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How to Use Close Third-Person To Get Closer to Your Characters

This guest post is by John Tang. John is a writer and graduate of the MFA program at San Francisco State. You can follow him on his blog, and read the literary magazine that he works for, Brev Spread.

`Close Third-Person is important tool to have in your kit. This is a chance for the reader to become intimate with your characters. And if done correctly, you can enter the natural vernacular seamlessly.

Close Third-Person

Creative Commons License Photo by Lali Masriera

John Gardner in The Art of Fiction explains it best in his example:

  1. It was winter of 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  3. Henry hated snowstorms.
  4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing, and plugging up your miserable soul.

Already you can see a difference in the sentence although they say pretty much say the same thing.

The mistake authors make however is that you can’t get to level five without going through one or at least two. You have to gradually get there. Go ahead and try reading 1 and then 5, you will feel jarred compared to reading 3, 4, and then 5.

Authors To Learn Close Third-Person From

The best authors in this practice are Iris Murdoch, Virginia Woolf, and Alice Munro, who won this year’s Nobel Prize in short fiction. Most people will champion Woolf because she wrote in a catastrophic era when consciousness was a trend and that she precedes both Murdoch and Munro.

But I want to use my hero Iris Murdoch in A Fairly Honourable Defeat to show how you can enter the consciousness—or to put it more technically, enter third person and shift into first person:

Morgan pushed the earth away and rolled down the slope onto the level of the shorter grass. She lay there prone and struggled with giddiness and nausea and unconsciousness. She told herself, and hung desperately on to the though, I have got sunstroke, that is what it is, it must be. She herself onto her knees, panting, grasping, keeping her head down. She did not know whether her eyes were closed or not. She seemed to see the expanse of green floor between the high flowering banks and it was alive with movement and huge forms. The great ray from afar was pinning her between the shoulder blades and trying to force her down again […] She felt the sun burning into the back of her neck as if it was directed through a prism. She though I have got to get up. Gasping and sobbing for breath she got to her feet and as if still blind and yet seeing began to run as fast as she could along the level floor of the cutting.

Murdoch breaks away from prose at “that is what it is, it must be,” entering into speech.

How does she do it? The trick here is using the concrete details from the natural world; and with that, you have already established a voice for your readers. Now you can enter into the syntax of your characters.

I implore you to read Woolf and Munro, who perhaps does a better job than Murdoch. I’ve selected Murdoch purely out of love and a chance to share her works. I firmly believe everyone should read The Sea, The Sea.

Do you write in close third-person? What tips do you have to get close to your characters?

PRACTICE

So here’s the exercise. For fifteen minutes, write in close-third person. And here’s my recommended approach. First, select an emotion and a setting. And then guide all the concrete details to reflect that emotion. You will naturally enter the character’s mind and discover what he or she is perhaps musing over or growing annoyed at.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave a few comments for your fellow writers.

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  • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

    I personally love close third person. The closer, the better! ;-)

    Here’s an excerpt from my short story “Confession” (already published) which is written entirely in close third person. It’s also written in stream-of-consciousness hence the lack of punctuation.

    It was hot in the piazza. The sweat drilling down his brow smudged all the colors of all the people into a puddle painted before his squinting eyes and suddenly he shivered a cold anxious shiver that ran down, all the way down, shocking his body raw, the body that had been slowly, cozily heating itself up in the April sun of Rome. Back home it’s still cool he thought and shut his eyes back into his brain. He pushed with all his might to will himself back home and straight into his cool wooden patio chair the one that swung slowly back and forth in a breeze across his patio and he could feel the fresh eastern wind on his face scraping the sweet scent of newly blooming spring gardens budding trees and he opened his eyes overjoyed but the heat clamped down on him with a hand yet heavier than before. His present reality was too much to bear. They were still there the throngs the masses the gullible sinners standing on the cobblestones ignoring their true boredom fatigue hunger thirst and nausea because they had traveled thousands of kilometers and miles by all modes of transportation available for outrageous prices herded like cattle into airplanes buses cars and trains and rushing along all the roads that had always led to Rome, and all just to say for the rest of their lives I saw the Pope and then forget entirely what it was really like to stand there in the piazza in front of an edifice that had seen more ignominy than ever there were Popes in history. He noticed her standing next to him and he remembered she was the one who had dragged him away from the comfort of his home to this foreign place his wife he remembered she was his wife but he allowed himself to forget at least for now he allowed himself to dream and imagine himself there alone in the midst of these miserable masses his simple chain of thought alone daring to separate from the others, his will alone rising above the downtrodden verses murmured by the papal voice, repeated with low confused and unintelligibly senile breaths, and he thought of the enchanted spires of Budapest the misted streets of Prague the dusty roofs of Morocco the painful lush forests of South America the green eerieness of China the fresh breezes of Alaska and all the places he ever travelled, glorious voyages of his early youth when he was wild single and free

