Following on from last week’s post on POV and Head-hopping (which you can find here) I’m going to make an attempt to explain something I don’t have a firm grasp on. Hopefully this doesn’t become a complete mess!

In times past, if we wanted the reader to be close to the character, the standard advice was ‘use 1st person POV’. Deep third is like first, in that sense, but it’s… well… third. So it’s a way of bringing the reader closer to the viewpoint character, and removing that sense of the author being in the scene, and still avoiding (if you’re like me) ‘dreaded first’. And I am sure keen to avoid first, because one of the most definitive pieces of advice to come out of my writer’s group on Saturday was ‘Don’t use first. Just don’t.’ Yeah, OK, so I suck a little at first. 

So that’s the explanation of deep third, but it doesn’t really tell you how to write deep third, or how it’s different from third limited. It’s difficult to explain the differences, so I’ve aimed instead to illustrate how to achieve deep third using some examples of what to do – and what not to do – when trying to create deep third. 

Use he and she sparingly – Personal pronouns should appear in action, but not in description or opinion. So we say ‘He opened the door’ (action) but we don’t say ‘He smelled the bread baking’ (description). Instead we might say ‘The air smelled of baking bread’. Notice the protagonist doesn’t appear in this sentence? And if you remember, this was something I said about first as well – we don’t need to use the pronoun because we know it’s the viewpoint character smelling it. 

Similarly with opinion – ‘Did he really think because she smiled at him she was interested?’ This is an opinion in deep third – it is the character making a judgement about what another character thinks. We could have said ‘She wondered if he really thought she was interested because she smiled at him’ but then we are distancing the reader again. Using ‘he’ and ‘she’ in description and judgements is a sign you are filtering through the author, which is something you don’t want in deep third. You want the reader to come closer… closer… closer… OK, we’re touching noses, that’s good! All right, maybe back off a teensy bit. 

Get deep in the emotion – Last week I noted that when using third limited the reader can only know what the viewpoint character knows, and only see what the viewpoint character sees. This is true in deep third as well, but we go a little deeper. When something is described to us, the character has just noticed it – and an emotional reaction of some kind should follow. An assassin might see a second door, and recognise an escape route. A carpenter might see the same door, and admire the fancy carving. This helps to bring us closer to the character than we might otherwise be in third limited. It’s also an aid to characterisation. 
Voice – Of course, when you write deep third, you should always write in the character’s voice. So my protagonist, Astarl, once observes that somewhere is as dark as the inside of a horse’s arse. Because, you know, she’s an assassin, she spends a lot of time with men, and she tends to be blunt. A duchess probably wouldn’t make the same observation…

Word choice – There are some words we can use to better remove the author from the reading experience. These are words that better reflect how we process our observations and thoughts to ourselves. We tend to think of ourselves as the centre, and you need to write the character this way as well to capture deep third. Some of these words include:
  • ‘This’ instead of ‘It’ – as in ‘This was what he wanted’ or more simply ‘This was it’, instead of ‘It was what he wanted’. ‘It’ isn’t something we think to ourselves and it distances the reader;
  • Relative time – Use last night and tomorrow instead of ‘the night before’ or ‘the next day’. Do you think ‘the night before’ to yourself? Didn’t think so…
  • Relative position – describe movement relative to the viewpoint character, for example, ‘The monster came closer’ or the ‘The monster shied away’. If we say ‘the monster moved across the room’ or ‘the monster stepped closer to him’ then in both cases we are removing the central focus on the viewpoint character and distancing the reader.In particular, in deep third there is no need to say ‘to him’ for the same reason we don’t need to say ‘he thought’ or ‘we smelled’. this is assumed, and spelling it out reminds the reader of the author’s presence.
Note, also, the difference between using ‘the’ and ‘a’. If the viewpoint character sees ‘a door’ it’s just a door the character has recognised as present. ‘The door’ signifies it as the exact door the character is looking for. So ‘the’ is important for denoting significance to the viewpoint character in deep third because we are relying on the character for all the descriptions and observations. 
Correct use of syntax – For example always make your viewpoint character the subject and not the object of a sentence i.e. the actor, and not the thing being acted upon. The exception is judgements, in which there need be no subject. The subject (the viewpoint character) is assumed because we know we are in their viewpoint and therefore it is their judgement. This relates back to my examples of ‘Did he really think because she smiled at him she was interested?’ versus ‘She wondered if he really thought she was interested because she smiled at him’. There is no subject (no actor) in the first, but only in the second, denoted by ‘she wondered’. Similarly, don’t place the subject in the subordinate clause – because that’s not where the emphasis is! 

So that was more an explanation by way of demonstration, but I usually find that to be more effective. There are other techniques you can use, but I haven’t made an exhaustive list here, and I tend to think some of them overlap anyway. 

I hope it’s helped you to understand the difference, even if it may not have helped you to achieve it. I know I still struggle to create deep third, even though I know how it should work.

So are we all traumatised now? A few people were already scarred after last week’s clash with POV.

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