Points of View: Third Person Limited

If you missed them, here are my posts on first person and third person omniscient. The last one I'm going to cover is third person limited.*

Technically, third person limited is just like omniscient, but (wait for it...) limited. The story is told by a narrator outside the story, but not an all-knowing one. The narrator only has access to what one character sees, thinks, and feels.

On the surface, it seems like this would have all the disadvantages of first person (happens in the past) and of omniscient (putting a barrier between the reader and the story). But as it turns out, the opposite is true. Third person limited has the feel of present action like omniscient does, and because there's no obvious narrator, there is even less of barrier than in first person. It also carries first person's advantage of getting the reader up close and personal with the characters, like the reader is in their world.

With third person limited, the story rather than the narrator shines. There's still a voice -- there is always a voice -- but it's more subtle than in first person or third omniscient.

One important note though: don't ever switch your viewpoint character mid-scene. That's what third person omniscient does. If you switch from one character's thoughts to another, it will be jarring if the reader thought they were in one person's head, and inconsistent if you only do it occasionally.

So how do you switch viewpoint characters then? I'll talk about that next time when I wrap things up.

* There's also second person, which I've never used nor read past 100 words, so I'm not going to touch it.


Matthew Delman said...

I hate when POV characters switch midscene, which is probably why third-person omniscient annoys me so much.

Love these posts about point-of-view, Mr. Heine. Keep 'em coming!

Joshua McCune said...

I'm listening to Stephen King's CELL currently on BOT and while it's mostly third-person-limited (or at least I thought it was), he sometimes head hops, which annoys me, too.