How to Make Third-Person Perspective More Personal

Having trouble making your characters seem less distant? This will help.

This tip is nifty. This tip is seriously, unrepentantly nifty. To make your third-person point of view sound more personal, you have to remove the filter words.

“He saw the door was  ruined with deep sigils, as if the desperate or dying had gone at it with a knife.”

That sentence isn’t bad. But you know what? It can be better.

“The door was ruined with deep sigils, as if the desperate or dying had gone at it with a knife.”

(Yes, I know I used was, but that’s not today’s lesson.)

Read them both. Read them out loud. You may notice that the second sentence has more punch than the first, and the reason is those two simple words: he saw. The moment I wrote “he saw,” I took you OUT of the character’s head. Suddenly, I’m not describing what he sees. I’m describing see him seeing what he sees – and that is too far removed. It puts extra distance between you and the character’s experience.

“He felt the cold, shivering along his limbs and numbing his fingers. He heard the she-creature howl, and knew he was out of time.”

Or:

“Cold shivered along his limbs and numbed his fingers. The she-creature howled. He was out of time.”

Do you see it? I hope so. It’s an invigorating difference, and once you see it, you really can’t unsee it.

Now have some fun writing links: First, an excellent post on stakes, rising action, and dialogue by veteran author Jay Lake. Next, an interview with genius Elizabeth Bear, covering fascinating things such as genre-advice and brief commentary on applying Lovecraft to today’s culture.

6 thoughts on “How to Make Third-Person Perspective More Personal”

  1. My beta reader just introduced me to this concept thisweek! The term is “filter words”, it was a revelation to me, too.

  2. heh, it seems obvious but it is hard to remember. Or at least it doesn’t come natural to me and I hope that I catch them in edits. Thanks for reminding us though 🙂

  3. Hey, this was awesome! I subconsciously do this, but not consistently. It will definitely help to have it at the front of my mind when I edit!
    Thanks for the tip!

    1. I’m so glad it helped you out! This was one of those things that clicked the moment I read about it. Like, OH!! THAT’S why x/y/z didn’t work!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top