The last blog post began a discussion about Point of View (POV) and focused primarily on first person (‘I walked into the cemetery.’), and now is time for third person. But before we get started, it should be noted that third person Point of View is a bit trickier than ‘He walked into a cemetery’, because this POV can broken down further: limited third and omniscient.
The omniscient POV is when the narrator dips in and out of the minds and lives of multiple characters, and limited third-person is when the narrator ‘gets into the head’ of only one character. For example, in limited third-person the reader would only know what the main character is thinking or doing and not anyone else in the story. Think of it this way, it’s like a film crew following and interviewing one person.
Here’s an example of limited third person:
‘Gavin sat at his workstation trying to focus on today’s tasks, but, Ellen, his co-worker’s insistent fidgeting kept him from concentrating. As he entered the final numbers into the spreadsheet, Ellen coughed causing him to mistype.
“Darn it,” Gavin cursed Ellen quietly and retyped the number. He was now second guessing all 10345 numbers in the spreadsheet.
“Did I mistype any other fields?” Gavin thought. He closed his eyes, trying to push away the frustration which came with the prospect of having to re-do the entire day’s work.
Ellen coughed again, and it was then that Gavin decided he would destroy her.’
As you can see from this above paragraph, we only know what Gavin is thinking. Ellen’s actions are only in relation to Gavin’s life.
This Point of View tends to be the most common form of third person, because it keeps the reader focused and can create suspense. (What is Ellen thinking? Why is she fidgeting? Does she know she is going to be ‘destroyed’ for having a tickly cough? How will Gavin destroy her.)
However, third person limited is, well, limiting. For example, if Ellen does something the reader needs to know about, but Gavin isn’t there to see it (and the narrator is only following Gavin), how do we find out about it? In third-person limited, the story can’t suddenly jump into Ellen’s mind. This is when the author needs to come up with clever, but realistic, ways for information to get to Gavin and the reader.
The biggest trick with third person limited to so make sure that you’re not jumping into the heads of your other characters. Just stay focused and third-person limited can be a very rewarding POV in which to write.
The next blog have a look at third person omniscient.