Fiction 101: POV (Part II)

The third person point of view is the most popular point of view in fiction writing. Here the narrator is not part of the story but he knows enough to tell it in great detail. Words like he, his, himself, they or it are used when narrating the story.

Examples:

instead of allowing herself to sink inside her glorious, warm cocoon of numbness and fall asleep—which she hadn’t done for thirty-six hours—she tried to concentrate on what was happening.

Sighing, Jehu relaxed into his seat and allowed the grin that had been pressing to make an appearance.

* * *

Third person POV has three sub part:

  • Omniscient
  • Limited
  • Objective.

Third Person (Omniscient)

This is a I see all and I know all kind of storytelling. Here the narrator has a godlike knowing of all the characters’ thoughts and emotions at the same time; sometimes he even tells what will happen in the future. This type of narration is mostly used where the book has many characters and the narrator wants readers to get a feel of everyone and learn bits about their personality. The Lord of the Rings is a great example of books written in third person (Omniscient).

Advantages: Ability to use multiple voice in a story. With each character narration, the narrator’s voice changes and brings about a rich experience for the reader if it is done well.

Disadvantages: If not written with great skill, the story runs the risk of becoming boring fast. The reader gets to know things about the characters quite easily—mystery is usually lacking in the narration.

Third Person (Limited)

Here the reader is limited to only what a single character thinks and feels. The narrator isn’t part of the story like the case is in first person POV, and the narrator doesn’t know what other characters in the story are thinking or feeling at the same time like the case in third person (Omniscient). The narrator tells the story purely from the view of one character. Think of the narrator like a sort of familiar spirit that goes wherever a character goes and has access to his thoughts and feelings (both physical and emotional) then goes ahead to narrate the story to the readers. George Orwell’s 1984 was written in third person limited.

Advantages: Because this POV works well with multiple narration, character development for other characters in the story becomes easier to achieve.

Disadvantage: Distance. Because it lacks that personal feel first POV possesses, the possibility of readers not caring about the character may occur. In the case of multiple narration, falling into the trap of characters possessing the same voice may also arise. This in turn could make the story tasteless and boring.

Third Person (Objective)

Purely impersonal narration. Here the narrator has zero access to the characters thoughts or emotions. Whatever the reader is able to make of the characters’ emotions and thoughts is gathered from conclusions he made while reading the story—not because the narrator told him. Take a look at these examples

Third Person (limited): Sighing, Jehu relaxed into his seat and allowed a grin that had been pressing to make an appearance.

Third person (objective). Sighing, Jehu settled into his seat and smiled.

In the second sentence I removed “relaxed” and “allowed a slow grin that had been pressing to make an appearance”. Since access to the character’s thoughts, emotions, motives and feelings is not applicable in third person (objective) narration, there was no way the narrator could tell the reader if Jehu truly relaxed when he sat or if he held back a smile before giving into the urge to do so.

Advantage: Writers can use writing in objective point of view as a means to sharpen their show-not-tell skill (this skill will be explained in future classes).

Disadvantage: due to the impersonal nature of the narration, the readers are likely to not feel connected to the characters.

Tips

Choosing what POV suits the story you wish to tell is very important. I particularly love stories written in third person (limited) so most of the stories I write are in that POV. Check the novels you love reading. What POV was it written in? Now see if it matches your POV writing preference. Just like I explained in the last class about alternating two characters chapter by chapter when writing in first POV, you can apply the same trick in third person (limited) for a selected number of characters (not all please). The characters you choose have to be relevant to the plot of your story before you consider writing a section or chapter in their POV. Remember, always use a page separator if you want to switch to another character’s POV in the same chapter. Readers need to know from whose view a story is being narrated throughout their reading experience, try your best to make it as clear and easy to understand as possible.

Activity

Write a really short story in third person (objective) POV. See if you can create a scene where the character(s) talks, show facial expression… etc but do not narrate what the character is thinking or feeling. See if a reader of your story would be able to rightly judge your character’s emotions or motive purely from what was read.

Next Class: Word Bank.   

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