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I'm telling a story in third-person objective, the first part being basically an objective description of events around a certain character. I got to a brief action scene, and it fell flat. What the character does is of interest to the progression of the story, but the more interesting stuff (I think) is her decision-making and brief thinking and emotions.

Only the first part of the story will be about this character. There will be later scenes where she is not present, including one where the characters involved will be dead at the end of the scene.

So, how do I present thoughts and emotions in an action scene in third-person objective? Or should I switch to a more personal third-person viewpoint (I'm not above rewriting everything I've written in another viewpoint)?

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Possibly helpful to some: Wikipedia on third-person objective –  Neil Fein Nov 23 '10 at 5:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

One way to look at it: how do people in real life present thoughts and emotions? Either through their actions (facial expressions, body language) or they say something. You could get across emotions by describing these things (something like the "universal expressions" in the TV show Lie to Me come to mind).

I think objective third is pretty difficult to do this though, especially for "ironic" emotions, where the character does something but the means something different to what that action normally implies. As per @Voyagerfan's answer, you can duck into a "close" third for particular thoughts, but move back to the camera view for pure action/description.

The book Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card has a good section on moving in and out between "hot" close third person thoughts/details and "cooler" more external/descriptive stuff.

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Assuming for a moment you can't use third person limited or omniscient for whatever reason*, I think the best thing to do is start studying tv shows, films, plays, etc. They're storytelling mediums which are faced with a similar problem yet manage to be effective, and there's lots of analogies that can be made

  • Shot angle - what viewpoint you choose to describe.
  • Music - sentence length, pace, language used, etc.
  • Lighting, shot composition, symbolism - exactly the same!

and so on. This stuff is all important in writing in general, of course. But when you can't reveal what a character is thinking, and so lose a (often major) way to communicate with the reader, you have to work them harder.

*I'm currently writing a short dit in third person objective. I tried several drafts in subjective and omniscient, but it just didn't seem to work. There are several pieces of data the reader can't know up front, and it's very difficult to relay any character's thoughts/feelings about events without revealing them in a way that is pleasant to read - the snippets I could reveal felt abrupt, while the 'big reveals' when they came felt like a cheat. Switching to objective has been difficult but a breath of fresh air, and probably a very useful exercise in how to convey mood/emotions/etc via other means.

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If you need the character's thoughts but want only action in the first part, there is no reason not to use 3rd person limited. It allows both pure action without thought and then action accompanied by thought. 3rd person limited does not limit you to only thought or only action; it can do both.

Example:

John picked up the book. He read it. He turned the pages. He stopped on a page and read for a while. His sister came into the room and picked up the newspaper and placed it on the kitchen table. John looked at her. He wondered what she would do today.

See? You can go from pure action to thought. Hope this helps.

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Third person objective works best for screen plays. Are you writing for print or film?

I've read in a number of places that experimenting with perspective, or using anything other than first person or third omniscient/limited for print, as an unpublished writer, is a quick path to an editors trash can.

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This is something of an experiment, although I have my reasons for this. BTW, third person omniscient seems to me to be thoroughly unsuited for many uses, as there's lots of cases where you'd want to keep out of somebody's head, or leave some events unexplained for some time. I can't see how to write a murder mystery, for example, from that POV. –  David Thornley Nov 22 '10 at 17:56
    
Omniscient is fine for any purpose because you don't have to show more than you want, it just gives you the option. Third person limited is also fine to use and even preferable in many cases. Didn't mean to exclude third limited in my answer. –  JMC Nov 23 '10 at 3:46

It should be pretty simple to write her decisions if they are truly brief. For example:

Vala whirled to face her attacker, checking him over for potential weaknesses. She noted a gap in his armor just above his waist. Gotcha! she thought. A quick jab with her dagger tore a scream from his throat.

Emotions and thinking should be just as easy:

Jane arrived home to find her computer beeping, announcing the arrival of an urgent message. She mused that she was almost busier on the weekends than when she was on call during the week.

or:

Facing the enormous ogre at last, Sular felt a tiny spark of anger growing in his chest. What gave this beast the right to come barging in at this time of night?

Obviously the content of these examples is nil (I came up with all three of them just now), but I hope I've given you ideas for introducing a character's thinking into a third-person narrative.

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These are not third-person objective though. –  Ash Nov 19 '10 at 3:54
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Adding to my previous comment: At least in my understanding of objective third, which is "what the camera sees and nothing else". –  Ash Nov 19 '10 at 4:02
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@Ash: Don't be fanatic. It limits your creativity ;) –  John Smithers Nov 25 '10 at 19:47
    
Perhaps I should have taken notice of the "objective" part of the question. Anyway, I would have given an answer very similar to Ash's (the now-accepted one) if I'd thought about it more. –  dgw Nov 27 '10 at 6:15

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