Third person point of view is when the story is told by an outside narrator, a disembodied voice that doesn’t belong to one of the characters in the book. In this case, the narration will include the pronouns he, she, or they. For example, ‘She plunged her sword through the dragon’s chest.’ Unlike the first-person point of view, there are a bunch of different kinds of third-person points of view, but I’m going to focus on the ones that I see most often in fiction. The first is third-person omniscient, meaning the narrator knows everything. Think of them as an omnipotent god. They know everything about everyone, even if the characters don’t.
The next one is third-person limited, which means the perspective is limited to one character. Think of the narrator as a shadow following one of the characters. They only see what that character sees. If that character is in the dark about something, so is the narrator.
Then there’s third person deep, similar to third person limited, except it goes a step deeper, hence the name. Instead of a shadow, think of the narrator as a demon inhabiting the character’s brain. They know exactly what the character knows and experience everything the character experiences. That means the character’s thoughts, emotions and perceptions are translated directly through the narrator, similar to how it’s done in the first person. Other third-person points of view include third-person multiple, which means the narrator follows multiple characters. Third-person objective means the narrator takes a very neutral, objective point of view.
Why should we write in the third person?
Third person is the language of professional writers. Journalists usually use the third person in newspaper and magazine articles. Many types of academic papers require writers to take themselves out of the equation. Third-person writing helps to streamline sentences. It also helps readers move more quickly through your text and conveys an authoritative tone. You want to be authoritative in your writing. That’s what the third person helps you do.
Here are some pronouns you want to avoid. Do not use pronouns like these: I, Me, Myself, My, You, Us, We, Ourselves. Those are pronouns you should avoid in most cases in your writing. Here are some potential pronoun replacement words: Society, Citizens, Women, Men, Children, Girls, Boys, Adults, Humans, Voters, Witnesses, Laborers, Workers, Proponents, Opponents, Constituents, Americans, Firemen, Policemen, Teachers, Secretaries, Foodservice, Customer service reps, etc. You want to be more specific in your writing, and to do that, replace pronouns with particular nouns, such as the ones I showed you.
First-person: I think soda is bad for you.
Third person: Soda is bad for consumers.
How to write in third person point of view? (With Example)
Point of view refers to the narration of the book. The voice through which the readers hear, see, and learn the story’s events. The two most popular points of view are first person and third person.
There are multiple forms of third-person point of view, and some go very deep into what the character is experiencing and feeling, much like a first-person does. So while it’s possible to establish a deep connection between the reader and character in the first person, you can also do this in the third person. It doesn’t count as a benefit exclusive to one point of view.
I will talk about the third-person perspective and give you some strategies to ensure that you are utilizing this perspective correctly and optimally. The different flavors exist, and some of the crucial decisions you need to make if you use it in the third person, both third limited and third omniscient. The story is told from the perspective of a disembodied narrator who is telling the story. The narrator describes what the characters are doing and thinking by using the character’s name or whatever pronoun that character is referring to. It’s common in the third person to follow different characters at different story parts.
In the case of Third Limited, we would be getting different character viewpoints. In the case of the Third Omniscient, we would see different groups of characters. Now the third person is divided into third limited and third omniscient. Third limited is the most common perspective of the two.
In Third Limited, we see the story through the perspective of one character at a time, while we still use third-person pronouns, and it’s the narrator telling us the story. We still see the thoughts and emotions that the viewpoint character is seeing and experiencing and everything in the environment they observe.
The important point is in Third Limited. We don’t see the thoughts of the other characters or know directly what emotions they’re feeling. We know that the viewpoint character feels angry. We know the thoughts that they are thinking. But when it comes to the other characters in the scene, all we know is what they are revealing through their body language or saying through dialogue. Contrast this with the Third Omniscient, where we know the thoughts and feelings of every character in the scene. Nothing is hidden from the reader.
The important thing to remember about Omniscient is that we consistently see everything and do not jump between different characters’ perspectives. That’s a crucial distinction. Jumping between character perspectives randomly is called head-hopping and is a sign of a poorly written, limited, not well-written omission.
You can switch between characters throughout the course of a story written in Third Limited, but it’s almost always, without exception, done at a scene or chapter break. The limited nature of third Limited has some advantages. For one thing, it gets us much closer to the characters since we only see their thoughts and feelings as we move through the scene. It also creates opportunities to tailor the description and narration of a particular scene to the viewpoint character’s voice.