    [END EXCERPT, © Birgitte Rasine]

    • Davey Northcott

      Hey Brigitte. I really like your long sentences here, they capture the feeling of being in a bustling St.Peter’s square really well.

      • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

        Thanks Davey! This story was inspired by a real experience… that was me standing in St. Peter’s, invited by a Catholic friend of mine to attend Easter Mass. It struck me, profoundly, how the Catholic religion has managed to keep its power for so many centuries. When I came home, this story poured out, all eight thousand words of it.

    • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

      Birgitte,
      You really carried me along into this character’s thoughts, the shifts from present to past, from the conjestion of the piazza to his gardens at home. A dizzying ride.
      Adelaide.

      • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

        Hi Adelaide!

        Thank you for the kind words. The ride only intensifies as you get into it (this excerpt is near the beginning). If you can believe it, it was just as dizzying for me to write it. I’m writing another story now in this same vein, although very different topic.

        Very best, Birgitte

    • Adam

      Damn, that was really awesome. The visuals are overwhelming. It’s obvious that you love close third-person because you are really good at it. And, I liked how you went without commas when listing so that the flow continued as fast as his thoughts thought them.

      • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

        Thank you Adam. I actually wrote this story back in 2001 and only published it recently. It was about time! A lot of readers tell me it takes them a bit to get into it b/c of the non existent punctuation, but once they do they can’t stop. The pope whose voice carries on in the background is the late John Paul II. The published version of the story has a short chapter where I explain the inspiration for it in greater detail.

        Would love to know more about the writing you do!

        • Adam

          Yeah, I could see how it could be difficult for readers at first, but the payoff is huge when it comes to how much you can vary emotions, thinking, pace and the poetry of the prose without.

          I write when I can haha. Usually short stories (I love reading a good short more than anything else), but I want to explore deeper and write something longer sometime soon.

    • Mer

      I have a special fondness for close 3rd and 1st person, and always enjoy stream-of-consciousness too. It reminds me a ride on a water-slide: once you push off, you are committed, no turning back, taking each twist and turn at a much greater speed than you (the reader) can control. Exhilarating!

      • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

        Nice analogy, I’d agree. I enjoyed your practice here as well. (did you see my last comment to you on my blog post the other day?)

        • Mer

          Hmmmm….maybe not. Just getting the hang of how these discussions work. Let me go back and check…

    • John Tang

      That was an awesome experience, the way the images drilled deeper into the character’s psyche sentence after sentence, feeling the oscillation in what I perceive to be his feelings for his wife.

    • EtienneT2014

      So in close third person you get into the head of the character?

  • Davey Northcott

    Great idea! Here’s my try. I have tried to create a mystical atmosphere to mirror the feeling of liberation that the character is feeling in his surroundings.

    The mountain air stung inside Ranulf’s throat as he plunged one
    snow-weighted foot after another up the narrow pathway of white-buried rocks, but
    despite the pain and effort and slight light-headedness from exertion he was
    content. As he entered the forest the light changed from the open, dazzling
    white of the clearing to a softer, more mystical grey of the woods. The
    flurries of the already melting fall slipping in cascades down from the
    winter-beaten branches, sprinkling their beckoning calls all around him.

    ‘Come join us,’ the sounds seemed to call out to him, as he
    stopped to drink in the serenity of the snowed wood. I love this
    place, he thought, the stillness, the quiet. It was peace to him and he felt
    his heart quicken, this time not from the climb but from his own sheer
    excitement at being alone with nothing but his own mind and the wind and the
    ground.

