Part of the fun of writing—and reading—is exploring the perspectives of different characters. When you put yourself in the shoes of a person from a different background, it broadens your own view of the world and the story you’re reading.
This is why, as an author, you hold great power in your hands: as you describe the scenes and events in your novel, you can either draw your readers in, or push them away.
Knowing which point of view is most effective at drawing them into the story will help you write a compelling tale that will remain memorable long after they finish the last page.
What Are the 3 Types of Third Person Point of View?
Although the first person and second person POVs are relatively straightforward, for the third person, you have a few more options. These are:
Third-person omniscient point of view: The narrator knows everything about everybody’s thoughts and feelings. Omniscient means all-knowing, and the narrator functions like an overarching being who can tell you how each person feels about the events that take place.
Third-person objective: The narrator is neutral, and does not know the characters’ feelings or thoughts. They tell the story with the tone of an observer. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like Water Elephants, the objective retelling gives the readers the experience of listening in on the couple’s conversation without knowing what each person is thinking.
Third-person limited: The author limits themself to one character’s perspective at a time, but the narrator knows what that chosen character feels or thinks. The author may use only one character’s POV throughout the whole book, or they may switch between multiple characters.
Examples of Third Person Limited POV in Literature
Some of the most popular examples of third person limited POV in literature include:
Example #1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high; they’d never given him a real present, let alone a cake—but to ignore it completely…
In this opening scene, Rowling shows us what Harry thinks about how his uncle and aunt have been neglecting him.
Example #2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him.
The use of the third person limited lets the reader get into the same misjudgment that Elizabeth Bennett gives to Mr. Darcy.
Advantages of the Third Person Limited POV
Each type of third person POV has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the advantages of the third person limited POV are:
Extensive Character Development
Because the third person limited POV allows you to focus on the inner workings of one character at a time, you get to develop the character more fully. This can happen not just through what they say, but even through the narrative voice as you describe everything that happens to them.
When you write in third person limited, you have the flexibility of zooming in on certain descriptions—mainly, things that your character would pay attention to. Because you are not obliged to be objective in your descriptions, it can lend more character to your writing, especially as you write in that character’s voice.
Of the three types of third person, the third person limited offers the greatest “intimacy” between reader and character, because the reader sees everything through that character’s eyes.
This is a very good strength of this POV, especially when you write from the perspective of the character with the most to lose in a given scene or throughout the whole story. The character’s heightened emotions and thought processes will propel your reader along to the end of the book.
Ability to Hide Information from Readers
Because the third person limited tells the story from the perspective of one character, you get to hide details that you can later use to shock your readers.
It can be an innocence on the part of your narrator, or even an intentional misleading, if you want to use an “unreliable narrator.” This is when the narrator themself is hiding something while they’re telling the story.
Challenges of the Third Person Limited POV
Of course, there are also some potential shortcomings to consider when deciding whether or not to use the third person limited perspective.
Lack of Insight to Other Characters’ Thoughts
Hearing only one character’s point of view can lead to readers not understanding how all the other characters feel. But you can get around this by considering multiple third person limited POVs.
On the other hand, you do want the reader to relate most of all to the main character, so this may not be as serious a disadvantage after all.
Potential Misunderstanding of the Author’s Intentions
Because the third person limited POV tells the story from the perspective of one character, the telling will rarely be objective. This means that biases may shine through in your writing.
For example, in the classic tale Gone With the Wind set in the Deep South, the protagonist’s view of slavery is positive, and clearly different from those who come from the North. This kind of writing may mislead readers to think the author’s views are always equal to the narrator’s or POV character’s.
Limited to What the Character Knows
While it’s a good thing to show your readers everything through your character’s eyes, you will also be limited to only what they know. For example, if the narrator is a male, he will most likely not have any privy information to how a woman feels during childbirth.
Tips for Writing in Third Person Limited POV
Here are several tips for getting the most form a third person limited point of view.
Choose the best character for telling the story.
Different people will have a different take on things. Figure out which character will be most effective to use as as a lens for your story.
Once you decide your POV character, stick to it throughout the scene or chapter. If you are shifting between several characters throughout the book, make sure the change is clear.
Always maintain the same POV within a scene, or better yet, the entire chapter or part.
Write only what the character knows.
Make sure you check your writing for loopholes that let your character say or think things they normally wouldn’t.
If the POV character is a child, they will most likely not have the same intricate thought processes as a fully-grown, jaded adult.
Choosing the Right Perspective
As you write your novel or story, it’s up to you to decide which point of view is best fit to describe the events and characters.
If you’re not sure, experiment with the different types until you are happy with the result.
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