Today’s guest at my local RWA meeting was Linnea Sinclair.

I have not really written about the RWA meetings. At my chapter, the meetings last four hours and go something like this:

  • Sign in/Mingle
  • Opening Remarks
  • Speaker 1
  • Break
  • Business Meeting
  • Speaker 2 (often the same as Speaker 1)
  • Adjourn

I did not stay for the second half of the meeting. I have certain challenges at home, and I usually decide ahead of time whether I can make the whole meeting, the first half or the second half. I make special arrangements if I want to attend the whole meeting, and this was not one of the meetings that I made special arrangements for.

Anyway, today Linnea Sinclair spoke about Deep Third, or deep third person point-of-view. Linnea gives lots of classes, some online and some in person. You can find her upcoming classes here.

I’ve only recently grasped the concept of Deep Third myself, and I am still very much in need of learning all the little nuances. It’s not really something I learned outright; I had to stumble into it the hard way, finally recognizing the technique in the various books that I was reading. I don’t recall the book that flipped the light switch on for me; I don’t think there was any one book. But I do know that I didn’t realize I had it until I was working on my Christian suspense, A Hollywood Miracle. That project is currently shelved (love the story, need more plot), but I am still using the technique in other stories and learning from it.

To illustrate Deep Third, I’ll share with you a little exercise we did in class. This is two versions of a short scene–one in simple third person, and the other in Deep Third:

Simple Third

Jennifer was surprised–and pleased–to see Mark walk into the coffee shop. She wondered what he was doing here in the middle of the afternoon.

Here’s how I made it into Deep Third:

The cup almost slipped out of her hand when Mark walked into the coffee shop. Jennifer felt the muscles on her face jump into a smile before she could stop it. What was he doing here? Didn’t he have clients scheduled? And what was that in his hand–a tiny black box?

It’s writing in such a way that the reader experiences what the character does.

Here are some of Linnea’s tips:

The reason a reader reads, she said, is to experience tension. Some people disagreed. She explained that you want to experience the tension in a safe way, in your armchair, while under no real threat.

And the job of the writer, she said, is to “manipulate the emotions of the reader.” And “the author must get out of the way, and keep backstory to a minimum.”

I didn’t “get” this technique at all until I wrote an entire novel in first person, and then decided to use third for a subsequent piece. I realized that I missed that first person experience, and I just wanted to write as close to first person as possible. I didn’t know there was a name for it. I was just trying to mimic the experience of first person.

Well, in her presentation, Linnea said that if you already write in first person, you are partway there. I was happy to hear this!

There was a big discussion about head-hopping. Lots of people like it, and they pointed out their favorite writers who employ the technique. Linnea made the argument that head-hopping was a technique that was popular for a while, but now–not so much. Editors are looking for writers who can elevate tension by keeping the point of view on one person and limiting what the reader knows by limiting what that character knows.

And the longer we are inside the head of one character, she said, the greater our emotional involvement in that character is. Therefore, even if you switch points-of-view between scenes and chapters, you are taking the focus away from your character.

It was a great workshop. If you write, this is a worthwhile topic to explore.

Here is an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, where I attempted this technique without even realizing it. It is a time travel historical called East of Yesterday. And yes, I improved it, post-workshop.

A confusion of lights snapped her awake. Bethany pulled herself up from the floor of the carriage and lifted the canvas to peer out back. A swirling mass of red, blue and white lights came to a stop just behind the coach as an ear-shattering blast of sound brought her children awake with cries of terror.

“Mama! What is it?” he daughter asked from the seat beside her.

Bethany had no ideaโ€”a bugle, maybe? Just as suddenly, the sound stopped. Her hobbled mules brayed in protest.

“What in the hell?” an unfriendly voice asked. Feet crunched on the hard surface of the highway, and then on gravel. “You in the coach! Get out of there!”

Oh good Lord, she thought. It’s a highwayman.

She grabbed the shotgun.

“Out of the coach, now!”

“Children, stay in the coach,” she said.

“But Mama!”

“Don’t talk back.”

She opened the door and jumped out, swinging the barrel of the shotgun toward the lights. She blinked at it. Was that some sort of white carriage? Or one of those newfangled motorcars?

A man in a dark suit yanked a gun out of his holster.

I’m not sure yet where this scene is going to fit into the story–right now, it’s a prelude. It’s probably clear that Bethany is a time traveler, and she’s come a bit far forward out of her comfort zone.

This scene demanded a very close third person point of view because most of the time, Bethany has no idea what she is looking at. Consider the first paragraph:

A confusion of lights snapped her awake. Bethany pulled herself up from the floor of the carriage and lifted the canvas to peer out back. A swirling mass of red, blue and white lights came to a stop just behind the coach as an ear-shattering blast of sound brought her children awake with cries of terror.

I was trying to think of how to describe police lights in a way that would be recognizable to someone reading it, but in such a way that I didn’t venture outside her point-of-view. I tried to experience her confusion.

Also, I mimicked the passage of time by choosing when to include description. The blast of sound brings her awake, but she can’t even begin to identify it at first. Then, her daughter asks her about it, and she associates it with something she knows. I don’t spend as much time on the bray of the mule, because that’s a sound with which she is familiar.

Again, while the policeman is reacting to the shotgun, she’s trying to identify his car. At this point, I identify the time period that she is from–she knows what a motorcar is. She’s from 1905. A police car would be like a UFO to her.

Feel free to critique. This is still a work-in-progress.