The Voyeur in the Sky: Third Person POV
The Most Used Point of View
October 10, 2018
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week we talked about second person POV, and why it’s more suited toward Choose Your Own Adventure books than novels. Today we’re going to be finishing up with third person POV, the most widely used POV.
What is Third Person POV?
Third person point of view is the most commonly used point of view out there and is identified by the he, she, they, and it pronouns used within the prose. Unlike first and second person points of view, there are more than two ways to write in third: close/limit, distant, multiple, and omniscient.
Close/Limited third person point of view is when the story is told within the head of the main character without using the I and my pronouns that first person point of view uses. It’s a technique that takes the best of both worlds in that you can draw your reader in closer than you would with the other third POV techniques, but you don’t run into the pitfalls you would in first where you have difficulty describing the main character. You’re giving your readers the distinct voice of the character rather than the writer. As with first person, though, you are limited to only the main character’s point of view.
You might be wondering how close/limited would read in comparison to distant, so let me give you an example:
She walked into the bar, looking for her date. Great. There were already a ton of people there, and she didn’t recognize over half of them. How on earth was she supposed to find John now? He said it was a party for both of their friend, the liar.
Third person distant takes you out of the main character’s head and puts you straight into the narrator’s. The narrator, while telling the reader the main character’s emotions, will generally have a more objective or factual feel than a personal tone.
I’ll use the same example from above, but write it in distant third:
She walked into the bar, eyes scanning for her date. Her mouth turned downward. There were several people there, the majority of whom were unfamiliar. The crowd would make it difficult for her to find her date. She would need to talk to him about who was invited since she scarcely saw her friends.
With third person multiple, you now follow different characters in the plot and allow them to tell the story in their own voice rather than solely the main character. The writer, for example, can tell their story from both the main character and antagonists’ point of view so the reader now knows both sides of the story and how they interact with each other. Third multiple can be combined with both close and distant points of view. If you are going to tell a story in multiple points of views, it’s essential to make a clear indication of the shift so there’s less chance of the reader getting confused. A few ways this can be accomplished is by naming which point of view you’re in at the head of a chapter, or using a scene break and starting the new scene with the name of the character whose POV you’re shifting into.
Omniscient is the hardest of these techniques to master because it is sometimes indistinguishable from writing in third person limited or multiple. You might recognize it as the way many of the classics are written, like Anna Karenina or Pride and Prejudice. There are two ways that you can write in omniscient—subjective and objective. The first is when the narrator has a distinct voice while still being able to tell the reader the thoughts and emotions of all the character. The narrator is felt rather than implied. With the latter, objective omniscience, the narrator becomes invisible, and you see the scene play out as you would if you were a fly on the wall, and it does not delve into the thoughts and emotions of the characters as the narrator does in subjective. Think of objective omniscience like watching reality TV, except it’s written and usually has an end goal in mind.
You can be guilty of head hopping in any of the third person point of view techniques, not just omniscient, though it is the easiest to slip into when trying to write omniscient. It’s very easy to do when writing multiple if you’re switching POV anywhere other than a scene or chapter break. What differs from omniscient and head hopping is that head hoping has the individual tone of a character rather than the objectiveness of a narrator when speaking on a character’s feelings and emotions.
No matter what way you choose to write in third person point of view, practice and being able to objectively identify when you break a rule are key to making your story as clean as possible.
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