Descriptions in close 3rd person

tinkerdan

∞<Q-Satis
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
5,026
Location
x² + y² = r²:when x~∞
First I always thought of Close Third to be like the narrator is standing on the shoulder of the character.
Meaning, not the character, just seeing things from their perspective.

So I think it goes back to what is mentioned several times...how does snake fit into the universe and how it might be able to slither past without notice.
I do like the notion of serpentine.

Though one does have to consider the integrity of the world you are building...
A writer also has to consider the reader and if he is comparing something to something elephant size then there might need to be a mention of an animal in the story that meets that height and weight requirement.

Then when you say--they were ignoring the(insert your animals name)in the room--the reader immediately makes that connection.
Although the above might also be a way of introducing the animal since(if we can trust the reader knows it should be elephant in the room)they can easily make the connection just from the familiarity of the phrase.

The hard and creative way would be to insert the attributes of a snake into the description so that there is a likelihood the reader will think snake..

Without any evident appendages; it slithered across the ground, a smooth sidling wave of hide with a gaping maw and prominent threatening fangs.
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
2,909
Say I'm writing a story about people on another planet. None of them has ever seen (for example) a snake, and there's no mention of snakes or a direct equivalent in their history. The concept of a snake just doesn't exist for them. The story moves between three characters in close third person.

An alien creature has turned up that somewhat resembles a snake. In this situation, is it reasonable to mention a snake when describing it? I think it isn't, strictly speaking, as the close third person POV means that the description is coming "through" the characters. On the other hand, it might not be sufficiently jarring to matter. I'd be interested to know what others think about this.

You nailed it. It shouldn't be there. But the amount of people who will notice it - unless you make a big deal about how they don't know anything about snakes - is small. The amount of people who will care - even smaller.

Although - unless you say otherwise - they will assume that these people have snakes.
 

-K2-

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 19, 2018
Messages
2,052
In my less than knowledgeable opinion, though avoiding direct descriptions as much as possible is great--which infers the character's lack of exposure to the reader--there comes a point where you can spend a paragraph or use a blunt analogy to describe something. Perhaps you could dress it up a bit?

Regardless, time and again on this forum I see folks argue against using unknown languages to any degree, even non-English languages if that's your target audience. There are discussions about NOT having excessive amounts of text of exposition in blocks--as it tends to read as more tell than show. There are numbers of discussions about being concise and to the point throughout.

So, perhaps there also comes a point when you need to step back from the close-3rd a little and have a narrator help out. IOW, you can spend two paragraphs trying to describe a snake as though your character has never seen anything similar (including them stating, 'it looks like a boogermuncher,' which no reader will understand), or a 3P narrator can state, Bob was amazed by the snake-like creature.

So which is it? Have the reader understand, or stay in character?

I'm not experienced enough to say.

K2
 

tinkerdan

∞<Q-Satis
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
5,026
Location
x² + y² = r²:when x~∞
For some reason this discussion brings to mind:
An Italian exchange student at my work place had made the observation that in movie Escape from New York when they translated Snake Plissken the only way to make it work was to use Hyena instead of snake.

This also noted in wikipedia
  • Due to difficulties in respecting the correct labialized sounds, the Italian version changed the nickname from "Snake" to "Hyena" Plissken.
I believe there is a cobra tattoo somewhere involved in all of this and the point my coworker was making was that without proper context the cobra tattoo created confusion in the minds of movie-goers.

So Yes, how do you decide when to call a snake a snake.
 

-K2-

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 19, 2018
Messages
2,052
No doubt my inexperience, but I've considered this question quite a bit during this thread and over the past couple years of what I'm working on, and I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around the trending answer. That being--and yes I'm being intentionally obtuse--a story where everyone speaks English, but whereas the narrator likely has a vast English vocabulary, countless English nouns are unknown to them due to not existing in that world.

Note I say 'narrator,' not character, though also mean narration for the character (their thoughts and actions from a 3rd viewpoint, not 1st). I also (I believe) understand the concept of 'close-3rd,' but I feel everything has its limits. Then again, maybe what I'm thinking is 3rd-limited?

As a more glaring example than 'snake,' many folks have unknown things or words in their sci-fi world. In a project I'm fiddling with, in a distant future earth, he-him-his is replaced by 'hem,' she-her-hers is replaced by 'shem' in the character's vocabulary. It all plays out fine in dialogue, yet by virtue of the rules I read above, in close 3rd narration I should always use hem or shem instead of he-him-etc..

Frankly, if I wrote it that way, by the first chapter I'd quit reading it. I don't believe a reader would have trouble with the words, but it would just throw off the narration enough (due to the frequency we use those words), it would be irritating. However, the point of having those replacement words has significantly more meaning than just a new word (in my story). But, readability matters too.

So, I take it if I use hem/shem for dialogue, yet he/she for character narration (their indirect thoughts/actions/witnessing), then I've actually written it in limited not close 3rd? Yes, no?

K2
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
5,766
I'd say no. I don't think it lends anything to the story. If I read a book like Fatherland by Robert Harris, I know that it's not set in reality and that the characters aren't speaking English (and that the German they're speaking may well be a thinner version of real German, owing to the continual brainwashing and propaganda, like Newspeak). They say "Hello" instead of "Guten tag" when they greet each other, because we don't need to be reminded that they're speaking German. The weakness of their thoughts and language comes out in what they do and say. To my mind, anything much more begins to look like authorial flourishes that get in the way of the reading experience.

I think the first duty of a writer is to be comprehensible, and an arbitrary replacing of a real word with a made-up one for no clear gain goes against that. It's probably different where you have a new word for a concept that doesn't yet exist. The exception would be something like A Clockwork Orange, which goes full-on in the made-up language. However, it's short, and the language isn't one of many aspects - it's fundamental to the style of the story and it's first-person narrator.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
459
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
in a distant future earth, he-him-his is replaced by 'hem,' she-her-hers is replaced by 'shem' in the character's vocabulary.

I think it depends upon how the terminology fits into the story. If it is merely to provide a sense of wonder about the advancement of society, I would probably pick some less commonly used terms that may only pop up every couple of chapters. If it is to highlight a cultural clash between the users of hem and shem and more traditional speakers, it could provide the reader with an obvious transition between characters. If (my personal interpretation) it is to show a degradation in society through less precise language ala Orwell's 1984, it could also be quite interesting.

The short answer is follow your instincts as to whether the language device works or not.
 

-K2-

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 19, 2018
Messages
2,052
Thanks @Toby Frost and @Wayne Mack ; So to the point of PoV variations of 3rd, I assume it boils down to a lot of hair-splitting opinion by the reviewer/publisher. In my search for close-3rd guidelines, I instead found numerous variations of 3rd-pov, hard rules by some were discounted by others, and so on.

Readability and clarity more important than forcing some blurred line of PoV rules.

K2
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
12,509
Location
nearly the New Forest
I agree. In fact I typed as much earlier, but was worried it might seem too much like a criticism so in the end I didn't post.

It might just be because I'm too lazy to delve into all the ins-and-outs of the fine distinctions, but I really don't think it matters as to exactly what type of POV something might be written in. We're not writing to achieve awards for the best story written in limited/close third/whatever-someone-wants-to-call-it, so we'll be disqualified if some self-appointed referee decides we're the wrong side of a mythical line. To my mind we should be writing to entertain and, if we feel the need, to inform and make people think and question.

If what you've written works, then it's right for the story, whatever the POV is called. If it doesn't work, you need to find out what's wrong, but it's the writing that needs to be examined, regardless of any narrow labels that might be attached to this or that aspect of it.
 

Similar threads


Top