    Then a sudden flash pulled him rudely back from his dream. A
    stray sunbeam had found its way through the clouds to meet him, casting
    momentary spindles of magical stick shadows all over the smooth, white carpet
    ahead. The shadows curled and waved to him, arm-like. They were drawing him in,
    too, just as was the tumbling branch-snow. Everything wants me here, he told
    himself, the woodland is calling for me and I am following its call.

    He started walking again, feeling the slow crunch of the icing-like
    covering below him as he placed his feet more gently now so as not to break
    the sacred aura that radiated from the soft floor. I’ll never leave this place, he mused happily, freedom flooding a path through his limbs as he ventured further and further
    into his forest.

    See more about me and join in some IMAGINATION FUN in The imAgine RooM:

    http://daveynorthcottauthorwriter.blogspot.com.es/
    and
    @DaveyNorthcott on Twitter

    • John Tang

      Hi Davey, this is awesome. The transition is seemless. When you write, “I love this place, he thought, the stillness, the quiet,” it sheds light on all the details, placing the mystery into context.

    • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

      Beautiful and poetic description of the winter woods.
      Adelaide

      • Davey Northcott

        Thanks Adelaide, I’d been walking in some snowy woods yesterday morning before writing it, so it served as some good inspiration.
        If you’d like to check out my blog, The
        imAgine RooM, please feel free. There’s a few challenges there too and
        also soon will be news of my first novel that I’ll be publishing for
        ebook.
        You can also follow me on Twitter at @DaveyNorthcott.
        Hope to see you there!

    • Elise Martel

      I love your word choices. Mystical grey, slow crunch, freedom flooding a path. Some words become colors, drawing a canvas not just in black and white, but in a plethora of rainbows.

      • Davey Northcott

        Thanks Elise, I’m really pleased you like it. That was the idea I was trying to create. I like your choice of words too: ‘plethora of rainbows’, that’s great!
        If you’d like to check out my blog, The imAgine RooM, please feel free. There’s a few challenges there too and also soon will be news of my first novel that I’ll be publishing for ebook.
        You can also follow me on Twitter at @DaveyNorthcott.
        Hope to see you there!

    • Davey Northcott

      Hey Elise and John. I’m not sure why but my replies to your comments are not appearing here on the page. Maybe you have received them via email but if not I’ll thank you both here for your kind words.
      If you’d like to check out my blog, The
      imAgine RooM, please feel free.
      http://daveynorthcottauthorwriter.blogspot.com.es/
      There’s a few challenges there too and
      also soon will be news of my first novel that I’ll be publishing for
      ebook.
      You can also follow me on Twitter at @DaveyNorthcott.
      Hope to see you there!

    • Mer

      Davey, I enjoyed your description of the change of light: “As he entered the forest the light changed from the open, dazzlingwhite of the clearing to a softer, more mystical grey of the woods.” I did some cross-country skiing (about a bazillion years ago) when we lived at South Lake Tahoe for a couple of years. (Downhill was definitely not my friend.) With an economy of words, you’ve evocatively captured the contrast of lighting in snow country. Very nice.

      • Davey Northcott

        Hi Mer. Thanks a lot, I glad you enjoyed it. Light is something that we generally take for granted but it provides a wealth of wonderfully descriptive material that we can use. I love it.
        If you’d like to check out my blog, The
        imAgine RooM, please feel free.
        http://daveynorthcottauthorwri
        There’s a few challenges there too and
        also soon will be news of my first novel that I’ll be publishing for
        ebook.
        You can also follow me on Twitter at @DaveyNorthcott.
        Hope to see you there!

    • http://www.birgitterasine.com/ Birgitte Rasine

      I’ve always loved snow although I don’t like the cold (conflict!). Enjoyed this piece… have one question about your character’s name. Where are we here, what does the name tell us?

      • Davey Northcott

        Hey Birgitte. Thanks for the comment. The good news: snow and cold don’t always go together. I can remember some great skiing trips in beautiful sunshine. Bad news: often they do!
        The name Ranulf always comes to my mind when thinking of snow because of the explorer Sir Ranulf Fiennes. Though the character is not actually meant to be him, I think he would have felt at home in the environment in which my Ranulf finds himself.
        If you’d like to check out my blog, The
        imAgine RooM, please feel free.
        http://daveynorthcottauthorwriter.blogspot.com.es/
        There’s a few challenges there too and
        also soon will be news of my first novel that I’ll be publishing for
        ebook.
        You can also follow me on Twitter at @DaveyNorthcott.
        Hope to see you there!

