Writing 101: Point of View (part 2)

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We have already discussed First and Second (more briefly) person point of view (POV), so now we move on to the very popular Third Person.

What is Third Person POV?
Third Person POV uses pronouns such as: he, she and they, and also names. It shows you what that particular person is feeling, doing, seeing etc at that particular point in time. It creates more distance between the reader and the character, but can still be used to encourage a certain level of intimacy.

Third Person is popular across all the ranges of fiction, and even into non-fiction (especially historic). It is an especially useful tool in genres such as epic fantasy, or any prose where many characters are involved, often separated by distance and sometimes even time.

There are three specific types of Third Person narrative:

Third Person Objective
This is when the tale is written from the perspective of a neutral or impersonal narrator.  They do not know precisely what any of the characters are thinking or feeling, only what they can observe them doing.

This can present a challenge to the writer; because you cannot see into the characters’ heads, then you must show what they are feeling by physical cues: such as expressions, stance and other behaviour. It is a good practise for writing in show, not tell.

However, it does not create intimacy between the reader and the characters.

Third Person Omniscient

The tale here is told from the perspective of a narrator capable of “seeing” into the heads of all the characters – basically, “Omniscient” means “All-knowing”.

I am not a fan of this perspective, as it is very hard to write it well, and it often leads into what I refer to as “head hopping”. This is when you jump from one character’s thoughts to another and it can be tremendously jarring. It is also harder to keep secrets from the reader when you know that one character is secretly planning on betraying the protagonist. This fact can, of course, also be used to ramp up the drama.

Third Person Limited

This is probably my favourite, and also the closest to First-Person you can get in a Third-Person narrative. Basically, for a passage of time – generally a chapter, sometimes only a paragraph, or even an entire story – the reader is made aware of one character’s emotions/thoughts etc, they are essentially viewing the world through that character’s eyes. Like with First-Person, although the pronouns still remain he/she/they.

It has an advantage over First-Person in that you can break away to another character or event more easily; you are able to describe the character without having to fall into “looking at themselves in the mirror” techniques; and it is easier when dealing with multiple story-lines.

The only issues with writing in Third-Person Limited is it can be quite easy to accidentally slip into someone else’s POV for a couple of sentences. This jars the reader, knocking them out of the spell the story has weaved into and can also be confusing. A good edit should be able to pick up on these instances.

Due to the nature of my stories: non-human protagonists, multiple POV characters, I favour Third-Person Limited in my writing. It is somewhat like having the best of both worlds: sharing the intimacy of one character’s thoughts and emotions, whilst also being able to break-away into a sub-plot.


avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer.

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