Justine: A Trick for Writing in Deep Third Person

justine covington, eight ladies writing, suzanne brockmann, deep third, POV, third person POVI have recently learned of a brilliant technique taught by Suzanne Brockmann on how to write in deep third, particularly if you struggle with that POV (which I do). She suggests writing your scene in first person, then change all the first-person pronouns to third-person pronouns. This is, in a word, genius.

Here’s an example. I whipped this up for this post using my main characters, Nate and Susannah, from my current WIP. (“I” is Susannah.) Warning: it’s pretty rough and not that well thought out.

I walked across the hall, determined that Nate would answer my knock this time. Standing outside the door, I thought about what I would say to him. That he should stop hiding his feelings? That I wanted him to exercise his husbandly rights? He’d shown me what passion was and right now, I wanted to experience it again. Now.

I pounded on the door. No answer. “Nate,” I said as loud as I dared, “you have to answer. I need to talk to you.”

I banged on the door again, but no sound came from the room. Disgruntled and frustrated, I was about to turn away when the door opened. Nate stood there, looking incredibly sexy, despite the bags under his eyes and stubbly chin.

“What do you want?” He wouldn’t look at me and I grew anxious that I would not be able to convince him to kiss me.

“I need you, Nate.”

His eyes locked with mine. Before I could take another breath, his mouth joined with mine, hard and soft at the same time. My heart sang as he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me tight. Finally, I was where I should have been all along. With the man I loved.

Here’s the exact same thing, but in third person.

Susannah walked across the hall, determined that Nate would answer her knock this time. Standing outside the door, she thought about what she would say to him. That he should stop hiding his feelings? That she wanted him to exercise his husbandly rights? He’d shown her what passion was and right now, she wanted to experience it again. Now.

Susannah pounded on the door. No answer. “Nate,” she said as loud as she dared, “you have to answer. I need to talk to you.”

She banged on the door again, but no sound came from the room. Disgruntled and frustrated, Susannah was about to turn away when the door opened. Nate stood there, looking incredibly sexy, despite the bags under his eyes and stubbly chin.

“What do you want?” He wouldn’t look at her and she grew anxious that she would not be able to convince him to kiss her.

“I need you, Nate.”

His eyes locked with hers. Before she could take another breath, his mouth joined with hers, hard and soft at the same time. Susannah’s heart sang as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight. Finally, she was where she should have been all along. With the man she loved.

I’ve just written a scene in deep POV with no head hopping. That’s the beauty of writing this way: it’s really hard to jump POVs. When you’re writing in first person, you really are putting yourself in the character’s place. I also find it easier to write about feelings, emotions, and observations when I write in first person. I imagine myself as the first person character (Nate, Susannah, etc.), then just picture it all happening to me (really fun when you’re writing a sex scene, haha!). After writing the scene in first person, I simply go back and change the pronouns from first person to third later on. I have found that when I do this, the draft scene that I’ve written is full of much more detail than my typical third-person drafts. It (hopefully) means a little less revising later on down the road.

Do you have any tricks for writing in deep third-person POV?

6 thoughts on “Justine: A Trick for Writing in Deep Third Person

  1. I think this sounds like a good tip. One thing I’ve noticed is that it helps my writing a lot if I really snuggle down in a character and wear the POV like a fur coat.

    I have some philosophical concerns about why first person is “bad” and third person (even deep deep third like this, which is mostly a pronoun change) is “good.” But I’ve heard too many comments from people who automatically reject first person to argue too deeply. Before I was really trying to write anything, almost everything I wrote was in first person. I love the immediacy of it.

    And if we have to change the pronoun to satisfy some publishing trend . . . well. I’m willing to do it.

    I have often thought I should just go back to 1rst person POV, and recently, I decided I was going to have only one POV character until I get better at writing. Even if the poor dear has No Real Goals. (grump, grump at my reluctant but stubborn darling, Perz.)

    • There’s a whole different conversation one could have around goals. Frex, I’m listening to The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer and aside from the Grandfather’s goals, I really don’t know what any other character aspires to. Her books to me seem more like a singular event that is resulting in an unfolding story (of course, as time goes on in the story, the character’s goals become quite clear). Yet that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

      As for POV, I would think that you should write what works/what you like. If first person appeals to you, then write it. If not, don’t. If you’re not sure, give a try writing in both and see what happens.

      I love your analogy, btw, of wearing a POV like a fur coat. I’ll have to keep that in mind as I write.

    • She’s right. There’s a difference between deep third (it’s still the narrator’s perception of events) and first person (it’s only the character’s perception of events), and for a finished product (i.e., final draft), you can’t simply replace pronouns; however, for someone like me, who struggles with telling vs. showing, or writing in a very-far-removed third, this little trick is a great way for me to get deeper into a character’s head on the first (and possibly second) draft than if I just write it in third person from the get-go.

  2. Any techniques that help you dig deeper and show more emotion are good ones. I’ve never been able to get used to the idea of rewriting scenes in multiple points of view to see which one works best—I always try to get it right the first time, and then revise it until I’m happy with it. And I can always rely on my beta readers, who are quick to point out my shortcomings!

  3. I like that suggestion. I’ll have to try it. I seems like it might be a good way to get more action in it, too, if I’m imagining that I am the character and doing what the character would be doing.

Let Us Know What You Think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s