      • Davey Northcott

        Adding to my last reply, I have just realised that Sir Ranulph Fiennes is spelt with a ‘ph’ rather than an ‘f’ at the end of the christian name. Never mind, sorry Ranulph F.

  • Christy

    Great article today!! My WIP is currently written like this. I hope I’m doing it right!! Here’s a sample:

    It was, without a question, Monday morning. Sleep had not come easy to Jaycee Roberts. She was functioning on 4 hours a night; exhausted to the point of near death.
    She lay in bed, her mind and body heavy. Her fatigued arm and leg muscles screamed with each small movement. Her eyes burned. She was certain they were filled with shards of glass. Her two day long headache wouldn’t go away, no matter how much ibuprofen she took. She couldn’t remember the last time she had restful, quiet sleep.

    She had become accustomed to staying up late watching exercise and diet infomercials. She welcomed anything that could drown out the silence. She knew them by heart and found herself reciting them along with the people in the commercials. Hell, she could sell the stuff herself she’d seen the same ones so many times. The
    commercials were the same old boring thing night after night, a mirror image of
    what her life had become over the past few months.

    The alarm clock blared next to her and she slapped her hand down, sending it flying to the other side of the room. It hit the wall and fell silent. She covered her head with the
    sheet as a ray of sunshine slid over her face. She was foolish to believe the sheet could protect her. It was too sheer, too light, too revealing.

    “Well good morning to you too.” Erik, her husband, was usually still sleeping when the alarm clock blared. He was up, showered and almost ready for work.

    “How come you’re up so early?” Jaycee sat up in bed, leaning back against the headboard, trying to fight off her dizziness.

    Erik turned and looked at her, shaking his head from side to side. Clearly disappointed and annoyed. “I have a meeting this morning. I told you about it two days ago.
    You have to take Abigail to school today.”

    Jaycee waved her hand, dismissing the notion she had forgot. “Oh, right. I
    remembered.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror: disheveled hair, no make up, and pale, with dark circles under her eyes. She wanted to throw up. This was not how she wanted to look. What the hell had happened? “You know, with as much as you’ve been gone lately, I’m beginning to thing you are cheating on me or something.” She wiped her hair from her face and sat up taller.

    Eric looked at her in the reflection of the mirror. “I’m really not in the mood for this today Jaycee.”

    Jaycee rolled her eyes, swung her legs to the side of the bed and stood up, straightening her sideways nightgown. “Geez. Can’t take a little joke this morning?”

    “Can we start at least one day off without the sarcasm?”

    Jaycee put her hands on her hips, shifting her weight to one side. She cocked her head to the side and forced a smile. “I’m not the one starting anything today.” She batted her eyes, looking like something from a circus act. “You don’t have to be so snippy every day either.” Jaycee crossed her arms across her chest. “What about Abigail’s dance recital tonight? Will you even bother showing up?” It was a low blow and she knew it, but it didn’t stop her from throwing it at him. The last thing he would ever do is miss something of Abigail’s, especially if he could help it.

    Erik was silent. He turned and looked at Jaycee, buttoning his shirt sleeve. “If I’m not home in time then go without me. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Erik pushed his
    fingertips through his hair and sighed. He finished buttoning his other shirt cuff then hooked his police badge to his pants belt. “I’m going down to get coffee going.” He grabbed his coat and walked out of the room.

    • John Tang

      Hi Christy, cool excerpt. I’m not the arbiter of fiction by any means. I enjoyed your writing especially at this juncture, “Hell, she could sell the stuff herself she’d seen the same ones so many times. The commercials were the same old boring thing night after night, a mirror image of what her life had become over the past few months.” We are in the Jaycee’s psyche. Only Jaycee will use “hell” in her vernacular. This is an awesome beginning I hope to read in the future. I see the heart of the story seems to belong to Erik and Jaycee. I was curious if you will finish the story.

