Storytelling Essentials: Deep 3rd Person Perspective

*This was originally posted over a year ago. I will have a brand new sketch posted tomorrow at 7:00 AM PST tomorrow. See you then!

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: DEEP THIRD PERSON PERSPECTIVE

So you’ve decided to write fiction, but have no idea what perspective to use. You love the way “Hunger Games” reads in first person, and wish to emulate it, but are uncertain how to describe situations and events that might be beyond your main characters current level of intellect. You decide to move to third person, but a short ways in realize that your story lacks emotion – and every time you try to broadcast the feelings of your protagonist, they come directly out-the-mouth through dialogue. Not very effective, seeing as how everyday people don’t commonly say, “I’m really scared right now.” And if they did, they’d be a pretty wimpy hero (Sorry, just saying).

I prefer deep 3rd person perspective. It’s sort of a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person that has become increasingly common in recent years. Here’s what it looks like –

* * *

George walked over to the wobbly wooden table, sat down, then stared at his now-cold cup of coffee. Since he’d first set that mug down, so much had changed…

George took a sip. He needed to think. He needed to be awake, no matter how much he needed to sleep. George groaned, ran his fingers through his oily, slick-backed hair, then crossed his arms and hunched over the table top. What could he do? Where should he start?

He winced his eyes closed, then gulped. The fact that he’d lost had yet to sink in. It was a terrible thought, but the fact that her murderer was still out there gave him something to keep his mind off her gruesome death. The way she looked, half naked, burn marks everywhere, and that thing she had on her face. What was that? Was it even human??

George shuddered then smeared his face. He took another big gulp of coffee, then smeared the brown from his sun-worn lips. He stood up so fast he knocked the mug down to the floor, bringing it to shatter.

He caught himself just short of swearing, then grabbed the chair backing with the tightly closed fold of his hand.

“Barbara,” He said with his eyes closed, then sniffed. “Who did it. For the love of God, show me something. Tell me who murdered you.”

After a short wait in dead silence, George let out a muffled whine, then scrunched his eyelids together.

A creak.

George’s eyes shot open. He slowly raised his gaze, and looked in the direction of the ominous sound. It had come from just above the mantle piece, right where he kept the picture from the fishing contest. The one Barbara always begged him to take down.

George remembered that picture fondly, almost able to smile even now from it. He’d caught the biggest fish in the water that day, won the contest and everything. He never understood why Barbara refused to smile when their photo was taken. He never understood why she always hated that photograph.

The creak sounded again. Same spot.

“Barbara?” Said George. The grin left him. He walked with a kind of slanted focus, keeping half-an eye on the picture. As he crept closet to it he felt his heart begin to beat a little faster.

“Are you… trying to tell me something?”

A thump. The sounds were coming from straight above, up in the attic. George didn’t think much of it – He was too rusty to even consider climbing the ladder to check it out.

George stopped by the picture. He placed his hand over the corner of the frame.

“Oh my God.”

He fell back a step, tripped, then crashed onto the short living room desk. He shut his eyes and pressed his hand to his heart. That man. That man in the picture Barbara had always asked him about. Jim was his name.

George gulped. A quick race of noises came from the attic – like footsteps.

After George won the fishing contest that day, he’d never seen Jim again – until this day. At the crime scene. Why the hell was Jim there, anyway?

George’s eyes flew open. He remembered something else – Jim asked where he was living at nowadays. And George had given him his exact address.

There was another thump from above. George had to get up, but he needed Barbara to help him…

* * *

Okay, so a lot of deep third person perspective in there, but you know what other story telling element was frequently employed? If you tuned in to my post a few days ago, you may have guessed it already – suspense. Once again, suspense is information withheld. Every time you found yourself asking, “Who? What? Why?” That was thanks to suspense, and is an effective tool to keep your readers reading. If you want to be a diligent student of the craft, you’d be wise to find and circle those sentences on your own, that practice employing them in your own scenes. When writing suspense, the questions are more important than the answers. In other words, your mind doesn’t compel you to keep reading because of how awesome the thing on Barbara’s dead face was – it compels you to keep reading because you don’t know what it was, but want to.

