Third Person Close

I absolutely cherish the days when I learn something new, and last Sunday happened to be one of those days. I had the opportunity to meet the talented and down-to-earth  Jessica Strawser of Writer’s Digest fame. She’d come to speak at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop LitSalon about her work as an editor and her debut novel, Almost Missed You. If you’ve never heard Jessica speak, you’re missing (ha!) out. Her affable personality put all of the attendees at ease, and her humor and poise kept us interested in what she had to say.

One of the things she spoke about that interested me was the idea of third person close. I often find myself writing in first person because it’s easier for me to get inside someone’s head and tell a story from their point of view. Then, I can get in someone else’s head and tell the next part of the story. I end up with multiple points of view, all told in first person.

Times exist, however, when I feel it’s necessary to speak in third person limited (think Harry Potter series). In fact, some of my favorite blog posts are written in third person limited because I feel by taking away the “I” and replacing it with “she” or “he,” I’ve given myself the distance I need in order to tell the story adequately (this happens a lot in my fiction that is based on true events).

What I learned the other day, though, is that third person limited comes in another flavor called third person close, which can be very handy in certain situations.

Jessica talked a little about why she chose that particular point of view for her book, but I figured I’d look up a few resources so that I could give examples of what third person close actually is. One of the best articles I found was over at The Write Practice, wherein John Tang quotes John Gardner’s classic list of third person limited moving toward third person close.

  1. It was winter of 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  3. Henry hated snowstorms.
  4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing, and plugging up your miserable soul.

Tang emphasizes that “you can’t get to level five without going through one or at least two. You have to gradually get there.” You get there by revising. Again and again and again. And in that revising, you move from a more distant third person to third person close. (See it?)

I sat in front of my computer, thinking about this point of view for many moments. How hard would it be to write using it? If I intentionally set out to use third person close would I be able to? I have no idea, but I’m thinking that I might tackle third person close for my next challenge. It will help me to get a better idea of who my characters are and quite possibly, to write a better story.

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Christina Consolino is a mother, dreamer, author, editor and teacher from Dayton, Ohio. She's a member of the Plot Sisters and teaches Anatomy & Physiology at Sinclair Community College. She writes literary women's fiction, personal essays and more.