In the realm of storytelling, the third person point of view holds a unique and powerful position. Widely used across different genres and styles of writing, it lets authors create captivating narratives that resonate with readers. In this article, we will delve into the world of third person point of view, discussing its benefits, variations, and providing valuable tips on how to effectively use this storytelling technique. By mastering the third person perspective, you can take your writing to new heights.
Understanding the Third Person Point of View
In stories, point of view refers to the perspective from which the narrative is presented, and in Story Grid it is part of the NARRATIVE PATH. The third person point of view is a narrative mode where the author refers to the characters as “he,” “she,” or “they,” rather than using the first person “I” or the second person “you.” Because of the options available, this technique affords flexibility in the psychic distance (sometimes known as narrative distance or narrative suture), the perception of how close the AUTHOR brings the SINGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER to the characters, world, and events of the story.
There are three main variations of the third person point of view:
- Third Person Editorial Omniscient: The AUTHOR can inhabit any vantage point, time, or place, and has access to the fullest possible range of information, from outside or inside any character’s experience (not all of which should be revealed in the story). The author may provide exposition, regardless of the characters’ awareness of it, and occasionally expresses opinions about the events and circumstances in the story. This point of view lets the writer provide insights into the inner worlds of multiple characters, creating a comprehensive, multi-perspectival narrative.
- Third Person Limited: Sometimes known as close third or selective omniscient, this technique focuses on a single character’s internal and external experience. This enables a more intimate connection with the central point of view character and adds an element of suspense, because the reader knows only as much as the point of view character does. Some stories feature multiple point of view characters, though not in the same scene.
- Third Person Objective or Dramatic: This technique creates the experience of observing the story through a hidden camera or of watching a play. Readers are shown what the characters do and say. There is no access to characters’ sensations, emotions, or thoughts because they can’t be observed from the outside. The internal experience is communicated through voluntary and involuntary action. This technique creates a sense of detachment, giving the reader an unbiased view of the story.
The Benefits of Using Third Person Point of View
The third person perspective offers several advantages that can enhance your storytelling experience:
- Versatility: Each third person point of view can work well in various content genres, from epic action stories to cozy mysteries and love stories to coming of age worldview tales. Its variety and adaptability makes these points of view popular choices for authors looking to explore different styles of writing. Be sure to study MASTERWORKS of your genre that employ the point of view you intend to use. This will help you understand how master storytellers have solved the same problems you face in writing your own story.
- Emotional Distance: By using the third person objective point of view, the author can maintain a level of detachment from the characters, which can help in presenting an unbiased view of the story. This distance can also provide readers with the opportunity to form their own opinions and emotional connections with the characters. On the other end of the spectrum is third person limited in which we view all the events from a single character’s perspective. Editorial omniscient point of view allows the author to move in close and pull back from the action when it’s appropriate.
- Perspective: In third person editorial omniscient, the author can delve into the minds of different characters, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the story. This can create a wide scope with a rich, multi-layered narrative that keeps readers engaged. With third person limited point of view, the reader is locked into a single perspective to go deeper into the psyche of a single or handful of characters.
Tips for Writing in Third Person Point of View
To make the most of the third person perspective, consider the following writing tips:
- Choose the Right Variation: Determine whether you want to use third person omniscient, limited, or objective, depending on your story’s needs. Consider the level of intimacy, insight, and detachment you want to convey to your readers. Consult Story Grid’s NARRATIVE PATH for more guidance.
- Consistency is Key: Maintain a consistent point of view throughout your story. Avoid switching between first and third person, or between different third person variations, as this can confuse readers and weaken the narrative. Your NARRATIVE DEVICE will help you understand what this means for your story.
- Use Descriptive Language: Enhance your storytelling by employing vivid descriptions that allow readers to visualize the scenes and immerse themselves in the narrative. Third person point of view provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your writing skills by painting a detailed picture of the story’s setting, characters, and events.
- Focus on Character Development: In third person limited, the character whose perspective is being followed becomes the primary focus. Ensure that you develop this character thoroughly, providing insights into their thoughts, emotions, and motivations. This will help readers form a strong connection with the character and become invested in their journey.
- Avoid Head-Hopping: When using third person omniscient, be careful not to jump between characters’ thoughts too frequently because this can be disorienting for readers. Instead, transition smoothly between perspectives, and limit the number of characters whose internal experience is revealed.
- Master Dialogue: In third person objective, dialogue becomes crucial for revealing character traits, relationships, and plot developments. Pay attention to the way your characters speak and interact, as this can convey important information and keep readers engaged in the absence of internal thoughts and emotions.
- Watch the balance of showing and telling: Regardless of the third person variation you choose, it’s essential to strike the right balance between showing the story events through actions, dialogue, and descriptions and telling the reader about them. The story’s narrative device will help you find your story’s sweet spot.
Examples of Third Person Point of View in Literature
To gain a better understanding of the third person perspective, let’s explore some examples from literature:
- Third Person Omniscient: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen offers insights into the thoughts and feelings of various characters, creating a rich and detailed narrative.
- Third Person Limited: This point of view works well in stories with an expansive scope like, A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (multiple selective omniscience) but also works effectively in quiet internal stories like Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín.
- Third Person Objective: “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is a short story that relies solely on dialogue and descriptions, leaving the reader to interpret the characters’ emotions and motivations.
- Combination of third person points of view: In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, the reader primarily follows Harry’s perspective in third person limited, allowing readers to experience the magical world through his eyes and share his emotions and challenges. Detours into editorial omniscient (see chapter 1 “The Other Minister”) and objective techniques (see chapter 2 “Spinner’s End”) allow the author to direct the reader’s attention beyond of Harry’s immediate experience.
How can this benefit your writing today?
Mastering the third person point of view can significantly enhance your storytelling abilities. By understanding its variations and benefits, you can create engaging narratives that resonate with readers. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting, experimenting with the third person perspective can unlock new possibilities and help you level up your craft.
Run an experiment. Change the existing point of view in a passage from a story. You could use a paragraph from one of the examples above or a sample from your own work in progress. Consider what needs to change (beyond the pronouns) to make the shift. For example, context details and the way they are expressed depends on the point of view. Identify what’s lost and what’s gained by altering the perspective. How does the new version change where you focus the reader’s attention? Choose another option and run the experiment again.
This is just the start of what you can learn about point of view.
- Dig deeper by exploring Story Grid’s Narrative Path.
- Point of View: Why Narrative Device Can Make or Break Your Story by Leslie Watts
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