Thursday, December 01, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 3

Happy Thursday, BGs. It’s December!

Received this letter yesterday: “I really want to thank you for your book Getting Into Character. What a huge help in writing the novel I'm working on! Loved the ‘understanding a serial murderer’ bit. It helped me to tap into feelings I'd buried long ago and needed to resurrect to understand the characters I’m writing.”


Some interesting discussion yesterday about our topic and the excerpt I pulled from Eyes of Elisha. I actually think everyone’s opinion was right, for various reasons. Stuart, you picked up on the fact that the thought about lividity sounded “dictionary” like. Yes, true, because that’s Reiger’s personality. He’s been on the police force for many years and has picked up that copspeak. He’s a by-the-book kinda guy who lives by law enforcement’s rules and definitions. Which is why he’s so thrown by Chelsea Adams and her visions. In fact, the visions vs. The Law is one of the underlying themes of Eyes of Elisha. In biblical days, God called the shots. Folks drew lots—and voila, there’s your guilty guy. In today’s rational world, there’s no room for God and his miracles at all in the eyes of the law. The mere thought sounds absurd. Everything must be proven by rational means. So when Reiger, as a Christian (albeit a rather nominal one) meets out-there Chelsea Adams, who speaks honestly about the visions God sends her, no matter how weird they make her sound—a dilemma arises within him. This God’s-miracles-vs.-law theme occurs later in the book, also, when lawyers get involved. (Things always get more complicated when lawyers get involved.) I give you this long explanation to make a point—the thoughts we insert for a character aren’t really about our style of writing. They should be about the character, and how he would think. The thoughts themselves should be characterizing. So, Stuart, even though you may not have realized it, you got Reiger just as you should have.

Let’s talk now about the second type of third person POV—Removed. One of my favorite authors is Dean Koontz. Great suspense writer. He often writes in removed third person. Results—(1) We feel a little less close to the character, (2) more “telling” vs. “showing” can be used, and (3) Koontz’s narrative voice often is stronger than the voice of the character. Which means—drum roll—Koontz can get away with using more unusual words. (Which is how we got on this topic in the first place.) And he uses quite a few of them. We don’t have to worry so much about being pulled out of the story by the use of an unusual word, because it doesn’t matter whether the character would know the word or not. It Koontz’s voice we’re listening to.

No unusual words here, but consider this removed third-person passage from his recent book, Velocity:

He popped the tablet and forked lasagna into his mouth, washing everything down with Elephant beer, a Danish brew boasting a higher alcohol content than other beers.

As he ate, he thought about the dead schoolteacher, about Lanny sitting in the bedroom armchair, about what the killer might do next.

Those lines of thought were not conducive to appetite or to digestion. The teacher and Lanny were beyond rescue, and there was no way to foretell the freak’s next move.

Instead, he thought about Barbara Mandel, mostly about Barbara as she had been, not as she was now in Whispering Pines. Inevitably, these reminiscences led forward to the moment, and he began to worry about what would happen to her if he died.

Are we in the protagonist’s head? Well, yeah. We know his thoughts. But we’re not really sitting in his mind, are we. It’s more like we’re standing in the room watching him, and a narrator is telling us what he’s thinking.

If I were to write these lines, my editor would flag them for sure. Since I normally write in close third person, these would stand out as “telling.” In track changes, the editor might suggest a rewrite of the second and third paragraphs like this:

As he ate, he thought about the dead schoolteacher, about Lanny sitting in the bedroom armchair. What would the killer do next?

Forget this. These thoughts were hardly helping his appetite or digestion. Nothing he could do for the teacher or Lanny. And who knew what the freak would do next?

Quite a difference in feel, isn’t there? Do you know other authors who write in removed third-person? Or do you? Can you give an example through some excerpted passage?

In closing for today, an announcement for those who haven’t heard via e-mail loops. The 700 Club's segment on my healing from Lyme Disease airs tomorrow, (Friday, December 2.) If you receive the Family channel, you can watch The 700 Club weekdays at 9 a.m., 11 p.m., and 3 a.m. EST. If you receive The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), you can watch the show weekdays at 3 p.m. Eastern Time or 12 p.m. Pacific Time. If you receive FamilyNet, you can watch The 700 Club at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Check here for all other channel listings nationwide. If you miss the show, check the 700 Club's Web site to view the interview on your computer.

I hope you and your friends and family will watch this segment. You will be blessed at the reminder of our God's power. I was certainly blessed just taping it!


Cara Putman said...

As an attorney, I have to make a modest defense. It's not always the attorney's fault that things get delayed. I have a situation right now where I've pushed the client for months for something, and still haven't received it. Without it, the case can't move forward. So don't always blame it on the attorney :-)

Now back to our regularly scheduled program on third person.

Stuart said...

Cool stuff Brandilyn. Though I meant the stylistic comment through how the thought was presented and not the thought in and of itself. :) Thoughts indeed need to be all about the character.
(although presentation should, of course, be heavily influenced by character as well).

As for removed third person. Here an excerpt from a short story I wrote in a removed third person(with far too many usages of the first name ;)

Molgriv’s wings scraped across the stony floor of the cavern, weariness flowed through his body. Memories of happier times struggled to survive in the world of ash and flame that his life had become, but they survived as only withered and twisted shadows. Only one remained clear―the last bit of light before his world turned dark.

A warm summer day spent amidst a sea of vibrant grass rippling in the wind. The sense of utter contentment that filled him as he listened to the calls of birds, his lazy chase after a butterfly that managed to elude his grasp despite its careless flight. But as always this memory gave way to fire and ash. Molgriv plunged back into the darkness he had created for himself.

He gazed around the sandstone cavern he had chosen. This was a good place to end it. The main chamber was spacious enough for maneuvering, but small enough to force combat. And with only one entrance or exit there would be no escape. In this place vengeance would be satisfied at last.

“By Dralgi’s favor, we will be free of our oaths this day.” Molgriv’s voice echoed hollowly as it filled the cavern. Once full of hatred and the lust for revenge, Molgriv now felt nearly as empty as the cave. Such emotions only last for a time, and he had outlived them.

A great sigh rattled in Molgriv’s throat. He moved to the cavern wall and started to scratch a message into the sandstone with his claw. He focused intently on each rough letter as he poured himself into the work. This day would not be in vain.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I think sometimes as writers we become victims of how much we know.

To give you an example...Brandilyn says her editors would flag passages that were written in "removed third person", not because they're wrong, but only because she normally writes in "close third person".

In reading the book, Velocity, as an average reader, it never occurred to me, what "person view" it was speaking in...only that it read well.

And then there's Brandilyn's book, Eyes of Elish. When I read that, all I knew was that the book was well written, easy to follow, and extremely exciting.

Now I find out that reading perception of the book was wrong. In reading the passage we discussed for the last two I said, this is from a reader point of view...since the comment before the dictionary quote was made by Hal, and the dialogue after the quote was (I assumed) also by Hal...(and I hadn't got to Reiger's name again) I assumed that the "dictionary" thought was also Hal's.

Now, my question...I now understand that one scene should be one person's point of view, so is it mostly the editor's point of view on whether you've accomplished this(since there's close third person and removed third)?

Pammer said...

My husband and I are very excited about your segment. It will be a nice pick me up after the funeral we have to attend for a six year old child. Very sad.

I think Julie Garwood writes in removed third person (or at least in the historicals) but for the life of me I can't seem to locate one of the twenty or so books of hers that I have. She is my favorite secular author. (Although not my favorite of all authors.)

Great subject as always.

Pammer said...

BTW, I will being dousing you with a double dose of prayer tomorrow. Hugs.