Carol Berg May 24th, 2007
Question from a young writer:
I have recently noticed that while I write in the third person, I tend to insert a characters thoughts directly into the text (as if it was the narrator speaking), and generally model the narrator voice after whichever characterâ€™s POV it is at the moment.
Am I wrong in doing this? When Iâ€™m writing it and reading it, it seems to flow, but if I take a little step back and think about it, it doesnâ€™t make sense for the narrator to be saying something the character is thinking.
At the same time, it seems cumbersome to put in something like:
â€˜Canâ€™t he figure out that Iâ€™m trying to sleep? Honestly, the absolute nerve of himâ€¦ I should get u- NO! I wonâ€™tâ€¦(etc.)â€™ she thought.
especially after describing the scene, setting, and whatnot.
Nothing at all wrong with making the narrative “voice” be the POV character’s voice. This is a very intimate point of view which can be quite satisfying and involving for the reader–very like first person. You are eliminating the middle-man, so to speak. And you are correct that incessant use of “she/he thought” can be jarring. (The same thing with “I thought” when writing first person.)
A few caveats (with all the usual disclaimers about how anything can work if it is done masterfully enough. But you did say this was a beginning writer…):
1. To be true to your intimate POV make sure that you hold to that POV throughout the section and don’t let omniscient observations creep into your narrative. That is, keep focused through your character’s eyes, avoiding things like visual self-details, attribution of unobservable motives and feelings to other characters, and reference to events outside your POV character’s knowledge.
2. I know there are some here who decry the use of italics for direct thoughts, but I think this is a great example of where they can be useful. Otherwise, if you are writing in third person, simple past tense, and the character’s thoughts are in first person, present tense without such delineation, the text can seem a jumble. You say your words read smoothly, then likely you’re doing a good job of this already. Try reading the section aloud, as well.
There are lots of ways to give the reader a sense of immediacy and intimacy. One way is by avoiding prediction, such as “that was the last time he ever made that mistake” or “it was to be many years until she understood how she had hurt him.” These kinds of phrases come to us easily, and, depending on the style of the narrative, can flow beautifully. But they do remind the reader of the distance from the events. Another way is through a slight deviation from correctness. Though I write in simple past, I will occasionally sprinkle in some “immediate” references such as “last night” instead of “the previous night” and such like through my narrative, as if my narrator were reliving the events even as he or she was relating them.
I’m sure others have suggestions as to how to make third-person narratives more immediate.