      • Christy

        Thank you for your comment John. My story has already been written and is in the editing process. I will finish it and see what goes from there!

        • John Tang

          Where can we read it, Christy, if you don’t mind my asking?

          • Christy

            I don’t have physical copies of the book at this time. To be honest, this is my first go around with something like this. Not sure where to go next once it’s all edited. Suggestions? I am hoping to send it to some publishers and I’m not sure about self publishing.

    • Elise Martel

      I like how you made the how scene tense without ever mentioning being tense. The little details like buttoning of the shirt sleeve, straightening the nightgown, wiping the hair off the face, etc. all add a dimension that strikes me as upper class and distinctive without being snobby.

      • Christy

        Thank you!

  • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

    TRAIL WALK

    How much further, Alice wondered.All the trails looked alike. The sun, high above when they began, was closer to the horizon now. They were lost. Lost! Harry wouldn’t admit it, of course. Not Boy Guide Harry. Knew every trail in the woods. Every trail but this one
    apparently.

    “There’s a narrow trail which branches off this one that leads back to the entrance,” he had said.So smug when she asked if he were sure. So sarcastic. “Go your own way if
    you’re so sure I’m wrong.” She wasn’t entirely sure then, but now, two hours later, she was sure. “We’re…” No, she wouldn’t say the word. Lost was not in his vocabulary. “I never got lost in Falcon Wood,” he boasted to friends who had remarked on the
    convoluted trails, the twisting turns and obstructed views, the thickness of
    trees and tangled undergrowth.

    “We’re what?” Harry asked, using that tone which showed mounting anger.

    “Losing the sun,” she said.

    “I can see that. Don’t you think I can see that?”

    See it all you want, but what will you do about it? Nothing he could do, but plod on through the dimming light. Rustlings in the trees. Birds probably coming home to roost. At least it was warm, actually still hot for early September. She checked her water bottle. Not much left. Maybe Harry had some. They couldn’t travel after dark. Who knows where this trail led. It could loop back upon itself, and they would be going in circles. Someone was sure to come. Don’t be a dreamer. Maybe in the morning, not this late. They wouldn’t die. A night without water wouldn’t kill them. Or food. Oh, don’t think of food. That sandwich she ate hours ago on the trail was long digested, and her
    stomach was calling for more food. Oh, her legs and back were aching. She’d
    love to lie down. She didn’t care about the hard ground. A firm bed is better for
    the back, anyway.

    “Come on, Alice. Hurry it up. Quit lagging.” Harry stopped and searched in his backpack. “Damn. No flashlight.”

    “Ah ha! The Great Boy Guide makes a mistake.”

    “Knock it off. It’s going to be dark soon. We have to move faster. Do you want to spend the night here?”

    Alice hoisted her backpack a little higher and trudged on behind Harry. With his white sneakers he wasn’t too hard to see in the glooming dusk. Next time…what was she thinking about? There wasn’t going to be a next time. Well, if there were, she’d insist that they both wear white or yellow and those sneakers with the blinking lights.

    “Harry. Harry!” Alice stopped again. She plopped on the ground, her head sinking into her hands.

    “What’s the matter now?”

    “My back. I’m getting terrible spasms. I don’t think I can walk another foot.”

    “Alice.” Harry bent down and lifted her up. “Lean on me. Don’t give up now. We’re almost there. I think.”

    He thinks. Oh, my God. What an admission. He thinks. Maybe, he’s right. They had no other choice.

    Ten minutes later sounds of cars moving came from up ahead. Headlights
    flashed through the trees as cars left the parking lot.

    Alice leaned into Harry and planted a kiss on his cheek. “My hero. The Great Boy Guide.”
    Adelaide B. Shaw

