could also try a first person perspective and switch the narrator from one character to another, but that is just cheating. It would be like third person but wouldn’t require the skill. It would also be more confusing to the reader. Other people have done it, using tricks like switching characters at chapter breaks, or by stating at the beginning of the section which character is telling the story. But I don’t want to do anything like that.

What I am doing, is something called head hopping. I am writing in third person, but each scene is being told from the perspective of one of the main characters. That gives me a chance to get into their heads while still making it clear who is the focus of the scene. I have done this for three of my four protagonists so far, introducing each one to the reader in turn while still advancing the story.

The first scene could have been told in first person, as it focused on only one character. The second scene switched to another character, but the scene centered around his interaction with the first character. The third scene brought in the last two characters, first as they introduced themselves to each other, then as they met and later talked about the first two characters. I’m still struggling a bit with how I’m going to write the final scene. I don’t have a lot more to reveal about the fourth character, but I feel like I should spend some time in her head before going on to the next stage of the plot.

All of this work may end up being redone in the final draft. Another way I could do this is to drop the focus on each character and just tell the story as it progresses, using the gift of omniscience to reveal any personal thoughts or details from each character as I go. This may be a better way to write the story in the end.

The reason why I say this is because, while head hopping worked well as I introduced the characters, it also set a precedent that would require me to choose a main perspective for all the other scenes I have yet to write. And most of them are going to be group scenes that won’t benefit at all from being told from one person’s point of view. I’m starting to think that I should drop the first scene altogether and start the story from the point at which the first two characters meet.

But that is a decision to make in editing. The idea for now is to keep writing and finish the first draft. My daily word count is steadily increasing, but I will definitely need to keep it up if I plan to finish by the end of September. Which means no going back.

And the work I have done so far hasn’t been wasted. It has let me finally get in touch with my characters, learning more about them and figuring out their voice so I am better equipped to tell their story. Even if all of it ends up in the Recycle Bin, it will have been worth the effort.

That’s it for today. I still have writing to do. I’ll be checking in again on Wednesday. See you then and good luck on your own projects!



Filed under ROW80, The Writing Experience

3 responses to “Writing in Third Person

  1. Point of view can be tricky. I always write in third person except for my Libby Fox novellas. Those just needed to be first person. I can’t tell you why, the stories just sort of told me. LOL. My advice is to use whichever POV feels right for your particular story.

  2. L. Burke Ivey

    I’ve noticed many mystery authors (Lisa Gardner among them) combine first-person and third-person POVs, breaking a textbook “rule” of writing! If you’re interested in seeing how other authors successfully use multiple POVs I strongly recommend her work.

  3. I’ve actually heard the opposite of what you’re saying about 1st vs 3rd person. I went to a workshop with Orson Scott Card two summers ago, and his opinion on it was that 1st person if very difficult for starting writers because they have to develop the character’s voice as well as their own, and if the character is very different from them, it’s very easy to hit a wrong note or sound like you’re trying to hard. He strongly recommended 3rd person deep penetration for beginning writers. I think you can read more about it in his book on Character & Viewpoint if you are interested at all: http://www.amazon.com/Elements-Fiction-Writing-Characters-award-winning/dp/1599632128/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342154022&sr=1-1&keywords=character+%26+viewpoint (Sorry I’m a bit of an OSC fangirl hehe.)

    Don’t be afraid to try third person, it’s such a commonly used device it seems like it would be beneficial as a writer to work on mastering it. I would try not to go to omniscient because in a lot of ways it’s much harder to do and breaks the immersiveness. As a reader in 3rd person, it is absolutely easiest to slip into the character’s mind and pretend you are this other person. In 1st person, someone is talking to you — you are not quite in there shoes. In omniscient, you don’t know who will be talking to you next. I haven’t read many books where it worked well, aside from old Victorian novels, although I’ve heard that thrillers can use it quite effectively.

    Anyway, some ideas and thoughts for you! You must follow your own path and heart; feel free to ignore any bit of what I said!

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