A Close Third

Most writing books I’ve read define the third person limited as the narration that knows the heart and mind of one character. This is currently a popular point of view, while the omniscient POV has fallen in useage. Also popular is multiple third person POV where the 3rd person can know multiple characters, but is limited to one character’s mind at a time. In this definition, the narrator is limited to the worldview of a particular character, or set of characters, giving wider range to the insight into the action, more as the omniscient narrator, but without the total flexibility and knowledge of the all-knowing narrator.

Limited third person only means that you as author have limited the knowledge of the narrator in some way. Alice LaPlant uses the example, “think of it as standing in a house that borders a big field. With an omniscient narrator, you are standing in front of a large clear window that allows you to view a scene that stretches for miles in every direction. With a limited third person narrator, you have a smaller window that gives you access to a smaller view of the world of the story. The more limited your narrator, the smaller your window, and the less you can see (and hear, feel, etc,). It’s as simple as that.”

Whether or not you use a narrator is up to you. Perhaps your story wants to be told in the first person (protagonist’s point of view) but you can’t adopt the main character’s point of view for some reason. (Think: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.) Who will make the best narrator? The likely response is to pick the character that is closest to the protagonist and can witness the key action. But will that serve your book? The protagonist’s best friend might be a great narrator, but ask yourself, who is in a position to learn the most from the events; who will be most changed? Who can be present for the climax? Who gets the good scenes? That’s your narrator, because that’s whose story it is.

Note:

While your narrator may not know everything, that doesn’t make him boring, simple, bland, or merely objective. Give your narrator some attitude. A third person narrator is going to comment, judge, opine, like and dislike just as any other character. Limited doesn’t mean without personality! It’s the POV character’s job to have a point of view.

3rd Person vs. 1st Person

The third person has several benefits over the first person:

*It isn’t as restricted as the first person, which is only the worldview of the I character

*The narration may include information outside of the narrator’s worldview

*It can include multiple points of view

*Crucial information can be withheld by not giving characters with that knowledge a POV

*There is more objectivity over the characters

But drawbacks are:

*There’s more distance between the characters and the reader

*Language patterns tend to be less distinct

*It’s harder to develop memory, flashback, and opinion

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One response to “A Close Third

  1. Point of view is complicated. Don’t miss my workshop, The Narrator’s Story, on POV at the Flamingo Hotel, November 17th from 9:30-1:30 pm. Register at http://www.redwoodwriters.org