  • Elise Martel

    Humid night air chased him around with sticky fingers, incriminating his walk with beads of sweat. She’d know where he’d been the instant he got back. He could hear her rough voice, coarse enough to grate a crateful of nutmegs, tossed across the room at him. “So you went out again! Well, at least one of us loves the other. It really is unfortunate how deep you have descended into psychopathy.”
    Psychopathy. Like she was some perfect angel. More like a perfect demon. It was always “Bryce, you never think about me. It’s always you, you, you. Never me.” Those lips, poisonous enough to have eaten from Eve’s forbidden fruit, would move close to his ear. Reeking of cherry lipgloss and too much merlot, she would wind him around her little finger. It was only a matter of time before she wound her scarf around his neck and convinced him to hang himself with it.
    Bryce shook his head violently. Her words rattled inside him like an army of gnats buzzing around in his skull. She was the smokescreen to disguise what she was really doing to him. The thought was enraging. He needed her, and he hated it. Hated everything. Hated himself for being so played. Her for being so cunning. And that retarded moment he took Fletcher’s wallet. Of course she saw. She saw everything.
    The thick forest, bearded with Spanish moss, beckoned him in deeper. He ignored the mosquitoes and crept onward, willing his body to stay upright on the soap slick trail. It wended on, leading him farther from her and closer to himself.
    He reached it at last. The great oak tree in the middle of the woods. The bark beckoned to him, the stalwart arm didn’t even blink as he pulled himself up it. This tree knew him, this tree loved him.
    His fingernails tested the small hole in the trunk. Probably infested with a family of squirrels that would bite him. He would die of rabies. Better than dying of Mary Jane. He wiggled his forefinger and middle finger inside. Empty. Frantically, he felt around. It was gone. Gone. Gone.
    He let out a yell that echoed across the treetops. She found it. And she was laughing.

    • Davey Northcott

      Hey Elise. I really like the idea of humidity having sticky fingers that chase you; it really works well. You’ve got some other fantastic language here too but I have a feeling that humidity’s sticky fingers are going to stick in my mind! Good stuff!

  • Mer

    She’d pulled a double-shift and was well past the point where sleep would be a natural result of bone-throbbing exhaustion. Sleep never came easy to Reggie, but when they were on a case, it was like her brain forgot how to get to where sleep hid.

    Unlocking the door to her place, she stepped over and added to the growing pile discarded clothing that began at her front door and trailed down the hallway to the bathroom door. She twisted on the hot water to full force, opened the medicine cabinet over the sink, avoiding her reflection, then dry-swallowed a couple of antihistamine tablets, what she called “sleep insurance.”

    Pulling off the tank top and stepping out of her panties, Reggie inched into the shower. The shock of the hot water scalded her skin, but she didn’t adjust it, merely pressed her arms straight in front of her, palms against the tiles, letting the water stream over her head. Her body ached from the fatigue of sleep deprivation and sustained tension, but there were worse kinds of pain.

    Images from the crime scene played behind her eyelids. It was by far the worst one she’d seen. The female victim couldn’t have been much more than fourteen or fifteen. The blood, the maggots, the obvious rodent involvement with the remains___

    Pressing my eyes hard into the back of my hands, I tried to rub away a collage of images that gave mute testimony to a hideous murder designed to inflict the maximum misery on that child. Somebody’s little girl, slowly, viciously tortured and left to die.

    The hot water was gone, and my skin was stinging and scalded. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to exchange physical pain for the psychological rape that went with my job. I began to retch, and watched the fuchsia, partially digested pills dissolving in the bottom of the shower. I groaned.

    I had less than ten hours to get a grip on this, to regain some professional detachment before my partner, Denton, came to pick me up for what promised to be a tense debriefing. The crime scene pictures would be up on the whiteboard, the initial forensics available. Denton and I had caught the call, so we’d be “on”–giving our initial impressions of the scene to the rest of the department. I turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, pulled on an over-sized terry-cloth robe, twisted my hair into a towel and shuffled to my bedroom, not bothering to straighten the twisted bedsheets. My computer was on, but with a blue-screen, so I pressed a button; the simple, haunting piano chords of the Elmer Bernstein Suite began as the opening credits rolled. Scout’s voice said:

    “Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their 3 o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy… and no money to buy it with….”

    Soon the sonorous voice of Atticus Finch would lull me into what passed as sleep. This was my “sleeping aid” of choice–when it worked. The movie was set to a continuous loop and with luck, I’d get at least three hours. I laid down and in moments, felt my day mercifully drop away.

    • Davey Northcott

      This is a nice piece of writing that shows well the tiredness Reggie feels at the end of a long day. I especially like the ‘bone-throbbing exhaustion’! A great piece of imagery.

