Character Voice in Third Person

sule

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When writing in close third person I have a hard time establishing the voice of the character whose viewpoint I'm writing in and staying in it for descriptions of the setting without the whole thing feeling awkward. Do you guys have any tips or ideas for establishing a strong character voice in third person? Are there any techniques you use? In your experience, is it very different from using a character voice in first person?
 

sule

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Have you tried writing the character in first to get used to their voice and then transferring to third?
I have, and maybe I just need to work more on that because when I try to change from first person to third it feels like something is lost in translation. I'll certainly work more on that. I guess in my experience I feel that first person gets fully into the head of the character while close third person gets the flavor of their perspective without full direct input, but maybe that's wrong.
Writing in a neutral voice is the norm - writing third-person in character voice is less common. :)
Maybe I shouldn't have said writing third person in a character voice, but from what I've learned there are different varieties of third person that each have a level of "closeness" to the narrator. Orson Scott Card, for example, has said that for third person there's omniscient and limited but that there's different levels of "penetration" among limited (he calls them light, deep, and cinematic). So I agree that most versions of third person would use a neutral tone (omniscient and cinematic certainly, and likely light penetration as well) but that "close" or "deep" third person, while less common, does want to use some amount of the character's voice even if it is just to tint the lens a little.
 
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HareBrain

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You might already be doing it. I've never thought I write character voice strongly in third, but occasionally I've changed the POV character for a particular scene or bit of description, and found myself changing certain words just because they no longer felt right. You could try that as an exercise to see if you do make changes.

Apart from that, you could try to restrict yourself to words or imagery the character might use themselves. But to some extent, I think Brian's right: it's mostly going to be your authorial voice, with a bit of flavouring. Except in dialogue.
 

-K2-

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Is that not more omni - to write in a neutral voice?

My Standard disQualifier: I don't know squat about this stuff...

I wouldn't think so. I assume I write primarily in a close third. Hoping I'm doing it right, the character who's viewpoint it is in X chapter speaks the way they always speak/think, the other characters speak how they do (though we don't see their thoughts or motivations--even history), the hard core narration is very detached--almost distant--and my action, sights, sounds and so on read rather level though close to narration...BUT, are not in the voice of the current viewpoint's character.

What makes me hope I'm 3rd not 3-O, is that whichever character's viewpoint the chapter is in, is the ONLY one who we'll see their thoughts. Everyone else, the best either the character OR the action/narration can do is assume, guess, etc.. In 3-O (it's my understanding), each characters thoughts, motivations, background and so on is addressed directly...as though some super-human mindreader is narrating the whole thing except dialogue.

Anywho, just my guess... Look in my eyes, what am I thinking? o_O

P.S.: Viewpoints in my current work, are primarily the protagonists, and in various chapters I have other characters taking the lead viewpoint role...but, we only see one character's viewpoint per chapter. In a couple, the last paragraph or two might shift to a different character, but I make it so obvious and clear there is no question. Then I have the chapters most will hate...they're from a purely narrative viewpoint with little bits here and there as though observing 'a' character with a 3-O feel but so character specific, I just call it close 3rd narration.

K2
 
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Brian G Turner

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Is that not more omni - to write in a neutral voice?

I struggle to see a difference in prose style between the different character POV's in George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. However, Joe Abercrombie makes a point to underline the differences between his characters in their POV prose styles in his First Law books.
 

Biskit

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I mostly write 1st urban fantasy but I did a space opera a while back in what's probably called close 3rd with two POVs and found that I tended to shift my prose style between the two - one character was much politer than the other and my writing tended to reflect that. It really only got weird for the chapters where both were present.
That's not necessarily a "right" way to do it, but it worked for me.
(On the flip side, I am currently writing a space opera as four separate 1st narratives, and I find that much easier to cope with - each voice is distinct and I don't get the weird moments when two or more are in a scene together, because no matter how many characters are present, only the current narrator is speaking.)
 

Eric Lewis

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Internal monologue, showing the character's thoughts in italics are a nice way to sneak in the voice of 1st person on occasion.
 

sknox

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I have to agree that in third person it's the narrator doing the describing. Close means I as narrator am only showing what's in and around the characters in the room whereas wide means I can step out and talk about the world, philosophy, or whatever I as narrator think helps the story along. There's no character voice involved, save for what's in dialog, internal or external.

