Third Person Point View Definition (HINT: There’s More Than One!)

Define Third Person Point Of View NarrativeThird person point view is by far the most common form of narration for new and seasoned authors alike.

Take down anyone hundred books of fiction from your shelves – I’m sure you have that many!

About eighty-five will be written from this perspective, nineteen from the first person and perhaps one or two using the second person POV, if you’re lucky!

Third person narrative isn’t very intimate for the reader, but it does give the author enormous power, depending on the type used.

How To Know When The Third Person Point View Is Being used

You can recognize it by the use of words like ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and ‘they’, among others. It’s as though the narrator is floating around somewhere, either way up in the clouds seeing everything that goes on, or hovering over someone’s head, where the view is a bit more limited. Yes, I really like this way of thinking about it. Is the narrator a God, or simply a levitating, invisible human being? Onward – explanations are required.

It might help if we take a moment to compare the three main narrative perspectives, how and why they are used. Later on in this post I’ll explain why the third person POV is used – previous posts discussed the first and second perspectives in some detail.

Michael Levin discusses first and third person point view narratives in the video below:

https://youtu.be/HWXO-eq-nso

Examples Of First, Second & Third Person Point Of View Narration

First of all, let’s kick off with the first person POV:

‘I turned the corner to see Malone with two of his gorillas. My insides turned over, but I didn’t let him see it. Why me? This is all a huge mistake.

“Hello, James,” Malone said.

My blood ran cold. I didn’t reply. I couldn’t.’

Now I’ll re-write this short (but incredibly well-written) passage in the 2nd person POV – excuse the abbreviations:

‘You turn the corner to see Malone with two of his gorillas. Your insides turn over, but you don’t let him see it. Why you? This is all a huge mistake.

“Hello, James,” Malone said.

Your blood runs cold. You don’t reply. You can’t.’

Third Person Limited POVNotice how the ‘I’ and ‘my’ become ‘you’ and ‘your’. The tense has also changed to the present, although it doesn’t strictly need to. It just makes the experience more immediate and intimate, which is exactly this POV is supposed to do. YOU are inside the protagonist and experience the world through his senses. In the third person perspective, we would write this:

‘He turned the corner to see Malone with two of his gorillas. His insides turned over, but he didn’t let him see it. Why him? This is all a huge mistake.

“Hello, James,” Malone said.

His blood ran cold. He didn’t reply. He couldn’t.’

In this form ‘I’ and ‘my’ become ‘he’ and ‘his’. The narrator is also making used of the past tense, which is more common when writing from this perspective. So far it’s pretty straight forward, but “Hey!” I hear you say, “Didn’t you say there were two kinds of third person point of view?” Well spotted! Yes, there are. Namely, omniscient and limited.

Omniscient Third Person – Here Comes God!

Third Person Omniscient Point ViewImagine you a God-like being floating above everything, not only being able to see all beneath you, but also simultaneously aware of all events and conversations anywhere on the planet.

You can also be in any location instantly. This describes this perspective quite well – but it gets better! You can hear what people are thinking and feel their emotions too.

This magical creature has complete access to all characters in the story, and can witness every event as the plot unfolds.

The big advantage is that the form lends itself to intricate parallel plots and subplots, as it’s fairly easy to structure a novel from the point of view of a narrator who knows absolutely everything that goes on, has gone on and will go on.

One major disadvantage is that the narrator can float between characters. If he does this too many times, the impact for the reader can become diluted, as they are thinking about too many character arcs at the same time. It’s best to focus on two or three main characters and give them a more in-depth treatment.

Limited Third Person POV Definition – A Lesser Being

3rd Person Limited narrative perspectiveThe omniscient needs only one narrator. He’s everywhere and all-knowing, after all. When we limit the view, we find that we have other choices to make.

We can either follow one character and tell the story from his point of view, or hop between two or more characters in the story. Beware! More than three can get a little hairy!