      • Mer

        Thanks, Davey. Been experimenting with genre writing and perhaps a recurring character. We’ll see how/if it progresses,

        • Davey Northcott

          Good luck with it, it seems a good start. I’ve never tried writing a recurring character but one thing that (and this is probably stupidly obvious) I’ll say is that they should have a couple of really strongly identifying personality traits that the readers can identify with throughout the series. If you’ve not, check out Ian Rankin’s ‘Rebus’ series for a great recurring cop character with oodles of personality.

          • Mer

            I agree wholeheartedly! Though I’ve read less than a half-dozen series in the crime/mystery genre (consistently) and love Ian Rankin, Arthur Conan Doyle and even Agatha Christie in their ability to create layers of complexity to their recurring characters,I think James Lee Burke reigns supreme in this category!

            Right now, I have a WIP that has stalled, and two other persistent stories that keep showing up in practice/prompt pieces. Maybe I should stop “toying” with them and get on with it? ;)

          • Davey Northcott

            Do it! Until you try you’ll never know! :)

  • Mer

    Great article today, John! My WIP is composed of Close 3rd person and a rotation of 1st person–tricky to manage, but very satisfying when I get it right!

  • Renaissance Project

    My challenge or the resistance I am experiencing approaching the exercise is that I am
    writing (auto)biography not fiction. So close third person is helpful to me in the reverse: instead of getting closer to the character, often myself, it allows me to create distance between what sometimes feels unbearably sensitive, personal and myself-to observe the character from a more objective position. I’ll work on it and submit a practice later.

    • John Tang

      Oh man, a lot of non-fiction uses close-third person, mainly to draw the reader closer to the person’s psyche. But scientifically there is an essay in the New Yorker that has the qualities of close third person to illustrate Aspergers syndrome. But might I ask, is there a plot-arc in your story?

      • Renaissance Project

        Hi John, sorry but I’ve been offline and am just seeing your response now. I’ll look for the New Yorker essay about Aspergers and thanks for the reference. Regarding my story, yes there is a story arc and the narrative unfolds over time while referring back to past events. I’m not certain whether or not this answers your question and I am happy to continue our dialogue about my writing. Thanks for your support.

        • John Tang

          We could continue, so as long as my Gmail reminds me. But yes, a plot-arc should help determine when you should go close third-person. The moments when the character gets closer to his desires are typically when the scene slows down and you get into you character’s psyche. Again, if you’re psyche is distanced, the story will read like a history textbook. Gardner writes, “It’s the winter of 1853.” I don’t the character. I don’t know the emotion in the scenery. But a plot-arc will suggest where to create scene and summary.

  • Aruna Ravi

    I am a new member in the forum and this is the very first time I am posting a practice exercise. I am excited to be doing this !!! Alright,.. Here goes.

    Hi. That one word stared at her from the screen. Hi. What a simple, innocuous word it word was. Hi. A harmless, non-offensive greeting. Hi. A polite handshake.
    Hi. It was simple, but deceptively simple.
    She stared back at the word, afraid to discover the terrible secrets it was guarding. It is nothing to be afraid of, she told herself unconvincingly.
    He can’t hurt me anymore, I am strong now, she counselled herself. The unforgiving clock kept ticking, taunting her to act. She shivered in response and backed away.
    Her throat was parched, her body begging for a sip of water. As though the water would bring her the courage, the nerve to face him again.
    She got up and went into the kitchen, taking her time to find a glass. She slowly filled water into the glass from the tap, her mind wandering to another time and another place.
    I can’t do this anymore, she had said. Why can’t you, he had responded, gripping her wrist hard, fury burning in his eyes. Please let me go, I feel suffocated, she had pleaded.
    With a rush of fear, she remembered the copper taste of blood in her mouth as his palm left a sharp sting on her cheek.
    She gave a start and jerked to the present, closing the tap on her now overflowing glass. She gulped the cool water greedily, willing it to calm her. Instead she felt a shiver start through her body, jumpstarting her into action. The rush of adrenalin made her feel brave, and she strode to her computer.

    With a silent prayer on her lips, she clicked open his email.

    • Elise Martel

      I liked the beginning of your story, but when I reached the part where she recalls what he said to her in the past, it felt a little choppy. By eliminating all the hads, your story could flow better.