But I would ask: why do you say you're having a hard time? That might mean that you get stuck actually writing, or that you think passages you've writted don't work very well. Or it might mean you are getting comments from beta readers. Each of those three scenarios means something rather different.
 

sule

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But I would ask: why do you say you're having a hard time? That might mean that you get stuck actually writing, or that you think passages you've writted don't work very well. Or it might mean you are getting comments from beta readers. Each of those three scenarios means something rather different.
So the problem I'm currently experiencing is that I've written a piece in close third person. Now that I'm going back through it I feel like the voice of the character just isn't coming through in the descriptions as much as I wanted. I haven't shown it to any beta readers yet because I wanted to do at least one more edit before letting others see it. Reading the input from this forum it sounds like I need to go back and make sure I know what the character's voice sounds like so I know what parts of the piece need to be adjusted to be brought back into their voice.
 

HareBrain

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Reading the input from this forum it sounds like I need to go back and make sure I know what the character's voice sounds like

Writing in first person would seem to be the obvious first step. Above, you said you'd tried this but something was lost when translating to third. I'd be interested to hear more about those difficulties, because you should be able to get a workable version just by changing person and leaving most of it untouched.
 

Steve Harrison

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I write in close third using multiple POV characters, but I don't worry about 'voice' in a conscious way. I just allow the characters to express themselves through the prism of their own 'existence' and voice takes care of itself by developing organically.

I find this much easier than a wider POV, as I imagine I am sitting on the shoulder of the character, seeing what he sees and simultaneously reading his mind!

And by using this method for all the main characters, I can also maintain a consistency in my writing throughout the novel that hopefully is not jarring for the reader.
 

sknox

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>the voice of the character just isn't coming through in the descriptions
This mystifies me. There's no character voice in 3rd person, at least not in my understanding. It's the narrator's voice. First person is the choice for character voice. (points for rhyme!) Maybe I'm way off base on this, so please do ignore me if other advice makes more sense for you.
 

-K2-

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>the voice of the character just isn't coming through in the descriptions
This mystifies me. There's no character voice in 3rd person, at least not in my understanding. It's the narrator's voice. First person is the choice for character voice. (points for rhyme!) Maybe I'm way off base on this, so please do ignore me if other advice makes more sense for you.

Isn't there? That 'is' a question.

What I'm writing, each character obviously has their own vocabulary, quirks, manners of phrasing and so on. They also react (verbally and with action) consistently for themselves yet uniquely compared to others. When the viewpoint is a particular character's, they cue in on certain things others don't (when it's the other character's pov), and to a much lesser degree, I even try and adjust my close narration to make it just slightly different than other characters... Naturally, each character's inner thoughts are extremely personal to them.

Is that wrong?

JFTR, besides most of my characters reflecting my own self at some stage of my life (or a combination of points), I always for most major characters imagine myself in the role as though playing the part. That even comes down to physical characteristics (expressions, manner of walking, moving, physical limitations), and when it's that character's POV I live out every second of the chapter in defined and explicit detail in my mind. I'll even try out, actually act out the part openly to see if it works at times.

K2
 

sknox

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>Is that wrong?

Damnifiknow. Prolly not. I was just saying how I see it. I can't even envision how I would put character voice in the narration and still have a narrator. But play on, brother. I'm reading James Joyce's Ulysses right now, so I'm open to just about anything, as long as it's the other fellow doing the writing. <g>
 

sule

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This mystifies me. There's no character voice in 3rd person, at least not in my understanding. It's the narrator's voice. First person is the choice for character voice. (points for rhyme!)
It's possible my calling it character 'voice' is the wrong way to put it and I agree with you that first person is designed to be more entrenched in a character's voice. I've just been trying to push myself in my writing and part of that was having distinct POV narrators in third person, making sure that the narration sounds distinct to each POV character. Specifically for me I am working on doing descriptions of settings in a way that sound distinct to the POV character, which I had originally thought was kind of like handing them a camera and letting them point it at whatever interests them but in going back over it I felt that it was lacking a bit in their interpretation of their surroundings and so now that's what I'm working on adding in.
 

HareBrain

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>the voice of the character just isn't coming through in the descriptions
This mystifies me. There's no character voice in 3rd person, at least not in my understanding. It's the narrator's voice. First person is the choice for character voice. (points for rhyme!) Maybe I'm way off base on this, so please do ignore me if other advice makes more sense for you.

Professor Tweed studied the tree. It was a splendid example of the Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, which he estimated at ninety metres tall.

Jack gawped up at the tree. It was one of those with needles not leaves, and it was holy sh*t as tall as Godzilla or something.
 

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