Third Person POV

Third Person POV

Thanks to for the intro and outro music!

Ask the Author: No ask the author this week. Instead, we talk about Al’s new book, Unspoken!


POINT OF VIEW: 3rd Person

  • In third person narration, the narrator is uninvolved in the action of the story (unless it’s a Kurt Vonnegut novel, and is rife with authorial intrusions).
    • What is an authorial intrusion? So glad you asked. It’s when a third person narrator inserts themselves (as the author) into the text. “War is like glaciers, Billy Pilgrim thought. I believe that, too.” [Billy Pilgrim is a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.] Or…
    • What is sometimes seen in 19th century works: “Rain fell in sheets and our hero needed shelter. Before him loomed a mighty mansion with lights burning in the windows. Little did our hero know what horrors awaited him behind the mansion’s mighty oak doors.” Here the narrator/author is stepping into the story to tell us we should be worried for the hero.
  • Third person uses third person pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) “Billy Pilgrim didn’t much like his wife Valencia, but he could see the rest of his life with her, and it wasn’t awful. So he married her.”
  • There are several subtypes of 3rd person.
    • 3rd person distant (or camera–think of movies): In 3rd person distant, the narrator is unable to see into the minds of any characters. They never say, “Billy Pilgrim was sad,” or “Billy Pilgrim thought fondly of his wife Valencia,” because the narrator cannot know what each character is thinking or feeling. It describes only what a camera might see.
      • This means the narrator cannot describe emotions unless the character acts out the emotion; can’t relay interior dialogue; can only share action.
    • 3rd person limited: In 3rd limited POV, the narrator can see into only one character’s mind (the protagonist). “Billy Pilgrim was sad. When he frowned, his wife did, too.”
      • In a sense, it is first person technique told in third person. POV is limited to one character and stays with that one character for the length of the book.
    • 3rd person omniscient: In 3rd Person omniscient, the narrator can see into each character’s mind. “Billy Pilgrim didn’t feel sad. He didn’t feel much of anything. He thought of animal crackers. Valencia was worried about the car payment and what she was going to make for dinner…”
      • “Omniscient” means “all knowing.”
      • Sometimes called the “God POV”
      • Be sure to avoid “head hopping” or “POV shifts” within a scene. These can be confusing for the reader.
      • If you find it necessary and unavoidable, use a hiatus break (a line break or three asterisks, some sort of visual cue to the reader that the POV may be shifting.
    • 3rd person serial limited: A series of 3rd person limited POVs, usually by chapter. “Chapter One–Billy Pilgrim: Billy Pilgrim hadn’t been happy since his fourth birthday… Chapter Two, Valencia Pilgrim: Valencia Pilgrim used to think her wedding day was the happiest of her life, but now she wondered if she’d been wrong this whole time.”
  • Advantages:
    • While first person is limited in scope, 3rd person allows for a variety of perspectives to add to the scope of the story.
    • 3rd person provides more insights into more characters.
    • Third person pov allows for…
      • Subplots
      • Additional plot complications and conflicts.
      • Allows for a change in narrative pace by using pov of different characters.
      • Allows for the expression of different responses to plot points, action, setbacks, etc.
      • Allows the writer to show different angles of the plot problem. Protag sees it one way; supporting protag sees it another way; and the antag has his/her own way of seeing things.
      • Third person lets the reader live in the minds of very different characters–such as a crazy antagonist.
    • Typically, 3rd person narration is assumed to be more “reliable.”
    • Being able to narrate multiple scenes allows for the building of suspense. Imagine a scene with children loading onto a school bus. Boring. But, precede that scene with a scene of a bad guy building a bomb and putting it under a bus, and then we’ll worry till we’re sick for those poor kids. This is more of a challenge to pull off in 1st person.
    • 3rd person allows for “narrative distance.” That is, the narrator can make judgments about the characters. “Billy Pilgrim didn’t much love anything. He was a droll fellow.” Or, “Billy Pilgrim unwisely decided to cross the street without looking both ways.” These judgments, however, would qualify as “authorial intrusions,” which are a “no-no” these days.
    • The ability to follow multiple characters allows for readers to find one they most relate with, one they most like to root for. If they hate one, they may love another. The variety will keep them reading for their “favorite” character.
  • Disadvantages
    • Some readers have a harder time taking on the role of a particular character. The third person pronouns often make it hard for reader to “try on” the skin of the characters. Instead, it’s more like watching a movie rather than experiencing an adventure.
    • Head-hopping (jumping from one character’s POV to another within the same scene) is really hard to follow. It’s confusing and should be avoided. Especially when there are multiple characters on scene.
    • Too many characters can make it hard for the reader to follow what’s happening to whom. They may not develop as close of a bond with the characters as they would in 1st or 2nd person.
    • It lacks the “flair” of second person.
  • Hints for handling third person POV.
    • Use the POV of your protagonist when the protag is present. (On a few occasions I (Al) have done a scene from someone else’s pov even though the protag is in the room, but seldom.
    • Use other character POVs for subplots. Make them count. That means, use the POV of a significant character, protag or antag.
    • Don’t create a POV character who will appear only in one scene.
    • Readers love or hate your characters based on their action and what’s revealed in their POV.

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