Most writers can spin a powerful yarn by changing the focus between two to three people without losing the impact of the story, losing the plot or diluting the uniqueness of each one. So when do you change perspective from one person to another? Chapter beginnings are an obvious choice, as long as the author makes it plain, either with setting or dialogue right from the get-go.

Some writers tend to change character perspective within chapters, so that the writing is fast and exciting. The standard method for doing this is by leaving white space, or three stars between each passage of text.

This can be tricky to pull off. Imagine changing the narrative between four different characters within one chapter! The scope for reader confusion and subsequent book abandonment becomes a real threat to the novel even being completed.

No Third Person Head-Hopping, Please!

It can happen that a writer gets carried away with his story, intends to write in third person limited perspective with several characters, but flip-flops back and forth between them so quickly that the reader gets confused. It’s called ‘head-hopping’ and it’s not good. So how do you spot it? Remember that third person limited means that the story is being told from one character’s perspective within the same scene.

Third Person Limited Head-HoppingThe reader is inside one head, registering their thoughts and feelings. From this perspective, the character cannot know the thoughts of another, so it stands to reason that the reader has the same restriction. Here’s an example:

‘Paul turned in the bed, trying to alleviate the pain. Why can I feel the pain, if my leg isn’t there anymore?, he thought bitterly.

The nurse, always attentive to his needs, rearranged his blanket.’

Paul and the reader are aware of the nurses actions, facial expressions and dialogue, but nothing else. Feelings and thoughts would be inferred by here interactions with her patient. In the following example the author ‘head-hops’ within one short scene:

‘Paul turned in the bed, trying to alleviate the pain. Why can I feel the pain, if my leg isn’t there anymore?, he thought bitterly.

The nurse, always attentive to his needs, rearranged his blanket, thinking how handsome he was.’

It doesn’t seem so bad, does it? It almost looks like omniscient third person POV, but it’s not. Omniscient describes two or more character’s actions from far above, and doesn’t dip down into anyone’s thoughts from time to time.

Third Person Point View Infographic

The Deep Third Person

This narrative perspective is becoming more and more common in modern fiction, as it removes some barriers between the reader and the characters. It’s very easy to get tied up in knots when grappling with the differences between this and ordinary third person limited. As is often the case, some simple examples might serve to illustrate the concept much easier than a long-winded, erudite explanation.

Ordinary Third Person Limited POV:

‘John threw her into the room and locked the door. Mary couldn’t understand why John was doing this.’

Notice how there is still some distance between the character and the reader. The narrator is describing her thoughts, because of the narrative perspective.

Deep

‘John threw her into the room and locked the door. Why was John doing this?’

In this version the reader is intimately close to Mary. Her thoughts are not being described, but are being experienced directly.

Conclusion

Point of view is one of the most difficult elements of fiction-writing to understand, particularly for beginners. Newbies are often more comfortable with first person, as it’s the way we normally communicate with other people in everyday life. Third person omniscient is common, but modern writing is now tending towards deep third person limited. It’s wise to follow trends!

 

Novel Point Of View - Third

 

4 Replies to “Third Person Point View Definition (HINT: There’s More Than One!)”

  1. Pete Towner says:

    Well, I tried my first book 2nd person point view, just to be smart and I got into an awful mess, so reverted back to third person POV. It just worked for me, as I’m not a pro or anything like that.

    1. To be honest, I did attempt second person point view when i was thinking of expanding and idea I had about the Messiah coming back to Earth in the future. Like your experiment, it didn’t last long. Third person point view works fine for 90% of all creative literature and new writers are exploring new ways of expressing themselves within it.

  2. James Berry says:

    Yes, i tried some other exotic narrative expressions but always come back the third person point view. it’s just so flexible and easy to use. Sometimes i use omniscient third person, but mostly third person limited. I don’t give a hoot about stylish prose, as such, and i’m not really into experimentation, so whatever works is good for me!

    I just finished yest another John Grisham and this stuff hits you right between the eyes. The prose is direct, the narrative perspective is usually 3rd omniscient, and my God, it works!

    1. Like millions of others I love Grisham’s direct and simple, but very effective prose;

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