Perfecting Third Person POV – Part 1

The most common viewpoint for most writers is third person. That’s because it’s easy to work with, it’s easy for the reader to become involved with the story on many different levels and it is the best POV to use while learning the process of creative writing.
Third Person POV

Third person point of view is very adaptable and easy to work with. Why? Well, unlike first person POV, it’s not restrictive. The POV means you can explore different character’s viewpoints, emotions, actions and reactions, instead of being stuck with just one character. Third person gives a much deeper insight and perspective on both story and characters. A lot of writers like to work with third person because of this freedom. They can show much more for the reader.
There are two views with third person:  Third person past tense and third person present tense, for example:
Third person past tense: He stood on the doorstep and waited for her reaction to his intrusion.
Third person present tense: He stands on the doorstep and waits for her reaction.
Although not as complicated as working with tenses in first person, if writers are not careful they might slip tenses if trying to work with third person present, but that said, any tense errors really jar and stand out, and are much easier to spot than those in first person. For that reason, third person present is not very popular and so most writers avoid it and stick to third person past tense.
There are further sub-groups; third person multiple and third person limited. There is also third person omniscient. So what do these actually mean?
Third person multiple refers to the writer using many of the characters to tell the story. This is accomplished by switching character viewpoints at the beginning of new scenes or chapters in order for the reader to gain more information and perspective about the story, the kind of information not always privy to the main character. This is a useful way of adding deeper characterisation and allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story by wave of piecing together the hints and clues the writer gives them.
Third person limited differs because it is limited to the main character’s point of view only, and therefore other character’s perceptions and characterisations are not explored. The reader is only privy to what the main character thinks and feels, although it is not as limiting as first person POV.
Third person omniscient means that the narrator is all knowing or ‘God-like’ and can tell the reader what any character is feeling or thinking in any scene, for instance:
Who could have known that John would feel so betrayed by Diane’s actions? That she was attracted to him, but remained reluctant to tell? Who could say what his reaction might be...
Omniscient viewpoint is rare in modern writing, but was very popular in late 18th and early 19th century writing. To modern writing, it doesn’t seem as attractive and won’t engage the reader in the same way as third person multiple.
The most advantageous thing about third person is that it’s very easy to work with and creates consistency, especially for first time writers. It allows the writer more freedom to explore the story because it allows full characterisation of not only the main character, but also the secondary characters.
Well written third person can also create immediacy – a connection between the main character and the reader - though not on the intimate level of first person, obviously.
Third person POV suits all manner of stories, whether flash fiction, short stories or novellas, but it’s best when used for full length novels because of how easy it is for the writer to work with multiple characters and explore all perspectives and emotions – a writer can show the reader more information through other characters and show incidents and events that occur outside the main character’s perception.  
It’s almost a 360o view of the world, which the reader can share, so it’s an excellent way of creating tension, atmosphere, mood and tone. The writer can show the shadow creeping up the stairs towards the hero, or through description, show the noises from dark corners in the old abandoned house. It allows the reader to share the emotions and reactions, to hear those noises and see those shadows and become immersed in the whole story.
The other advantage is that action scenes or intimate scenes can be explored on detailed level, without restrictions normally associated with first person POV.
By far the best reason to use third person is the way it allows the writer to show rather than tell, so that descriptions can build tone, mood, atmosphere, tension and emotion, and of course, that all important conflict.
In Part 2 we’ll look at the disadvantages of using third person and why a writer needs to be selective about which POV is the best for the story.
Next week: Perfecting Third Person POV – Part 2


  1. Hi, I just found this site and read lots of your articles for almost two hours. They really helped me a lot to improve my writing skills.

    However I'm still confused at the difference between Third Person Multiple vs Limited. Currently I'm writing story with this PoV similar to George R.R.Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

    I know that he is using Third Person PoV, but I'm not sure whether it is Multiple or Limited. Because there are so many characters' PoV there but every characters has limited knowledge about some events around them. So I want to hear your opinion regarding this.

    Thank you for your answer.

    Sorry if my English is not good. It's not my mother language.

    1. Hi Chatarra,

      Thanks for your question. I'll try to expand on it.

      3rd person multiple POV is probably the most common for writers as a way of showing the reader everything. In other words, they tell the story from multiple character viewpoints. This allows the reader to know what the characters are thinking and feeling, as well as their perspective on things. The reader is privy to all that goes on within the story.

      For example, while the story might concentrate mainly on the main character, it may have a chapter from the antagonist’s POV. Or it might have a scene from the love interest’s POV or a couple of the secondary characters. This strategy helps involve the reader more; it gives them information, perspective and emotions that would otherwise be limited if from 3rd person limited POV.

      In 3rd person limited, the story is told from the viewpoint of the main character only. Only his/her thoughts and feelings and perspective are shown to the reader. The reader is not privy to all that goes on within the story because they are limited to the protagonist’s view on things throughout the story. The reader doesn’t get to know what the villain is doing, thinking or feeling, nor the secondary characters etc. All that they know will come from the main character and his/her viewpoint.

      For instance, in many Harry Potter books, the viewpoint belongs to Harry rather than the rest of the cast of characters. The story is told from his point of view. And this why it is limited. Other examples include Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

      George R.R. Martin’s series is 3rd person limited. This probably is a good thing considering the sheer amount of characters that populate the story. Had it been multiple viewpoint, it would have become a confusing mess. If a novel has a handful of characters, then 3rd person multiple is a great way to explore the story and the characters. If you have dozens of characters, then 3rd person limited will work better. It forces the perspective to remain uncluttered.

      Hopefully this will help you understand them much better. To summarise: 3rd person multiple allows you to tell the story from multiple character viewpoints and works well for a handful of main characters. 3rd person limited is limited to your main character only and works well if you have dozens of characters.


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