Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated

I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error,  misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.

But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!'” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”


Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.



Dungeon ColchesterI write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club,  someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:

Point of view (POV) – the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example.  Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing. 🙂

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)

Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:

My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?

Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxPssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella,TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200px is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.

And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)



37 responses to “Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated”

  1. Thanks for reprising this post, Tammy! I just downloaded your free novella. 🙂

    I’m about to start on a new YA and I’m contemplating whether to go with my usual first person present or try something new. As a reader and writer, FPP makes me feel more connected to the main characters. So your last example is my favourite. (Perhaps I should stick with FPP for my new book after all, eh?)

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Vanessa, isn’t it funny how we all have our preferred point of view? I think the first person point of view typically found in YA might be one of the reasons it’s sometimes challenging for me to read…

  2. Jenn! says:

    Great reprisal post, Tammy. Love how you broke down your revision sentences for that visceral reader experience. Personally, I like to judiciously sprinkle deep 3rd person POV all throughout my books. It’s often the best way to convey exactly what a character’s immediate internal and emotional responses are to any given situation.

    I’d rush off to download Touch Me, but I already have it. 😉

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Jenn, I hope you enjoy TOUCH ME!

      When I write, there are times when my preference for deep third POV makes things a lot more challenging than they have to be. “He/she thought (comma)” can be really useful, sentence structure-wise. Sometimes I get wrapped around the rails struggling so hard NOT to use it! Maybe that’s one of the reasons I write so slowly. 😉

  3. I loved this post the first time I read it, and it’s even more fabulous on the re-read! 🙂 The examples really helped!

  4. Hope Ramsay says:

    Just downloaded the free book. Thanks!

    I remember this post from the first time. It’s a really good one. Just recently I was reading a book by one of my favorite bestselling authors (who shall remain nameless) and even though his story was wonderful, I could hardly get through it because of all of the he thoughts and she thoughts, not to mention the she saws and he saws. Thanks again for a wonderful reminder of how to bring the reader more deeply into a story.

  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Thanks for reposting. This is so easy to understand.

  6. elizabeth langston says:

    Thanks for showing that progression.

    I write entirely in 1st person (’cause that’s pretty common with YA). Yet we still fall into the habit of telling outright how something feels instead of letting the reader get inside the character’s head and experience the mind and the body.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! One of the cool things about POV is that, once you choose first, second (OMG good luck) or third, there are still so many choices we as authors can make to convey detail and depth. I try to have fun with it.

  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    This is great to see demonstrated – thanks for reposting, Tammy. I like the second to last one best – that mix of narrative and internalization. And, of course, the swearing. I’m a big fan of the swearing.

    And bonus points for pulling out Spock. 🙂


    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks for your kind words about TOUCH ME, Vivi.

      I think the second-to-last example is my favorite as well. I like the mix – and also the swearing. Do I get brownie points for not dropping an f-bomb on the blog? 😉

  8. Kate Parker says:

    Great post. And yeah, thanks for not dropping an F-bomb in here, even if it might have been more realistic dialog. You do have me wondering about your scenario for this sentence, which drew me right in.

  9. Anita Hayes says:

    Wow !!!!! This did help me a lot. I am always wondering what it means when I see POV and I, as a reader, sort of understood it, but that helped, so thank you. I love the posts here from all of you. Good job.

  10. I adore this post! Thank you for reposting, Tammy. Posts like this make me want to go back reread everything I’ve ever written just to see how much more I can deepen and smooth. Great job!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Darynda – though I imagine in the same way I nearly defaced a library book because of all of those he/she thoughts, there are other readers who prefer it. Even LOVE it.

      As writers, I think the best we can do is please ourselves first.

  11. Elise Hayes says:

    This is soooo helpful, Tammy. I got deep POV–but sometimes I forget to really push for it in my writing. This reminder (as I’m in my final days of polishing) is great. A real trigger for me is when I see myself using “she thought” or “he knew.” Sometimes those are necessary…but the vast majority of the time, they’re not and they’re a signal that I can–and should–get WAY deeper in my character’s head.


  12. Tina Beckett says:

    Great reprisal, Tammy. The he thought/she thought thing drives me crazy too–as does “she thought to herself.”

    I’m off to read my latest wip and find where I can go deeper. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Thanks for the excellent post, Tammy. Loved the examples…a great reminder that I can always tighten my writing.

  14. Elisa Beatty says:

    Such a cool, clear post, Tammy!! Thanks for sharing it again!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Elisa. Isn’t it funny how different parts of your brain kick in at different times in the writing process? The first example was a first draft, a brain dump, just to get some words down. Then the revision starts.

      I think it’s pretty clear I much prefer revision. 😉

  15. Cheril Vernon says:

    Thanks! Just the kind of post I was looking for. The examples really help me. Downloaded your book!

  16. Tamara Hogan says:

    The scenario I had in mind for Will…he’s an Army medic, part of a crew responding to a IED attack. They never arrived because their helicopter crashed.

  17. I actually have a fine point black pen I use to correct typos and such, Tammy. Is it me, or have line edits become incredibly sloppy? I can’t recall finding too many typos in years gone by, and I’ve been reading voraciously since Tom, Betty, and Susan played with Spot and Pony, yet it seems, lately, nearly EVERY book requires my pen. Oh, and the book you referenced would have hit the wall unless the writer was an old-school favorite. Time is precious; don’t make me slog. 😉

  18. Chaco.kid says:

    Thanks. This is succinct and sublime.
    I usually write in first person, but choose 3rd person deep for my current wip as I have a team & want to be able to be in deep with any of them. Half a book down and still not truly comfortable with it. This is a great review with examples. This is awesome!


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