Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writing in 3rd Person POV

When writers come to me for edits, most of them are writing in the third person. This is probably the easiest, and most common, point of view used by writers. There are two types of third person pov: limited and omniscient. Most writers use limited, and this discussion will focus mainly on limited.

But for the sake of getting all of our terms defined, take a look at this very simple definition of each:

Omniscient third person pov: sees all and knows all; godlike.

Limited third person pov: is told from ONE character's pov; character perspective can change from scene to scene or chapter to chapter; reader only knows what the pov character sees, hears, and thinks.

Third person pov uses "he, she, it" when referring to the point of view character. Observations only come from the point of view character, including visual, auditory, and mental observations. Like first person, the reader only knows what the third person pov character knows, sees, and hears.

Here's an example of limited third person from my women's fiction manuscript, A Life Unraveled:

"Excuse me? Wha-what did you say? Who died?"

Katie Wilcox wanted to argue with the man. And he wasn't even her husband.


With the phone receiver in one hand and the still processing pregnancy test in the other, Katie thought she would explode with impatience.


"That there's been a death in your family," the unfamiliar voice repeated.


Katie's pacing halted. She'd heard the man correctly.


Above, we know that Katie is our pov character. Everything revolves around what she says, hears, and thinks.We don't know the thoughts or visuals of the caller.

The difference between first and third person pov is that third person point of view can allow several characters to be the point of view character within a chapter as along as the scene changes. You will see highly successful writers use this pov and change the pov character mid-paragraph. Pick up any Nora Roberts book and read the first two chapters. Inevitably the reader will be introduced to the female and male main characters, and the reader will be put into both of their pov's, sometimes within the same paragraph or scene. Newbie writers should not attempt to do this. I truly believe that highly successful writers can get away with writing stunts like that because their publishers/editors know they will sell solely based on their name and not their writing. This is in no way bashing Nora Roberts's writing. I love her, but I know enough that I cannot use the same writing techniques that she uses.

During a writing workshop, the instructor talked about writing in deep pov. That will be the topic of a future post.

Do you write in third person? Do you like to read books written in third person? What's your preference?