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Point of View: Third Person

AuthorHouse welcomes you to the final part of our “point of view trilogy!”

In part one, we discussed first person (using the pronouns “I” or “we” in narrating the story). In the second installment, we discussed the often-confused second person, which uses “you” for both its singular and plural forms (both posts are available in our Author Advice section). Today we’ll wrap things up with third person, probably the most common point of view in fiction writing.

Third person describes the actions of all characters using the pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” or the character’s proper name. In third person, the narrator can be thought of as removing herself from the story entirely—a “fly on the wall” who describes the events.

Consider the following:

Lewis arrived home later just after ten. The living room was dark, the TV off. He hesitated outside the kitchen, took a deep breath, and entered. Marge was sitting at the table, staring at him. Dinner, long cold, was on the table in front of her. And so was an envelope.

“Where were you, Lewis?” she asked. “I called your office, they said you’d left hours ago.”

And that’s the third person point of view. The entire story is told using proper names (Lewis, Marge), or third person pronouns (he, she, it, etc.) “You” and “I” are used towards the end of the example, but only as part of dialogue. The narrator is like a ghost, describing the characters’ actions, but not participating in them.

This brings us to a very important point when using the third person. The writer must decide if the point of view will be limited or omniscient.

With a third person limited point of view, the narrator describes the story through the eyes or actions of one main character. Think of it as a reality TV crew that follows a central character. For example:

Louisa knocked on Trevor’s door. She could hear activity inside the room: a drawer slammed shut, a window thrown opened. She knocked again. When Trevor finally opened it, the smell of cigarettes was unmistakable.

Now, even though we can guess what’s happening inside Trevor’s room, we’re still limited by that door–by what Louisa can see, hear, or smell. This is a third person limited point of view.

Compare that with this:

Louisa knocked on Trevor’s door. Inside, Trevor almost spit the cigarette out of his mouth in surprise. Panicking, he wrapped it in a piece of aluminum foil. He dropped the foil into the drawer, slammed it shut, and opened the window. He fanned around the room with the pillow, trying to get the incriminating smoke out.

Did you catch what happened? We passed right through the door, going from Louisa to Trevor. This is the third person omniscient point of view,

when the narrator can “see all.”

Typically, fiction writing utilizes the third person limited point of view. Why? Because then we can share in the suspense and discoveries of the main character. Be careful though; it’s a common mistake for writers to use the limited point of view, but then accidentally throw in an omniscient point of view without realizing it.

And with that, we conclude our series on point of view. We (first person plural) hope that you’ve enjoyed it. You (second person) should continue checking back here for updates, and the AuthorHouse Bookstore for the latest self-published releases.

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