The Third Person


In times of extreme duress, you may find it helpful to think in the third person. Imagine yourself as being in a story; not a story being written by you, but a story being written by another. If your significant other leaves you and the heat is turned off in your apartment, do not think: She left me, I am cold.

Think, instead: This was a difficult time in the life of young Chad Barlow. Of course you can insert your own name here, whatever that name might be. This was a very difficult time in the life of young Melinda Whitmore. She had few prospects, her significant other had just left her, she shivered alone in the night. But… But. But this was only the beginning for young Melinda. Or for young insert your name here. Or it even works if you’re not so young. Or maybe it is all a lie. It is probably all a lie, and this is an end, not a beginning. Don’t think about that.

The old cliché says that everyone has at least one book inside them; unfortunately most people think that they have many, many books inside of them. Books of different types and genres. And we flit from genre to genre, from hour to hour in the day, depending on whether we’re eating lunch or fighting or f-cking. We change our mind on what type of book we’re in, depending on our mood, and as we pick one, we think that our choice is eternal. What type is your book? What do you think you are, right at this moment? Are you literary fiction? A romance novel? Young adult novel? Thriller? Period piece?

Well, you’re wrong. All stories are actually mystery stories, so your story is a mystery story. All stories are a story to find out what the rest of the story is.

But never mind all that. The important thing is to remember that you’re in a story. And so while you are living it, remember to think in the third person. John was late with the rent. Elle’s parents stopped speaking to her after she threw a glass through the mirror. Jeremy was suffering from a debilitating form of Crohn’s disease. Matt was tired and running late. Tiffany’s best friend had just packed up and moved away. No one wanted to speak to Tim anymore, after he became so drunk and so awful. Sheila was worried that she would die.

Just remember that you are in a story and the important part is to be in the third person. Do not think I did this or This happened to me. Do not think about that. Do not think in that way. Do not think, do not think, do not think.

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image – The Third Man