Deep third person perspective is merely a blending of plain, straight-forward depiction of events, persons, and things, with the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. To better display the difference in perspectives, let me show you how the opening to this scene would have looked had I written it in third person limited:

George sat down at the wobbly talbe. He rested his hands on it, then let out a short winded breath. He balled his hand into a fist, then uttered a soft moan.

“Barbara… I can’t believe I’ve lost you.”

There was a creak. George raised his eyes to check it out.

The reason you now feel alienated from George, rather than involved with him, is because every description is entirely physical. The voice is that of the author, rather than George’s own, and the scene is akin to what you would see if observing, rather than partaking in. Here is how it may have read in first person:

I sat down in the chair and looked at my cup of coffee. It was cold by now. I couldn’t believe all the events that had transpired since the time I’d first brewed that cup. I couldn’t believe I’d lost Barbara. I couldn’t believe how she’d been killed; the way her body looked.

One of the drawbacks of first person is you must remain in character at all times. Your descriptions, your insights, even your suspense – everything is coming straight from the mind of your protagonist. She is the writer, not you.

Deep third person perspective may sound confusing, but after some practice you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, deep third person is my preference, and every author is different. Some even prefer second person:

You see George sit in the chair. You can tell he’s nervous by the way he stares at his coffee. You watch his hands tremble.

Blows, doesn’t it? Yeah, don’t ever write in second person.

 Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

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Bizarre Setting for “Way of the World”

The entire Way of the World series takes place in two distinct settings – The Island of Paradise and a town called Gnashing.

The Island of Paradise is a metaphor for the garden of Eden, and in later books becomes the kingdom of heaven.

Gnashing is a metaphor for the world – and in the town of Gnashing there is a wilderness that features rattlesnakes, wolves, and bears. There are green ferns from the east coast, and giant redwood trees from the west coast. To one side of the wilderness is a beach, to the other a desert. The extravagant homes in Gnashing are based on early 20th century Edwardian models. Here is a sketch of the Dunlap’s residence:

Dunlap's estate front view

Across from the luxurious houses are farms, where the lowly class of Loyalists work (they were slaves not long ago).

The setting of Gnashing is meant to be timeless and multicultural. The “Way of the World” series has a Spiritual message at its heart, a theme which each and every generation of man has questioned since the beginning of his existence.

What do you think of this setting? Is it too ridiculous and unbelievable to have a rich wilderness within close proximity of a desert? Should the bizarre setting of Gnashing and non-existent time period be established within the first few pages through direct narration, or should that be left up to the readers to figure out as they go along?

Looking forward to hearing your opinions.

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Social Media and Flippy

Along with the importance clothing your book with an enticing cover, it has come to my attention that another necessary step along the path to literary success is social media. You can credit Ashlee Willis, author of the well-known fantasy novel “The Word Changers,” for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately for me, I hate social media.

I pretty much loath electronic communication in general – for proof, here’s a picture of my phone:

flip phone

That’s right, I own a flip phone. Let me take it a step further – I paid fifty dollars more to get that hunk of junk than I would have had to pay for an Iphone. Why?

1. My last touch screen phone pocket-dialed every time I put it in my pocket.

2. Sending a text on that thing takes 5-10 minutes. Why is that a good thing? I’m an impulsive person. Impulsive people say things they regret later on… often.

3. No internet or games. Why is that a good thing? Because when you’re goal is to make a living as an indie author, you’ve pretty much signed a contract that stipulates any wasted time will result in ‘insufficient funds’.

Though I personally have no problem with flippy, the opinions of others have gotten to me. For one thing, even when I manage to get a girl’s digits, every time I whip out flippy they look at me like, “Oh… you’re poor.” Not to mention technological progress is inevitable, and if you don’t get with the times you’ll get run-over by them.

So back to social media – What can you expect to find me doing on my new Thomas M. Watt twitter, facebook, goodreads, and google + pages? Well I’ll tell you – I have no idea. Probably doing my best not to send out updates like “I hate facebook” or post tweets like “f’ twitter.”

One thing I’ve noticed, successful people are quite often positive people. I guess that means I should post things like “Way of the world, coming soon!!!”

