Character Voice in Third Person

Ursa major

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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.
So the first version is using the character's voice and the second is how you, as the author, would have written it without taking any account of that voice...?

;):)
 

Biskit

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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.

This has got me thinking about how I've done 3rd, and I realise that when I picture myself as the narrator, I am seeing the likes of Bernard Cribbins or Kenneth Williams on Jackanory, telling the story but "doing the voices" and colouring the narration with the character.

(Which is basically what @HareBrain is saying, I think...)
 

sknox

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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.

OK, so what if Jack and the professor are both looking at the same tree? Both have been the "narrative voice" in earlier chapters. Which description gets used? I'm not arguing against inflecting based on the POV character, I'm just trying to understand how it works. When I think of stories with different POV characters in 3rd persons, I can't come up with any examples.
 

HareBrain

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OK, so what if Jack and the professor are both looking at the same tree? Both have been the "narrative voice" in earlier chapters. Which description gets used?

In close third, it's usual to have a single POV for each scene or chapter, so which description was used would depend on which that was. If you have a scene/chapter where both Jack and the professor are present, the one you choose as POV would probably depend on who was the more active or who has the must internal stuff going on.

In more distant third, it would be more the author's "natural" voice.

(I should say those examples are pretty extreme to illustrate the possibilities, and though I think of myself as writing in close third I've rarely used anything quite like that.)
 

-K2-

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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.

'For me and my stuff,' though the example is clever and excessive to make the point, in practice that would be slightly overdone for my tastes.
I've seen work like the example, but they start coming off as a 1st pov which never fully commit to usual 1stP expressions (I, my, me, etc.)...naturally, that doesn't work because then you end up with a 2nd person POV-average which it really isn't, so it must be a 1.5 or 2.5 pov... :sneaky:

What makes it all so difficult is essentially developing so many different styles. One for each character's speech (and perhaps a different one for thought), a point of fact though neutral narrator, and then an additional character-specific narrator for each character's actions+pov narration. Like HB demonstrates, the close third narration needs to be character specific (always of the current POV character), but in addition I like having that dedicated narrator as well, separate and distinct from any and all character narrators.

EDIT: as a p.s.; what I've found helps me in developing a particular character-specific narrator, is to apply more character demeanor than manner of speaking to the CS-narrator's voice. That helps me keep them connected but slightly distant/detached/different.

K2
 
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HareBrain

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Having given it a bit more thought, here's an example of what I've done in practice and why it doesn't fit with the extreme examples I gave earlier.

I have a character who's about 19, fairly intelligent but not very literary. I once put in his POV the line "Night entombed the world", which was challenged by a member of my group as not really fitting his character. And it's true, he would probably never have spoken that line or written it down himself. But he would know all the individual words, and he is open to strange atmospheres. The feeling, for me, both fits his experience and is not so alien to the rest of him that it clashes terribly.

I guess I justified it as "the way he might have narrated it himself if he'd had a bit of my help", and I think that sums up the approach I tend to take.
 

sule

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as a p.s.; what I've found helps me in developing a particular character-specific narrator, is to apply more character demeanor than manner of speaking to the CS-narrator's voice. That helps me keep them connected but slightly distant/detached/different.
I would love for you to elaborate on what you mean by character demeanor. By this do you mean that the narrator describes things using a similar vocabulary for each character but that each character comports the narrative in a different way by their experiences and internal monologue?
 

-K2-

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I would love for you to elaborate on what you mean by character demeanor. By this do you mean that the narrator describes things using a similar vocabulary for each character but that each character comports the narrative in a different way by their experiences and internal monologue?

Since you're relatively new here and don't know me yet, I need to tell you up front I'm not a published writer, or very well educated in any regard...so take my suggestions as just my opinion.

Well, let's say your character is rather surly and blunt, she's not eloquent and doesn't have much of a vocabulary. By wording the character's narration slightly more refined (which also allows you to expand that vocabulary which you need to do), it distances the narration from the character making them separate. To connect them but keep some distance, I'd then make the narration cynical, surly, and blunt in its tone.

So, I get the detachment from the style and quality of language used, but I use the demeanor of the character to temper that and bring them back closer together.

I'm not saying I'm always successful doing that--often noting where I haven't--but I try. The ideal 'for me' would be have each character's personal narrator come off as their more refined and better educated--but identical demeanor--twin.

K2
 
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Ursa major

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Not being a mind reader, I can't say what K2 means by "character demeanor", but I see four basic contexts in which the use of words and/or vocabulary might be different (which isn't to say that, depending on the circumstances, there isn't variation within these contexts):
  1. Dialogue (which ought to be self-explanatory)
  2. The PoV character's thoughts (which also ought to be self-explanatory)
  3. Free indirect speech
  4. Narrative (which again ought to be self-explanatory)
Personally, I like to think of free indirect speech -- a term I first encountered when reading Conscousness and the Novel by the author and literary critic David Lodge -- as a bit like the PoV character's thoughts not written, as they usually are, as a sort of dialogue (i.e. in first person and in the present tense, whatever the person and tense of the narrative), but in the person and tense of the narrative. To me, it seems to give a different effect from -- a different emphasis than -- the direct quoting of thoughts, so that one can use both quoted thoughts and thoughts encapsulated by free indirect speech in the same paragraph.

Here's some of what David Lodge has to say about it:
"Is that the clock striking twelve?" Cinderella exclaimed. "Dear me, I shall be late." This is a combination of direct or quoted speech and a narrator's description.​
Cinderella enquired if the clock was striking twelve and expressed a fear that she would be late is reported or indirect speech, in which the same information is conveyed but the individuality of the character's voice is supressed by the narrator's.​
Was that the clock striking twelve? She would be late is free indirect speech. Cinderella's concern is now a silent, private thought expressed in her own words, to which we are given access without the overt mediation of a narrator. Grammatically it requires a narrator's tag, such as "she asked herself," "she told herself," but we take this as understood. hence it is termed "free." The effect is to locate the narrative in Cinderella's consciousness.​
I've also written about it here.
 

The Judge

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Ursa, I don't think we got anything about free indirect speech in the The Toolbox threads, have we? When you've a moment, how about doing a post there? Just copy one or other of these across if you don't feel like doing it afresh.
 

HareBrain

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Conscousness and the Novel

Sign of the times -- guess what I initially misread that as?

To me, it seems to give a different effect from -- a different emphasis than -- the direct quoting of thoughts

I usually prefer it (both as writer and reader) to direct thoughts. It feels more realistic to me, because I'm not convinced people often have coherent sentences mentally running through their minds.
 

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