Third Person

third person point of viewThird person point of view. In this point of view, you’re telling the story from a distance, as if you’re watching the people in it.

Katie faced the black wall with determination, scanning the endless rows of names. There it was. Dennis McDermott. Her fingers traced the letters. She hadn’t been sure how she’d feel, seeing his name there. The father she’d never known. The father who’d never known her. Her heart swelled against an ever-tightening band. It was just a name, after all. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t a real person who could wrap his arms around her. Tears welled in her eyes as she realized maybe that tight band around her heart was him. Holding her close in the only way he could. 

Third person allows us to go into the head of the the third person point of view character, but we also get to see what’s going on outside of this character. If we only see inside one character’s head, that’s called limited third person viewpoint. If we get to see inside more than one character’s head, it’s called multiple third person viewpoint.

Like first person, third person point of view has strengths and weaknesses. Some of its strengths include:

  • POV characters can be described from the outside (what they look like, what they’re doing).
  • You’re not limited to your character’s world view. In third person, you can present objective facts without coloring them with a character’s opinion. Third person opens up the story, so it feels less claustrophobic.
  • It’s easy to include more than one point of view in third person. As the author, you can move through the plot as needed to expose the information necessary through all the major characters instead of just one or two.
  • In third person, you can withhold information until you need to reveal it by having it known only to characters who are not point of view characters.
  • It’s easier to remain objective with your characters when you aren’t writing “I,” so you can easier evaluate and imagine them.

With all these strengths, it’s not hard to imagine why third person point of view is such a popular choice among authors. However, for every positive, there is a negative. Third person also has its drawbacks.

  • Third person creates more distance between the character and the reader. This can be controlled, but this takes practice and is a topic for another post.
  • You lose the effect of language patterns that you can get with first person.
  • Flashbacks, memories, opinions, and other devices are more awkward to put in. They can be done, but it takes greater skill to manage them smoothly.

So, how do you choose between first and third person? No one can answer that for you. If your story is epic and has a multitude of characters, perhaps multiple third person may be right for you. Likewise, if you want to be able to pull back and provide objective facts or descriptions, third person may be what you’re looking for. Third person may also be your cup of tea if you want rich descriptions of your characters from the outside. This is used a lot in romance novels so the reader can enjoy those silky curls or that buff, muscular chest.

However, if you want your reader to strongly identify with your POV character, to see the world with their eyes, you may want to choose limited third person or first person. Try a chapter or two in each and see what works best for you.