Because an exclamation mark is a sure sign that your product is something that will make your customers happy. God forbid I post “Way of the World, coming soon.” I can only imagine the ‘negative vibes’ such a tweet or update would send out to the rest of the exclamation mark loving population. I’d probably get booted from those sites in no time.

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to today. Anybody have any advice for how I should dive into these new social media platforms? How do you gain followers on twitter? Do you think there are book blogs that would be willing to discuss the “Way of the World” as part of a virtual blog tour?

I received some great responses yesterday, and can only hope to get more of the same today.

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Cover Art

I’ve been researching successful indie authors the past few days to get an idea of how I can maximize book sales. One point that gets hammered is the importance of having a good cover design. Word on the street is find books in the genre you are writing in, see what cover designs sell the most books, then get a cover similar to them. If it were up to me, this painting I made would be my cover for Way of the World – Michael’s Story:

Kingsley's island on fire

And I feel it would be complement the cover to Way of the World – Adam’s Story:

Upscale Saloon

Unfortunately, one truth I have learned about people is they’re much more likely to purchase a product that seems familiar to them, rather then branching out to try a product that seems unique and different. Here are my top three cover selections from the genre of Christian Fantasy:

a draw of kings resistance cover - depositphotos the gift of light - j. and g. publishing

Each of these covers was designed by a different cover artist. G. and J. publishing, Lookout Design Inc., and “Resistance” credited four various contributors.

Perhaps I’m dreaming big, because I have no idea whether these cover artists are even available, willing to work with me, or even within my budget. Still, these covers are impressive, and each contributed to a book that found its way into the top 100 bestsellers list for Christian fantasy.

What do you think? Which cover design is your favorite? Am I fooling myself by thinking the paintings I made would make good covers? Be honest now.

Looking forward to your responses.

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom

Farmer Ed: Part 1

gun aimed at dog

Farmer Ed was one trigger-pull away from blowing the head off his daughter’s golden retriever. It’s body would most likely fall on Tommy’s.

Tommy was Farmer Ed’s infant son, whose bloody corpse lie in the hay.

“Dad, don’t!” The shout came as the barn doors flew open. “Don’t kill him, daddy! I don’t want Ruffy to die!”

“Get out.” Tears filled Farmer Ed’s eyes. He used the rifle to direct her outside. “Leave dammit!”

Molly hugged both her arms around Ruffy’s collar, then began sobbing into his fur.

It had been a long day, one that had begun just like any other – plates with stacks of pancakes, a jug filled with orange juice, and grace before breakfast.

Farmer Ed had sat across from his wife, to the side of his daughter Molly, and nearby the crib of his son Tommy. Now, just a few hours later, Molly and Farmer Ed were the only surviving members of their family.

The sound of sirens prompted Farmer Ed to rise. He rushed over to the barn doors, then used the bolt to lock them close.

Farmer Ed rubbed his forehead as he paced frantically around the barn.

“Where’s mommy, daddy?” said Molly softly.

Farmer Ed paused to look at her, then returned to his frantic walk.

“Dad?” said Molly, as she made her way over to him. “Did something happen to mommy?”

Tires screeched outside. “Come out with your hands up!” came the voice from the police microphone.

Ed stopped pacing, walked over to the haystack, then sat. He turned the rifle on himself, then stared straight into the barrel.

“What happened to mom, daddy?” said Molly. She walked over to him then grabbed his big hand with her little one. “Did something bad happen?”

“Come out with your hands up!” screamed the voice through the microphone once more. Farmer Ed continued to cry as he stared down into his rifle. His breath felt uncontrollable, his entire being felt as if it were on fire.

…to be continued.

Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Rising Tension: Roy and James Play Cards

pokerpokergirl182447

The purpose of today’s excerpt from “A New Kingdom” is to reinforce some of the concepts discussed in my last two posts, building stakes and increasing tension. If you don’t have any idea what either of these terms mean, I suggests you click those links^ and check them out.

I’ve highlighted any lines that are specifically designed to increase tension, establish the stakes, or foreshadow problems to come. This scene is about Fitz and the threat he poses. He is the antagonist of the underground scenes. Enjoy.