      For example, instead of Why can’t you, he had responded, gripping her wrist hard, fury burning in his eyes,
      You could try Why can’t you? The memory of his grip on her wrist still hurt, and she tried hard to forget the fury burning in his eyes.

      • Aruna Ravi

        Hi Elise,
        Thank you so much for your honest feedback.
        I agree with your criticism. Upon re-reading my passage, I noticed the choppiness in flow that you mentioned. I really like the way your suggestion improves the readability of the story.
        Really appreciate it !
        Thanks again,
        Aruna.

  • Eloise Lau

    Hi! Pretty new here, I think this only my second time participating in this forum. So here’s what I got after 15 minutes:

    The smog coiled around the city like a boa constrictor. It was everywhere, she thought, as she made her way through the haze. As if the day couldn’t get any more confusing. She woke up this morning with an unidentifiable emotion, one that was laced with both sadness and relief. The cause of the confusion? She wasn’t sure.

    It could be that she had more to deal with compared to these other mortals. Such insignificant lives they led, and even more insignificant short lifespans. She watched the throng of mortals hustle and bustle to work in spite of the weather, and wondered how they could abide such an existence. Wake up, eat, work, sleep, and start all over the next day, It was boring. It was mundane. It served no purpose.

    But he was nothing like these mortals.

    She met him on another morning much like this one. However, mist, rather than sooty haze, had descended upon the city, finding its way into every street corner, not unlike a possessive hoarder, storing his goods in every space that he could fill. Mist, unlike smog, was chilly. It seeped into the crevices of her soul. And no, she was not being overtly dramatic. It was very difficult to work under these conditions.

    Her coat was beginning to dampen when she met him on the bridge.

    Perhaps it was the soft cadence of his footsteps that caught her attention. Or perhaps it was the soothing darkness he eluded. His wavy hair fell across his brow, but it didn’t hide his jarringly handsome facial features. There was something familiar about his shallow breathing and the expression etched on his face – his eyes coal-black deep pools of nothingness.

    She had to say something.

    “Hello,” she whispered.

    • John Tang

      Your prose are very neat and unfold carefully and slowly, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you wanted to push the envelope, can you reach number 5 in Gardner’s psychic distance scale? Yet, I’m more curious what brings her to roam the city. And more importantly, to zoom in on the psychic distance, what is her name?

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  • Babcia

    I have a question rather than a story. I want to include character background in my story. I, too, very much like using close third person. However, I want the story to move along by using the action and dialogue of the characters. In order for the reader to understand the characters perspective, background needs to be given. The background also links the characters. How and when do I do this? Any suggestions? Thanx :)

    • John Tang

      Hi Babcia, there’s really a perfect time to enter into “summary.” At this point your psychic distance is far and you can delve anywhere in time. The only trouble is that too much of it can make the story read like a history book. My suggestion is to always begin with scenes, Actually, a better answer is, try to play with “scene” and “summary.” It seems to me that’s what you’re talking about. Off the top of my head, an author who does it well with seemless transition Joyce Carol Oates in “Where are you going, Where have you been?” Notice how Oates transitions from background details, with a far psychic distance, to scene:

      Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.

      “Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How’ve you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t

      see your sister using that junk.”

      For me, I err on imagery and visceral experience. But the real answer would be just have fun with it.

  • Steven J. Holt

    Hi, i’m still learning this stuff, I try and mix poetry in with what I do; Here’s an excerpt from something i’m working on called; Sasha’s diary…

    The atmosphere of a crowded room relentlessly floods Sasha’s body. Wave after crashing wave, anxious motion building from her heavy head and slamming down on her tired feet. Is it possible to feel so lonely in a room this full. I’m not happy here, these people are drones, following deep rooted codes and programs which they seem to unknowingly believe to be some kind of self or individuality. I feel sick, I DO care just not enough to listen or speak. If I had wings I would fly away, but to stand here lifeleslly and try to stay, means once again i’ll cry today.
    Sasha’s head lifts as she draws a blank smile, convincing enough for the room. Thank god for a fringe that neatly covers and hides away all the words torn and frayed, on the fragile pages of Sasha’s diary…

    I would really love and appreciate feedback from anyone who writes!! My twitter handle is; @StevenJHolt …