Third Person Point Of View

Third Person Point Of View means that there’s a disembodied narrator, never identified, who’s telling the story. It’s part of the convention, or agreement, between reader and writer that the reader will accept that there is somebody who can relate all that happened without ever being involved in it.

This narrator describes the characters’ actions by saying heshe and they (whereas in first person point of view the action is described by saying I and we.)

How much information that disembodied narrator has access to (and hence can share with the reader) is what leads to the variations in this POV.

3rd person point of view comes in three basic variations:

In third person limited POV, the narrator (and hence the reader) only knows what’s going on in the head of one person, seeing events from that person’s point of view.

This may apply to being in only one head at a time for the whole story, or it may mean that we’re in a different person’s head and thoughts for each scene.

If you are telling the story from different people’s points of view, the trick to knowing whose POV to use for each scene is to figure out which character is most impacted by the events of that scene.

So, for example, if you had a scene where somebody was breaking bad news, I’d suggest the POV character should be the one who was hearing the news rather than the one who was telling it. The teller already knows the bad news – no matter how much it effects them, this scene doesn’t represent change for them. But it surely represents major change for the person hearing the news.

Also, by definition, the reader will most empathise with the character whose POV they’re witnessing. So, say you had a scene with two characters in which each of them was equally impacted, then use the POV of the character you want the readers to identify with more. This would usually be your protagonist.

Don’t forget, however, that even though you’re only in one person’s head, you can still let the reader know what’s going on with the other characters by showing what they’re doing, saying, and by describing their appearance and expressions.

The advantages of third person limited point of view, over First Person POV, include:

  • It’s nearly as immediate and intimate as first person, without the constraint of only being able to relate what the first person narrator sees/experiences. You can describe events even when your view-point character isn’t present.
  • It’s easier to describe the view-point character(s) as you can just say straight out what they’re like.
  • It’s easier to include subplots, or even parallel stories.