Writing Perspectives: Third Person Point of View

Third Person Point View

We have previously looked at writing perspectives, covering second person POV and first-person POV. In this article, we’ll break down the third person point of view and explore how you can use it effectively.

Definition of Third Person Point of View

Third person uses “he/she/it” and is by far the most commonly used writing perspective.

There are three common types of the third person point of view:

Third Person Limited: In this 3rd person POV, “limited” means that narrator only knows what that character knows within the confines of that person. This includes actions that occur to the character, personal thoughts (ex. “He was beginning to feel hungry…”), or from a actions from a distance, where the narrator has more information than outside of the viewpoint of the protagonist.

Third Person Multiple: Authors that use third person multiple do so to follow multiple characters in a storyline. Writers that employ this point of view should be careful to always describe the events of the story as it pertains to the particular knowledge of the person. For example, a captain of a cruise may know that a ship is sinking and act accordingly, whereas a vacationer may be oblivious to the impending danger.

Third Person Omniscient: In contrast to other third person points of view, the narrator knows everything about the story, including the internal feelings and actions of different characters. Often, a god-like narrator is employed at a distance to show how different characters and settings affect one another. The narrator knows things about the past and future that other characters may not be aware of. They comment on the events that transpire and act as a psychologist to the reader to explain the minds of the characters.

Third Person Grammar

Writers use “he,” “she,” or “it” when referring to a person, place, thing, or idea. As a reference, these singular pronouns can be broken down into the following:

Third Person Singular Subjective Case

(singular)

“he” (masculine) Ex. “He is an architect”
“she” (feminine) Ex. “She arrived at six in the morning.”
“it” (neuter) Ex. “It ran out of gas.”

Third Person Plural Objective Case

(singular)

“him” (masculine) Ex. “The gangsters threw him overboard.”
“her” (feminine) Ex. “They want to send her to Florida.”
“it” (neuter) Ex. “It can be trouble sometimes.”

Third Person Plural Possessive Case

(singular)

“his” (masculine) Ex. “His way of cooking is unorthodox.”
“hers” (feminine) Ex. “That pile of clothing is hers.”
“its” (neuter) Ex. “Its best feature is the sunroof.”

Plural cases used in the third person point of view:

Third Person Plural Subjective Case

(plural)

“they” (masculine) Ex. “They play on the men’s football team”
“they” (feminine) Ex. “Young women do as they please.”
“they” (neuter) Ex. “They won’t match the other windows.”

Third Person Plural Objective Case

(plural)

“them” (masculine) Ex. “The game is riding on them.”
“them” (feminine) Ex. “Fashion is a big deal for them.”
“them” (neuter) Ex. “They don’t make them the same way.”

Third Person Plural Possessive Case

(plural)

“their” (masculine) Ex. “Where is their sense of adventure?”
“their” (feminine) Ex. “Their guesswork is reliable.”
“their” (neuter) Ex. “Their traction on the road is poor.”

Third Person POV Usage

Fiction benefits from the third person, as the reader is given the ability to see the setting and actions without being barred by the viewpoint/observations of the narrator.

For formal types of writing, the third person allows for writer to be as objective as possible towards their subject matter. Many academic and professional style guides advocate adhering to the third person point of view to prevent bias and persuasion.

To most readers, it goes without saying that non-fiction is written almost entirely in the third-person. Whether the work is about history, sciences or the arts, the third person perspective allows for logical way to describe how different elements work together for a particular topic.

Third Person Perspective Drawbacks

While it is the most versatile and easy way for writers to tell a story, the third person POV can be impersonal to some readers. This is especially true for fiction, where readers need to feel invested in the characters. By constantly employing the third-person POV, the reader feels that the characters are held at a distance from what’s taking place in the novel. This is especially true in longer works of fiction with a large number of character and plot lines. Keeping them in order and realistic proves a challenge to novice writers.

Similarly, the third-person perspective can also make formal work seem dry. This is especially true of academic texts, where the writer has deliberately avoided any subjective opinions or experiences. Crafting a work that is both readable and informative proves to both a challenge of students and teachers.

Third Person Point of View Examples

Of all the points of view, the third-person writing perspective is by far the most commonly employed for fiction writers, serious works, and so forth. Here are a few popular examples of the third person point of view:

Tom Wolfe – “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”

This a great example of the third person point of view as it applies to non-fiction. Wolfe jumps between the different facets of the 60’s countercultural movement in the United States while employing a 3rd-person distance to give an overview of key events of that time. Characters as disparate as the Hells Angels, author Ken Kesey, and San Francisco musicians come together in his novel are described in detailed accounts that makes it an excellent book of cultural anthropology.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – “Crime and Punishment”

As a classic example of using the third person narrative to its fullest, Dostoevsky’s tale of murder, idealism, and redemption tells of the story of an impoverished character that takes a life to prove that he has ambitions beyond his current squalor. We watch as a number of characters—the protagonist Raskolnikov, the detective in charge of the murder, a prostitute—each try to handle a crime in tsarist Russia. We can see both the inner torment of Raskolnikov contrasting with the clever detective’s sleuthing from the third person POV, which creates a compelling amount of tension in the reader.

More Writing Tips

Still struggling with perspectives and other basics? Checkout these writing guides to learn more:

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