* * *

        “What about Fitz? He’s not going to want us back there.

Let me worry about Fitz,” said Roy.

The pair got up and made their way down the corridor. The yellow lights helped make daytime feel almost authentic. Many families sat in the hallway, exchanging their horror stories from the night of the invasion. The cute blonde girl with the yellow rubber boots sat alone, and for a moment James thought about introducing himself, maybe even inviting her to play cards. He wondered if she were dealing with the loss of her parents as well.

Placed at the end of the hallway was a cardboard box, labeled “ELECTION.” When they finally reached it, James peered inside and saw it was filled with napkins – write-in votes for the new underground ruler.

“I don’t get why we are having this damn election today, you know? We’re done if Fitz wins – might as well as be underground slaves from here on out. And why are we voting for a ruler? Shouldn’t we vote for a leader? Somebody oughtta speak up about this stuff,” said Roy.

They entered the backroom that Fitz had strictly reserved for underground council meetings.

Roy dealt James a couple of cards, who turned them around to see a queen and a seven.

“Why don’t you speak up?”

Roy checked on his own hand, “Wouldn’t do no good. None a’them are gonna listen to me, kid. Most adults don’t like me.”

With a quick hand, Roy flipped over three cards on the table. There was an eight, a nine, and a six, giving James an open-ended straight draw. Roy bet and James called.

“Maybe you should try to make them like you? You never know unless you try.”

Roy laughed, “There’s some people I prefer to dislike me. If a guy like Fitz liked me, I don’t think I’d like myself.”

A fourth card was flipped on the table, and a ten was turned over. James had a straight. Roy bet and James re-raised all in. Roy put his hands behind his head, sat back in his chair, and looked as though he were thinking his move over.

“I’m sure you got a seven, which gives you a straight. The damned thing is, I flopped one too, ‘cause I got a five-seven. So I gotta call, but I’m gonna be pretty damn upset if that last card gives you a better hand.”

Roy pushed all of his chips into the center, and both of them were all-in. He flipped over the final card, a jack of clubs. James revealed his hand, and Roy tossed the entire deck into the air.

“C’mon kid, how could you do that to me?”

James didn’t see it at first, but when he studied his hand further, he realized why Roy was upset – The last card gave James a higher straight, Queen-Jack-10-9-8. He got lucky. Roy’s frustration died down, as he chuckled at his bad-beat and picked up the scattered cards.

“You see, in this game, all the brains in the world won’t guarantee success. The skilled professional can lose to the young novice, any day of the week-

The office door flew open, and Colonel Fitz’s entered in.

“Pick up your things and leave. This isn’t a game room – it’s for official government meetings only.”

Roy shuffled the cards and dealt out a new hand. “With all due respect, sergeant anus, there are only four rooms in this place. If there were more, I’d understand. But we may be down here for a very long time, so I’d ‘ppreciate it if you eased up a little bit.”

James pretended not to notice the escalating tension between the two grown men as he picked up the cards.

Fitz marched over to Roy until he stood over him. “It’s Colonel Fitz, low-life. And I will not stand for any under-age gambling. This meeting room is for grown-ups only. That means both of you need to leave.”

Fitz used his arms to pile up all the poker chips into the center of the table, erasing the winnings for both opponents. Roy stood up and put his face to Fitz’s. “Look, Colonel Dick head, when you and your friends finally come here to play ‘pretend government,’ when you make huge decisions like ‘who showers when?’ Then we’ll get out of here. But until then, I’m gonna enjoy life the little bit that I can, and me and my buddy James are gonna play cards right here, whenever we want,” He said, then pounded his fist against the glossy marble.

The colonel took a step back. “Today, go ahead, play your silly game. But I got news for you.” Fitz pressed his finger into Roy’s chest. “I am a military man, Roy, and you don’t wanna start a war with a military man. When I win that election, you’re going to change your attitude.

Fitz left the room. Roy grabbed the deck of cards and returned to dealing them like nothing had even happened. After a couple minutes, James finally broke the silence.

“I think you might be right about some people not liking you.”

