Tag Archives: Point of View

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.


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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Pick a Narrator

In any work of fiction or creative non-fiction there is a narrative voice, a central consciousness to relate the parts that can’t be witnessed first hand through scene. This narrative voice is what we call Point of View or POV and who your narrator is will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

You have three choices:

                        1st Person                       

                        2nd Person                        

                        3rd Person

Every story has a narrator even if the story is, according to Alice LaPlant, “ being told by an invisible and bodiless intelligence which never personally enters the story as a character, and which appears to be godlike in its scope of knowledge.” But please, don’t assume this voice is the author! When the author’s voice, or POV, enters the story, it’s called author intrusion—something we want to avoid. In fiction, the narrator is different from the author. The author writes the words but the narrator is the intelligence that is telling the story. The author controls the narrator, but that doesn’t make the author synonymous with the narrator.

There’s a big difference between a fiction narrator and a creative non-fiction narrator. In creative non-fiction, the author and the narrator are the same. No writing convention exists to differentiate these voices.

Think about it. If the narrator of your short story were I, the author, the work would be non-fiction!

First Person

The narrative is told by an actual character: I. That character can be a participant in the action or merely an observer of the action who tells about it, like Nick in the Great Gatsby. He was smitten with the glamorous Jay Gatsby next door and tells Gatsby’s and his cousin Daisy’s story. But ultimately the story is about Nick.

That’s the rub. The story is always about who we are primarily focused on. Even when there is a detached first person narrating, it’s going to be that person’s story. This is a convention you can count on.

Another first person option is the plural first person: We. This isn’t very common, but it isn’t unheard of either. Check out William Falkner’s A Rose for Emily.

Second Person

Second person is complex and rare. The narrator is You. But the “you” is really “I”, usually because “you” has disassociated from the unpleasant thoughts of “I” as found in Jay McIrney’s Bright Lights, Big City. Another possibility is that you is really another character and the piece is a monolog addressed to someone. Or the you addresses the reader as in Lorrie Moore’s How to be a Writer.

Third Person

Third Person is the most complex and requires a discussion in its own post. Tune back in next week to learn why the 3rd person isn’t a fixed voice, but a continuum of possible voices limited only by the number of authors using it.

Assignment: pick a story, your own or someone else’s. Identify the major characters. Who is the point of view character? Rewrite a scene from another POV in the first person. Is the story different? Is the meaning changed? Read your original and re-write in class.

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