Writing in close third person

I wrote a 100,000-word novel Return to Desiree Bay in (what I hope is) close third person, all of it from my main character’s point of view.

So, what the reader gets is Skye Summerhayes’ perception of the world and the people in it.

The reader also, hopefully, gets to experience Skye’s inner-world and understands why she reacts to certain situations the way she does. My goal was to make Skye as real as I could through the ‘close third person’ point of view so she communicates her grief, frustration, anger, misplaced resentment, happiness and joy in ways that inspire an emotional response from the reader.

Here’s a short excerpt from the prologue of Return to Desiree Bay.

After living in Sydney for three years, Skye has returned home to Desiree Bay at the request of her estranged sister. She’s pulled into the car park opposite the beach to contemplate her next move regarding her dysfunctional family:

It was unseasonably warm for the middle of June and people were out to enjoy the day. Backpackers, couples, groups of teenagers and families were having fun on the beach.

Skye’s bottom lip trembled. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips together to force back stinging tears. Fun equals pleasure equals joy.

She had none of that in her life.

You have to open your eyes Skye, her annoying inner voice chided her. Stop being a blubbery baby.

She reluctantly looked at her watch, two-fifty-five pm, sighed and whispered to the universe, ‘Why am I here?’’

There are at least two ways to write third person.

There is ‘third person omniscient’ which is generally the voice of a narrator who is outside the story and can see and know anything that happen to anyone in the story. Potentially, the narrator can see everyone’s thoughts.

Then there is my preference, ‘close third person’.

In her course on conflict run through Writing NSW , author Cate Kennedy explained the difference between plain old omniscient third person and close third person. She said that, whereas, in omniscient third person the reader ‘gleans’ what the character is thinking, in close third person ‘we get to go further inside the head of the character’.

Cate said it is ‘where we can hear the internal voice of the character’.

As many bloggers who have written on this very topic point out, the trouble with any type of third person point of view is that it can distance the reader from the character. There is an art to getting it right without over- or under-doing it.

In my latest ms, three of my characters are presented in first person point of view but the character of Millicent is close third person.

I did this because Millicent instigates the reunion of the four friends in the story. She holds the key to the mystery around an ‘inciting incident’ which took place more than 20 years ago. I wanted her to be more aloof than my other three characters so the reader doesn’t get to hear her every thought.

I would love to introduce you to Millicent in the next blog. Hopefully by then I will have written more of the story!

Finding a critique partner

I’m starting this post with a story that shows how important it is to find critique partners who are on the same journey and know how to offer balanced feedback.

Several years ago, I made a big mistake. I showed a friend the first 10,000 words of one of my novels.

It was a first draft and far from perfect. I knew that.

I expected my friend to provide constructive criticism. Instead, I got a shellacking.

We were in a cafe, having a pretty nice time as I recall it, when she blurted out that she hated my protagonist. She went on to slam every word I had painstakingly placed on the page.

Basically, she told me my first 10,000 words were crap.

It was brutal. I sat there as a numbness invaded my body.

It took me a long time to regain self belief and confidence in my writing.

The moral of this story is – don’t show your friends your work in progress.

After this humiliating experience, I set out to find like-minded critique partners.

I ended up with more than one.

I had already formed firm friendships with Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) members who have always been there for me when I’m stuck.

I also joined Writing NSW and found a critique group that accepted me with open arms. The group members write across a variety of genres and bring a wealth of knowledge to our monthly feedback sessions.

And I now have a critique partner I met at a weekend writing workshop run by a well-known Australian author. After the workshop ended, I contacted this person (I’d sussed her out and thought she and I were ‘on the same page’). We’ve shared our work for the last 12 months.

My writing has improved because of these invaluable connections, which keep me engaged with the writing process.

It may take a while to find the right person to read your work but perseverance is the key. I finally managed to get the balance right.

I know what you’re thinking: do I still talk to my friend? Yes. But I never discuss my writing with her. It’s better that way.