Roy shook his head. “If Fitz wins that election, ain’t nobody down here is ever gonna see the surface again. That man is power hungry, James, and hungry people don’t like sharing their food.”

* * *

–  Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Tension: James meets Penny Part 2

tension

In my last post, we discussed how to raise stakes for specific situations. By constantly reminding the reader of the importance of your protagonist’s current quest, whether through direct writing or subtext, you will build toward a rewarding climax. Even though this is only one chapter out of the book, it is important to constantly fill your stories with build-ups and pay-offs. If you missed my last post, I suggest you take the time to read it in order to understand the importance of it. Reach it by clicking here.

In the following scene, I’ve created a rise in tension by making the situation more and more uncomfortable for James. Remember from the last scene, his initial meeting with Penny is going to have an enormous effect on his psychological state, one way or the other. Here’s the excerpt from “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

       “That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was certain he was about to do.

“Excuse me, miss – it’s Penny, correct?”

James could hear Penny and the rest of her group slowly come to a stop.

“Yes, that’s me.”

James watched Roy cup his hands together and speak more elegantly than he ever had before.

“Well Penny, my name is Roy, and that there’s my friend James.” He pointed right at him with two fingers glued together.

James looked away. Every part of him wanted to smash his own face into the wall. The other part of him wanted to tackle Roy.

“Give us a wave, James,” said Roy.

James gulped, then looked back and waved hesitantly with a terribly corny smile.

“You see Penny, James here is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. And he’s done so many great things for me, I wanted to help him out a bit.”

“Oh, O.K,” said Penny.

Roy continued. “And this great guy, who I like to call James the great, he really digs ya, Penny. He says you’re the most beautiful gal he has ever set eyes on. Every time you walk by, make your bed, or read a book, James is watching you.”

Penny took a step back and looked horrified.

“Don’t worry, Penn. James is no stalker. As a matter of fact, he told me yesterday he wants to start a stalker awareness club. You know what’s not a joke? How lovely James thinks you are. I think you ought a give him a chance. After all, you two are the same age, stuck underground in a base, it seems like it’s meant to be, don’t ya think?”

James looked up at the ceiling. He wanted God to hear his prayer. He prayed that the brick ceiling above would collapse and kill him. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, to please let it kill Roy as well.

“Fine,” said Penny with a shrug, “I’ll meet him.”

“Best decision you ever made.”

As Roy walked Penny over, James wiped instant oatmeal crumbs from his jeans and held his hand out for a handshake.

“You can call me James.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ‘James the Great’?”

James laughed loudly and for a bit longer than the joke deserved. He made a face at Roy like an awkward cry for help. Roy countered with a wink and a smile, then left him to fend for himself. James felt his heart in his throat. He stood up.

“James is fine. Uh, you like to read, huh?”

“I guess so… I never read much before, but down here I don’t have much of a choice, not in this hellhole.”

Afraid his nervousness might become visible, James put on the best front that he could. He leaned smoothly up-against the wall beside him, and casually slid his hand into his pocket.

“Yea, life is pretty plain down here. Me and crazy Roy pretty much just play cards all day. Life would be a ton better if it wasn’t for that stupid council, all those idiots do is make schedules and stupid restrictions. Without them, life down here would be great.”

Penny looked down at her feet, “Yeah, ha, right… Ummm, tell me about your friend Roy. How do you know him?”

“Met him the night of the invasion. Crazy Roy keeps it real, and he’s a former pro poker player! Plus he can play some tunes on the guitar, and I think he said he used to be a pilot or something.”

“That’s kinda cool.”

“Yeah, and he has all this chewing tobacco stuff, and he lets me take as much as I want.”

“Ew… Does he have any alcohol?”

“Oh ya, he does.”

Penny moved in and put her hands on James’ wrist. Her bracelets jingled, “James, me, you, and Roy. We’re drinking tonight!!”

“Well… yeah, okay.”

“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”

James laughed awkwardly, “I’m not scared, I’m down. I’ll ask Roy.”

“Good.” Said Penny. With a wide, seductive smile, she left to go to breakfast. At first James walked away with calm strides, but as soon as he was in the clear he practically sprinted over to Roy.

* * *

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”