Mastering the Art of Writing in Third Person
Writing is an art form that demands creativity, skill, and knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. And one of the essential aspects of creative and factual writing is the point of view or the perspective from which the narrative is told.
There are three principal perspectives – first person, second person, and third person. Each plays a different role, allowing us to hear a character’s thoughts or offering a limited perspective of the narrative viewpoint as a plotting tool.
In this blog post, we’ll master the art of writing in third person. It can be challenging, but with the correct tips and tricks, you’ll can become a master of perspective.
Understanding Third-Person Perspective
The third-person perspective is where the narrator is an observer of the story rather than part of the present action.
The third-person narrator uses third-person pronouns such as “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” and “them” to refer to the characters in the story.
The third-person perspective is often used in fiction writing. However, you’ll also commonly find it in academic writing, business writing, and other types of writing.
The advantage of the third-person perspective is that it allows the writer to keep a distance from the story and to provide a more objective view of the events.
Types of Third Person Point of View – Objective, Limited, and Omniscient
There are three types of third person point of view:
From an objective point of view, the narrator is an observer who does not know the thoughts or feelings of the characters. The narrator only reports what can be seen and heard.
From a limited point of view, the narrator is still an observer, but the narrator knows the feeling and thoughts of one character in the story. The narrator only reports what this single character sees, hears, and thinks.
From an omniscient point of view, the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of all the characters in the story. The narrator can report on events that the other characters are not aware of and can provide a more complete view of the story.
Differences between First Person, Second Person, and Third Person Points of View
The first-person point of view is where the narrator is a character in the story. The first-person narrator uses first-person pronouns such as “I,” “me,” and “my” to refer to themselves.
The second-person point of view is where the narrator addresses the reader directly. The second-person narrator uses second-person pronouns such as “you” and “your” to address the reader.
The main difference between first-person, second-person, and third-person points of view is the perspective from which the story is told. First-person and second-person perspectives create a more intimate and personal connection with the reader. At the same time, the third-person point of view can provide a more objective and complete picture of the events in the story.
Benefits of Writing in the Third-Person Point of View
Writing in the third person has several benefits:
- It allows the writer to keep a distance from the story, providing a more objective view of the events. This can be especially useful in academic writing, where objectivity is essential.
- It can provide more depth and complexity to the story. By knowing the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters, the writer can create a more nuanced and layered story.
- It creates a sense of universality. Because the narrator is outside of the story, the reader can see the events from a universal viewpoint.
Tips for Writing in the Third-Person Perspective
Here are some tips for writing in third person perspective:
Using Third Person Pronouns – He, She, It, They, and Them
When writing in the third-person perspective, it is crucial to use the correct third-person pronouns.
The most common third-person pronouns are:
Make sure to use the correct pronouns for each character in the story, bearing in mind that some people use gender-non-specific pronouns, opting for they or them rather than he or she.
How do singular non-binary person pronouns work when writing in the third person?
When writing in third-person narrative, we traditionally use the gendered person pronouns, he/she.
Where a person or character identifies as non-binary, they’ll use they.
So, if we say “he is” or “she is,” should we use “they is”?
Well, this is undoubtedly a matter of debate.
However, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we should use the verb form that feels most familiar, i.e., they are.
So, if you’re talking about Jack, who identifies as non-binary or trans, then you would say:
This is Jack. They are my friend.
This is Jack. They is my friend.
Crafting a Third-Person Narration – The Character’s Perspective
When writing in the third person perspective, remember that the narrator is an observer outside of the story.
Nonetheless, the narrator exists within the world of the story and can still provide insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters.
One way to do this is to write from the character’s perspective. This means that the narrator describes what the character sees, hears, and thinks.
Common Mistakes to Avoid While Writing in Third Person
One of the most common mistakes when writing in third person perspective is using first-person pronouns such as “I” and “me.”
Make sure to use third-person pronouns such as “he,” “she,” and “they” instead.
Another common mistake is switching between multiple perspectives and different points of view. Typically, ensure you stick to one point of view throughout the story.
Can you switch from first to third person in writing?
Yes, switching from first person to third person in writing is possible. However, it is important to maintain consistency and clarity throughout the piece.
If you are writing in first person, it is generally best to stick with that perspective unless you’re making a specific creative decision to break the rule.
When switching to the third-person voice, it’s crucial to establish the perspective early on and ensure it is clear to the reader. The key is to maintain a consistent and clear narrative voice throughout the piece.
Examples of books that switch from first-person to third person
There are several examples of books that switch from a first-person perspective to third person.
For instance, “The Quantum Thief” by Hannu Rajaniemi seamlessly switches between first- and third-person POV.
Another example is “Veniss Underground” by Jeff Vandermeer which uses first, second, and third-person point of view for parts one, two, and three, respectively.
Additionally, some other books that use first person plural perspective include:
- Women Talking by Miriam Toewes,
- We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A.E. Osworth
- We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
- We the Animals by Justin Torres
Third-Person Objective – A Closer Look
Objective – adjective – a person’s perspective (or their judgement) that is not influenced by opinions or personal feelings when representing and considering facts. This is different from the noun form, where the objective is a character’s goal.
In the third-person objective point of view, the narrator is an observer who does not know the thoughts or feelings of the characters.
The narrator only reports what can be seen and heard. And although this can be a challenging point of view to write in, it can provide a more objective view of the events in the story.
Third Person Limited – A Closer Look
Limited – adjective – restricted by size, extent, or amount
In the third person limited point of view, the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of one character in the story.
The narrator only reports what this viewpoint character sees, hears, and thinks – we’re literally inside that one character’s thoughts.
This one-person limited perspective creates a more intimate connection between the reader and the main character’s thoughts, but it can also limit the story’s scope.
Third Person Omniscient – A Closer Look
Omniscient – adjective – all-knowing.
In the third-person omniscient point of view, the narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of all the characters in the story.
The omniscient narrator reports on events that the characters are unaware of and can provide a more complete view of the story.
This can be a challenging point of view to write in, but it can also create a more complex and layered story.
Academic Writing and Third Person
The third-person perspective is often used in academic writing because it provides an objective view of the events.
When writing an academic paper, it is essential to use third-person pronouns and to avoid using first-person pronouns. This helps maintain a professional and objective tone, which can help reinforce an academic argument.
Mastering the Art of Writing in Third Person Point of View
Writing in third-person can be challenging, but it can also provide a more objective and complete view of the events in the story.
By understanding the different forms of third-person – using the appropriate pronouns and avoiding common mistakes – you can master the art of writing in the third person.
Whether you’re writing fiction, academic or research papers,, or business documents, a third person perspective can provide depth, complexity, and universality to your writing.
Harry Wallett is the Managing Director of Cascadia Author Services. He has a decade of experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing, which has sold over 3 million copies of books in all genres for its authors, and looks after a team of 50+ industry professionals working across the world.
Harry is inspired by the process of book creation and is passionate about the stories and characters behind the prose. He loves working with the writers and has shepherded 1000s of titles to publication over the years. He knows first-hand what it takes to not only create an unputdownable book, but also how to get it into the hands of the right readers for success.