If you have a third limited perspective that’s very heavy on the character’s voice and contains a lot of character thoughts, then it’s going to be very close to how that scene would have been written if it was written in first person. Third Limited also lets you hide things from the reader quite easily since we’re only seeing the thoughts and perspectives of one character at a time.
If you’re writing an interrogation scene, for instance, in Third Limited, we don’t necessarily know if the suspect is lying, whereas, in the third omission, we would have access to his thoughts. Sometimes that can work. Sometimes we want to keep the reader in the dark. Sometimes we don’t. That’s one of the decisions you must make between omniscient and third Limited.
- Understand that one of the advantages of Third Limited is that we can strategically restrict the information we’re giving the reader, regardless of which type of third-person perspective you choose.
You need to keep some items in mind in Third Limited. You need to make sure it’s clear who the viewpoint character is. In any given scene, usually, the reader will assume that the first name they encounter at the opening of a chapter or scene is going to be the viewpoint character for that scene. That’s an easy strategy to accomplish this, but whatever you do, you want to make sure that it’s clear who the viewpoint character is within the first paragraph or two.
- While a third person is the best perspective for handling a large cast of characters, you need to be careful not to go overboard.
It becomes very easy to have too many viewpoints and switch characters often. That makes it hard for the reader to keep up with everything or connect with any of the characters. However, that’s as much of a plot problem as it is a problem with perspective. There’s also a tendency for readers to enjoy certain viewpoints more than others. They will likely have characters they would like to be more interested in following.
Another point here is that the third omission, at least in modern fiction, is used sparingly. The average reader has yet to see it very much.
The third omission allows you to essentially tell the reader everything that’s going on in the story. That’s why there’s Omni in the name. Even Third Limited lets you switch between characters and pick the best viewpoint for any given scene, allowing you to hide and reveal information to your advantage.
Close third-person perspective differs from the omniscient third-person perspective in that it follows the point of view of one specific character at a time. That means maybe your entire novel is written in a close third-person perspective following the protagonist. Or, you have a novel where you are following different characters and a close third-person perspective delineated by section or chapter breaks. It allows us to get that intimate insight into each character’s perspective without necessarily necessitating you adopt their actual voice in the way the first person requires.
Mistakes and Solutions of writing 3rd POV
I’m going to help you do that by revealing the top five most common mistakes I see writers make when writing in the third person. Also, I’ll walk through some live examples to show you what I mean and how to fix each of those mistakes. With that, let’s talk!
1. Showing other character’s internal thoughts
The first and biggest mistake in writing, and the third person, is showing other characters’ internal thoughts. When you choose to write and the close third person, you are committing to telling the story through the lens of that character’s mind. Only that character’s mind goes for whether you’re following their perspective for a single chapter or the novel’s entirety. That means you cannot have lines within that character’s point of view that show what another character is thinking, seeing, or feeling.
Everything has to be contained to that point of view. As the writer, you might not even realize that you are showing something that your point of view character wouldn’t know.
Solution: You will either remove that phrase or that line that departs from your point of view or the character’s perspective or revise and tweak the sentiment. I recommend going back through your manuscript and seeing if you can identify any places where you are unintentionally departing from your point of view character and making sure that you revise accordingly.
2. Revealing the stranger’s name
The next mistake I see in third-person stories is when you are naming characters that the point of view character has yet to learn. So even though you are writing as a third person narrator and even though the reader might already know that other character’s name. You should not include their name in that part of the story.
This ensures that we are truly seeing and experiencing the scene from the point of view, the character’s perspective, and their perspective. If you end up naming everyone, even characters that the point of view character doesn’t know yet within a scene, it will muddle the relationships and confuse the reader as to who knows who. If this person has already been introduced to the point of view, character or not, we won’t be able to tell who is a stranger and who knows each other.
Solution: In this situation, you will describe the character you are trying to talk about descriptively or through some visual explanation of who they are until the character knows that person’s name. For example, Megan noticed a stranger lingering next to her car in the parking lot. Her heartbeat quickened, and she gripped her key in her pocket. Tim tried to open the passenger door. So your question here is, who is Tim? Megan would not know that that person’s name was Tim. Therefore, you, as the narrator, should not call him Tim. You should describe him so that we know as the reader that Megan does not know this person.
