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What Is Third-Person Point of View?
In the third-person point of view, a narrator tells the reader the story, referring to the characters by name or by the third-person pronouns he, she, or they. There are three different types of third-person narration, each with a different scope of view—third-person objective, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient. The other points of view writers can use are first-person and second-person. Third-person narration has an authoritative stance and is often used in academic writing.
The 3 Types of Third-Person Point of View
There are three different ways to approach third-person point of view in writing:
- Third-person omniscient point of view: The omniscient narrator knows everything about the story and its characters. This narrator can enter any character's mind, move freely through time, and give the reader their own opinions and observations as well as those of the characters. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, giving the reader full access to the main character, Elizabeth, as well as the characters around her.
- Third-person limited point of view: The third-person limited point of view (often called a “close third”) is when an author sticks closely to a single character but remains in third-person. The narrator can do this for the entire novel or switch between different characters for different chapters or sections. This point of view allows the author to limit a reader’s perspective and control what information the reader knows. It is used to build interest and heighten suspense.
- Third-person objective point of view: Third-person objective point of view has a neutral narrator that is not privy to any character’s thoughts or feelings. The narrator presents the story with an observational tone. Ernest Hemingway employs this third-person narrative voice in his short story “Hills Like White Elephants.” An unknown narrator relays the dialogue between a couple as they wait for a train in Spain. This point of view puts the reader in the position of a voyeur, eavesdropping on a scene or story.
8 Tips for Writing in Third-Person Point of View
If you’re writing a novel or a short story, there are advantages to using third-person to take the reader on a narrative journey. If you’ve chosen to write in this POV, follow these eight tips to strengthen your third-person writing skills:
- Choose the best type of third-person POV for your story. Before you begin fleshing out your plot, think of which third-person perspective will work best for your story—objective, omniscient, or limited. Each has its advantages in telling a story. Do you want your reader to be in suspense and only know what the protagonist knows? Then write your story in third-person limited. If you’re writing an epic saga with a lot of important characters, consider third-person omniscient, which allows your narrator to be all-knowing.
- Use third-person pronouns. Make sure to be consistent in your use of third-person pronouns such as “he,” “she,” “it,” or “they” when not referring to characters by name.
- Switch viewpoint characters strategically. Omniscience is sometimes described as having a godlike perspective because it is an all-knowing POV and the writer can dip in and out of different character’s minds. Having different points of view throughout a story can create a rich narrative by giving readers a more expansive view of the plot. But be sure to avoid head-hopping—i.e. randomly jumping from character to character. When writing from an omniscient POV, move into a different character’s head at a transitional time like a chapter break when another character’s perspective will be advantageous to the plot.
- Choose your viewpoint character carefully. In omniscient POV, when choosing which character will serve as your main point of view for any chapter or scene, hone in on the person who has the most to lose or learn. Whichever character is facing the highest stakes? Who has the most to lose in a particular scene? That character will be the one to follow closely because their thoughts and reactions will carry the most tension.
- Avoid slipping into first-person POV. As you’re writing, it’s easy to confuse yourself with the narrator and occasionally slip into your own perspective. Stay in your narrator character’s voice. Avoid using first person pronouns—“I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” “myself,” “we,” “us,” “our,” “ours.” When you’ve finished writing and are self-editing your first draft, make sure to check for POV consistency.
- In third-person limited , remember that the narrator only knows what the character knows. If you’re writing in limited third-person POV, remember that your narrator only knows what your protagonist knows. Be aware of your characters’ limitations. Review your writing frequently to ensure that you haven’t given your characters information they shouldn’t have.
- In third-person objective, stay out of everyone’s heads. If you choose to have the narrator be a complete outsider and write in objective POV, remember that your narrator doesn’t know what your characters are thinking. You are an outside observer and can only relay to the reader what you observe. Use descriptive writing to convey emotions. Describe a character’s eyes and expressions to reveal character development, tension, and plot-building.
- Write with authority. Create an authoritative, trustworthy narrator. Writing from third-person stations the narrator above the action, creating a bird’s eye view of the story. This angle, along with the ability of the narrator to know at least one character’s thoughts—in both omniscient and limited third person—gives the narrative a more authoritative, reliable voice since the narrator has nothing at stake.
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