Friday, 25 May 2012

What is Deep Third POV?

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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Marsha A. Moore said...

Great post, Ciara! I definitely love deep 3rd POV, but I can easily write in first as well. What trips me up is writing present tense--just cannot do that no matter what POV. And, love your dragon egg pic--it's one of my fav mouse pads! :-)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

 I was recently told a short story I wrote fell closer to the omniscient end of third than deep, but I think I can vary from story to story. the novel is closer to deep I think. First - just ain't gonna happen!

Writing present tense isn't really recommended (except for a synopsis) so I wouldn't worry over that one too much.

It comes in a mouse pad? I SO must have it!

Louise3anne said...

Complicated. I'm writing short stoies in 1st atm with no difficulties. It can be done. Jim Butcher uses it in thr Dresden Files.when I want to write in a different tense, I usually read a book written in the tense I want to do. (make that stories. Im on my tablet and can't correct.) Each tense has its own benefits and limitations. Thank you for this clear explanation! :-)

MAJK said...

I enjoyed reading this. POV's can be confusing. You brought up some great points. I read 
 "Do you think ‘the night before' to yourself?"  and laughed. Yes, I actually do think that way but I already know that I think differently from the average person in a weirdly objective manner. More importantly, you point (using relative time) was solid. The whole post was thought provoking for me. Good job.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

 My pleasure. Plenty of people can write 1st well, I'm just not one of them :-) I could probably learn, but not much point when I write high/epic fantasy! I always write in past tense. I find other tenses a bit weird.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

 LOL I might too but then I can be a bit pompous! I think it's fairly safe to say most people don't. Glad you found the post useful.

Christina Carson said...

Okay, I guess I'm the dummy here 'cause I'm still lost where deep third is concerned. If you come across someone writing in it, would you please let me know. That might help. Thanks for all your efforts on our behalf.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

No, don't feel silly, it's a hard one to get. I've been hearing about it for a year now and it kind of only just clicked for me the other day. I'm sure there are people who can explain it better than me, too.

Dave S said...

I enjoyed reading your informative explanation and attempt to define the concept of deep third, and particularly liked the observation that pronouns should only be used in action. 

However, I take issue with your comment on Relative Time: You asked, do I think 'the night before' to myself? I would have to say 'yes' if I were reflecting on an evening in the past and not literally last night. It seems from all your examples that deep third is written in the past tense ('the air smelled of baking bread'), and not the present tense ('the air smells of baking bread'). I believe it would be appropriate to say 'last night' if your narrative was written in the present tense, but if it is past tense, then you are already recounting an event from some point in the past, and any reference to a relative 'last night' would need to be referred to as 'the night before', because it is time relative to the narrative event, and not the narrator's telling of the tale. 

Maybe Deep Third would be better restricted to Present Tense narrative, if the relative immediacy of a term like 'last night' is an important device for increasing proximity with the character? Otherwise 'last night' is only chronologically correct if used in dialogue. The same difficulty arises with the use of, say, 'three weeks ago' in the narration. Again, this would work if the narrative is Present tense, but would need to be 'three weeks before' if the rest of the narrative is written in past tense.

Is this present tense relative time usage a convention within Deep Third POV? If so, I have to apologize, as I have never before heard of deep third, and am ignorant of its features. If this usage of relative time is common, then you are correctly defining it as such. I'm not trying to be difficult - I just thought the distinction between past and present tense was an important one.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

 I don't purport to be an expert, and I freely admit I struggle with the concept, so I do encourage you to read up on deep third elsewhere as well as here. However, in an attempt to answer your questions:

I meant literally last night, and not, for example, the night before last, or a night earlier than that. Yes deep third is written in past tense. Present tense is an unusual literary device and not found all that often. Even first is usually written in past tense. Past tense seems to be the easiest for readers to process (not my opinion, but that of the literary world in general).

It is appropriate to say 'last night' (for, specifically, last night and not an earlier night) because the idea is that it's not narrative from the narrator, but an internal thought for a character. In third limited, the character might think 'Last night was a disaster' and we'd italicise it. If it wasn't a thought, it wouldn't be italicised and would say 'The night before had been a disaster'. In deep third, it's impliedly understood it is a thought or character perception, it's not italicised, and we write 'last night had been a disaster'. Hence your point last night is only correct if used in dialogue - or, I would say, internal monologue. And the point with deep third is that narrative and internal monologue blur and become almost indistinguishable. At least, I THINK that's how it's supposed to work from what I've been taught.

As I said, I don't purport to be an expert on deep third. I can help even less with tenses because I've never bothered to learn about tenses - I always write in past tense. All I can say is no, deep third is not typically written in present tense (is anything typically written in present tense?) and I urge you to use other resources than my humble blog to find satisfactory answersto your questions. Thanks for asking, though, and sorry if my answer was less than helpful.

Stephanieberget said...

Thanks, Ciara. That was a very clear description of deep third POV. Now I just have to read it twenty times so it sinks into my brain.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

So do I... I'm not going to pretend this was easy to write!

Rosalie Ash said...

Interesting post, thank you. I am still confused, and feel the need to re-read all my published novels to see what POV they appear to be in! Rosie Ash

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Deep third is a tough one, and I don't pretend to be any good at it. I understand logically HOW it works, but I'm terrible at executing it, and not very good at spotting it either.

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