Point of View (POV) is defined as the perspective from which a story is being told.
This can be either from the perspective of a character or an outside observer who is relaying the ongoings of the characters to the audience. The POV a writer chooses can depend on a number of factors such as the story’s plot, genre, the age group it is intended for, or the reader’s personal preference.
I ran a poll on my Twitter page asking which POV other writers use in their fiction.
Thank you to everyone who participated!
I continued to receive replies in the comments following the end of the poll’s duration, so the actual figures above may not be entirely accurate percentages.
Each style has its own pros and cons, which I will be reviewing in a series of posts throughout the month of February.
I’ve decided to devote two posts to Third-Person POV, as it generally falls into two zones.
This week I’ll be covering the more popular: Third-Person Limited POV.
Third-Person POV is used when a story is being told from an outside source who is most often not a character in the story.
Third-Person POV uses pronouns such as She/He/They and Hers/His/Theirs. For example:
Nathan’s eyes shifted to the television as its image snapped to life on its cracked screen. Static crackled in the silence filling the room.
“This.” Lindsay indicated it with a tilt of the remote in her hand. She tossed it aside and sank into the cushions of the sofa behind him with her arms folding over her chest. “Look closer, you’ll see it.”
He squinted at it.
A distorted figure trudged from the shadows.
“What in the hell?” he muttered.
Third-Person Limited POV follow one character from a distance. In the case of the above example, the story would revolve around either Nathan or Linsday as the protagonist, with the other acting as a secondary character.
Each POV comes with its own set of Pros and Cons, and Third-Person POV is no different.
PRO #1 |Third-Person POV Can Let Writers Distance Themselves From Their Characters
Since a story written in a Third-Person POV is told from an outside perspective, it lets writers separate themselves from their work. Sometimes, an author may not want to live alongside or as their characters. This doesn’t mean they’re not invested in the story. It just means they want to put some distance between it and themselves. For example, I know of one or two writers who have done this because a character undergoes a traumatic experience but it would be too overwhelming for them to write as if they themselves were going through it.
CON #1 | Third-Person POV Can Feel More Distant To Readers
Unlike First-Person POV, which tells the story through the eyes of a character, and Second-Person POV, in which the reader acts as a character, Third-Person is told about the characters rather than by them.
This can cause the reader to feel distanced from the story because they may not feel as though they are a part of it. Instead, Third-Person POV can sometimes be like watching a television program or film. You, like the narrator, are an outside observer to the events on the page. As such, the reader may not be as able to become as invested in the story.
PRO #2 | Third-Person POV Lets Writers Explore Multiple Writing Styles
In Third-Person POVs, the narrative exists as something of a separate entity to the story, in that it is not coming from a character involved in the events. In a First-Person narrative, the story is being told by a character, so the narration is written as though they were speaking to the reader and telling them about what is or has happened. Using a Third-Person POV is a great option for writers who may not feel as confident in writing dialogue or worry their protagonist’s voice might annoy the reader over time.
CON #2 | Third-Person POV Can Result In Stiff Narration
If you’re like me and feel confident in your ability to write dialogue but find difficulty in writing narrative descriptions (as I mentioned in a previous post), Third-Person POV can be challenging. Unlike First-Person POV, in which the story is being told from the perspective of a character, Third-Person POV is told from an outsider’s perspective as though they are observing the events and relaying them back. I think this comes from the majority of my life being spent in an academic environment, where my assignments consisted of stating facts rather than evoking emotion with the words I was using to do so.
This is not to say Third-Person POV always comes with a stodgy or reserved narrative voice, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a balance or style that works for the story.
Additionally, both styles of Third-Person POV come with Pros and Cons of their own. Here are some for Third-Person Limited.
PRO #1 | Third-Person Limited POV Lets Readers Get Close To Characters
As with First-Person POV, Third-Person Limited POV typically stays with one character for the duration of the story. This allows the reader to grow close to the protagonist. Depending on how deep the narration goes into their thoughts, readers are able to get a clearer understanding of what they are feeling and the motives for their actions.
Third-Person Limited POV is sometimes referred to as a middle ground because it creates an intimacy between reader and character while letting the reader sit back and observe from a distance.
CON #1 | Third-Person Limited POV Can Be True To Its Name
Since Third-Person Limited POV follows a single character, the reader is only exposed to as much of a story as that character is and tasked with making inferences about what could be going on elsewhere. While this can be beneficial in adding an element of surprise, there is also the chance it leaves the reader with questions at a point where a character is being told about something that happened but was not seen with their own eyes.
PRO #2 | Third-Person Limited POV Can Make Description Easier To Write
Even though I listed the potential challenge of writing descriptions in Third-Person POVs as a con, it can be a plus in Third-Person Limited POV when compared to Omniscient depending on the way it is written.
In First-Person narratives, the character themselves are describing their world as they see it. With Third-Person Limited, similar can be done. Since you are experiencing the story side-by-side with the character rather than as them, writers do not necessarily need to describe everything. Rather, they can focus on what is relevant to the character, what they would notice and the things they would pick up on.
If you struggle with descriptions but do not want to write in a First-Person POV, Third-Person POV can work well for you.
Judging by the poll I ran on Twitter, Third-Person Limited POV is a favorite among writers.
Personally, I think this is because of it being the middle ground of POVs. It allows for the closeness of First-Person POV without being too intrusive or having to write as a character speaks for the entirety of the works rather than an observer relaying it to the reader, but it does not result in as much distance as the Third-Person Omniscient POV can create. Depending on how deep the narrator goes into the mind of a character, it can still allow the reader to share in the character’s experiences without being them (or themselves, as they would be in the Second-Person POV).
I will admit my take on the Third-Person Limited POV is, well, limited because I have more experience with the other form of Third-Person narratives.
Don’t worry! That will be covered in next week’s article in the final post of this Point of View series.
Join me next week for the final post in this Point of View series!