The Advantages and Disadvantages of Third-Person Perspective

A series looking at the positive and negative aspects of writing from each point of view. This essay deals with third-person perspective.

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© 2016 Epytome / Used With Permission

Follows: Second-Person Perspective

Third-person perspective is writing from the point of view of God, observing all your characters. This allows for multiple perspectives to be inferred.

The gun sat on the table, inviting her to pick it up. It felt cold in her hand and was heavier than she expected. Her hand gripped it as if it belonged in her palm; her finger wrapped around the trigger as she aimed.

Typically, third-person falls into two categories: third-person omniscient, where the narrator knows everything about the world and all characters; and third-person limited, where the narrator only knows details about one character and learns as events unfold throughout the story. Both use variations on ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, and ‘they’ to include characters in the story, and, depending on the awareness and objectivity of the narrator, to impart opinion and decisions.

On some occasions, writers choose to include elements of first-person points of view by mentioning character thoughts and feelings without using ‘he thought’ or ‘she felt’ in the text. This allows for more intimacy whilst maintaining different perspectives and helps break down the distance between the narrator and the characters.

The Advantages

Third-person allows you to float between multiple characters; whether that is sticking to a single character per scene, as in limited third-person, or jumping from one to another at will. This offers a great level of depth and opportunity for extensive development.

By writing in third-person you can show both the characters’ thoughts along with what is actually happening, allowing the reader to clearly see the difference between opinion and fact, and thereby including the bigger picture within the story.

Your main character can still think, feel, and experience through their senses, but so can other characters, which can allow for a greater sense of a scene as you switch between viewpoints.

Third-person can prevent your story being limited by one character’s voice, and opens the possibility for more detailed explanations that their vocabulary would allow.

There is a greater potential for tension as there is no telling which characters will actually survive the story.

The Disadvantages

Third-person narration, by nature, has the characters at arm’s length. This means your reader is even further detached than you are as the writer, and can prevent some readers building empathy with your characters.

The more characters you focus on, the more diluted the reader’s connection is with each. It is very difficult to ensure the reader will empathise with all your characters and the longer the gap between following each, the less the reader will be involved with them.

Multiple characters can also become confusing to follow as without creating a strong, unique voice for each, they can all begin to sound the same.

There is no possibility of an unreliable narrator with third-person, as it would not be the character that lies, but the writer.

 

Often writers stick to one point of view, as that is what they are most confident using. There is no need to be afraid of other perspectives. The best thing to do is experiment – write different stories from different angles and see what happens.

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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