Point of View: Third Person

Third person is probably the most common pov, especially for novels. It seems to be the default for most writers, and it has the most flexibility. Third person uses a “he/she/it” narrator and ranges widely depending on whether it is limited or omniscient, close or distant.

Limited versus Omniscient

Limited pov means that the narration is focused on a single character and doesn’t leave that character. Like first person, you will only know what that character knows (although the extent of your knowledge will be dictated by the next criteria, close v. distant).

Note: Many novels and stories use shifting limited pov, in which one chapter/section will be told from one character’s point of view, and the next chapter/section will be told from a different character’s point of view. However, within each chapter/section, the narration is clearly limited.

Omniscient pov means that the narration has access to multiple minds, ranging from two to all existence. Some others use communal point of view to represent how a town or society views an event, and describes specific members of that community in order to provide a deeper understanding of the story (for example, “Johnny’s heart sank at the news, but Sally thanked the Goddess in her heart and the Council of Elders understood her joy because they had seen her lose her first child and knew even a witch-child would be a blessing.” In this example of omniscience, we have two individual’s pov and a group pov in the same sentence). Omniscience is different than shifting limited because the changes between characters are not necessarily clearly delineated, and the purpose is usually to create communal understanding rather than talk about a different character for a while.

Close versus Distant

The distance of a pov refers to how much information the reader is able to know about the character(s), and there is a wide range from very close to very distant. In very close pov, like in first person, the narrator has complete access to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the character(s). The example of omniscience above is close omniscience, because we see the thoughts of three entities. In very distant pov, the reader observes the scene like a fly on the wall: we can see actions and hear dialogue, but we have no idea what is happening internally. Obviously many stories fall somewhere in the middle, but it is always good to figure out where your story fits and make sure your writing is consistent.


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