3. Wrong italicized
The next mistake is writing the third POV character’s internal thoughts in the third person. Your point of view that you have selected is close third-person narration, meaning the vast majority of the text will be written in the third person. However, the one exception is whenever you are writing a line of dialogue that is coming from the point view character’s perspective. While the vast majority of the novel is going to be written in the third person, after all, your chosen point of view is close, third person point of view.
There are exceptions where you will use the first person regarding dialogue or internal thoughts. So when you are trying to convey an internal thought that the point of view the character is having, you are going to put that in italics. It will be written in first person because it should sound like how that character speaks to themselves in their head, which is in first person and not in the third person.
Solution: Make sure you are italicizing these lines and not putting them in quotation marks because that needs to be clarified regarding what is being said inside their head and what is being said aloud.
4. Not showing feelings and views properly
The common mistake I see in close third-person stories is forgetting the point of view and characters’ reactions to events and things happening around them. Again, when we are in close third-person narration, we are trying to experience the story the way that that character is experiencing it, including feeling the things they are feeling and seeing the things they are seeing.
That includes any responses or reactions that the point of view character has to the events of the story and what is happening around them. If something significant happens in the story or someone says something shocking, and we don’t see the point of view character’s reaction to it, it’s going to feel like something is missing because we’re going to wonder how they reacted to that.
Solution: The way to fix this is to place yourself in the character’s shoes and do anything they would react to. You want to make sure that you are writing it into the scene. That will also amplify the emotional stakes of each scene because we feel every response and reaction from the point of view. The character is feeling it.
5. Not balancing the role of POV
The last mistake I see is letting the narrator interject so close. The third person can be a tricky perspective to write in. The most tricky is balancing having a narrator writing in the third person. Yet you also have this point of view character who feels like the story’s center, and everything we see is through them. So you need to balance the role of the narrator with the role of the POV character.
Solution: To do this, you want to ensure that the narrator doesn’t inadvertently drop any subjective commentary on the scene. This often comes as an adjective or adverb in the third-person narration. It does not necessarily match with what the POV character is feeling or how they are responding or experiencing that moment. You want to ensure that you contain all of the emotionally charged words in the scene to what the POV characters will be experiencing themselves. You want the narrator to avoid coming in and adding this layer of commentary and subjectivity onto the scene because that adds a layer of confusion.
What are the pros and cons of the third person?
The first con is specific to third-person omniscient, and that’s distance. With third-person omniscient, an outside narrator recounts all events rather than a character themselves doing so or a narrator following one character very closely. It can create a divide between the reader and the cast, which may make them less invested in the story.
- An easy way to solve this issue is to utilize third-person deep instead!
The second con is that the third person can be tricky to write for various reasons. Sometimes writers get confused by the different third-person types and start blending them, which transfers this confusion to the reader. There’s also the issue with pronouns. The main characters are he, she, or they, but all the other characters are either he, she, or they. You must start getting creative when referring to characters so readers can easily differentiate them.
The last con is another stereotype: the third person is stuffy and boring. In my opinion, this stems from two sources. One is the distance above between the reader and the cast in third-person omniscient stories. The readers may find the story boring if they feel disconnected from the characters.
If the author is a lame narrator, then the story will be boring, bottom line. In other words, the third person will be a challenge if you have yet to find your narrative voice or style.
The benefits of a third person:
The first benefit is variety. Unlike in the first person, you have many different third-person points of view to choose from.
- If your story requires knowing the intricate lives of many different characters, You got third person omniscient.
- If your story follows one character, in particular, You got third person limited.
- If you want to hone in on the mental or emotional connection to that character, You got a third person deep.
The second pro is voice.
If you are very comfortable with your narration style, the third person will be a breeze. You don’t have to worry about sticking to one character’s voice throughout the novel. You get to write in your voice.
The last pro is a formality.
While the first person has a more informal feel, the third person is the opposite. It feels serious and refined. If that’s the feeling you’re going for, then the third person is the obvious choice. It sets an apparent tone and intention.
Certain stories are naturally better suited for specific points of view. Human beings are a varied and unique species with their likes and preferences. Some people love the first person and hate the third person. Others are the exact opposite. But telling a good, entertaining story should translate past your chosen point of view.
You should stop worrying about flack because, first of all, it’s only a narrative voice. Second, no matter what you choose, someone will hate it. Save the stress for something you can control. If you are writing a story in third-person narration, I hope these tips help you catch some small mistakes and fix them to make an even stronger narrative. Let me know in the comments what POV your writing in what you prefer and why you chose that specific POV.
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