31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 11 – What Is Third Person Point of View?

Day 11 and it feels so gooood… Hey guys, welcome back to “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”! Today I’ll be teaching you about Third Person Point of View for part two of this three-parter, so if you haven’t read yesterdays post (or any of the previous NaNoWriMo Prep posts) you should click here, or check out the corresponding YouTube videos here.

It might seem weird that we’ve skipped over Second Person POV and jumped right to third, but there’s a method to my madness. For now, just trust that I have good reason for leaving the lesser-known POV triplet for the end of this three-parter.

So what is third person? Third person is the point of view where the narrator is a character outside of the story you’re telling. “Wait,” you gasp, astounded. “A third person narrator is a character?” The answer is yes. Well, sort of. It’s a character that does not have an active role in the story you’re telling. If they did have an active role, then the story would be in first person instead of third. Of course, this is something that you can feel free to play with. In The Book Thief, author Markus Zusak experiments with point of view by having Death act as sort of an all-knowing first person narrator. It’s an interesting play on the norm. However, that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today we’re strictly discussing your normal, run-of-the-mill third person POV. Boring, I know, but necessary.

Anyway, yes, a third person narrator is a character in your story (in a way). The most interesting third person narrators are the ones who have some kind of involvement in the story, be it an opinion, some personal investment, etc. You don’t actually have to tell the reader who this narrator is–in fact, you shouldn’t, because odds are there isn’t a way for you to do so without breaking the fourth wall and turning your third person narrator into a first person narrator–but it’s a good idea for you to know who your narrator is. Technically, the narrator could be you, but… well, are you the best person to tell this story? I mean, obviously you’re the best person to write the story, but are you the best person to tell it? Or is there a character locked away somewhere in your big, beautiful brain that can bring an interesting perspective to the story?

Now, maybe your narrator won’t be very opinionated at all, and that’s okay. But even then, a few biases will always slip out. That’s where the fun comes in for the reader. That’s how you guide your reader to feel the way you want them to feel. Yesterday we talked about how a first person narrator is an unreliable narrator, but how, technically, so is every type of narrator. This is where that comes in. The narrator’s biases, whether they’re all over the place or just in a few instances–or whether or not they’re your own biases–make said narrator an unreliable one. If that upsets you at all, don’t let it. That’s the fun of a novel for a reader, trying to sort out for yourself where biases are and aren’t clouding the perspective of the story being told.

Unlike first person narrators, third person narrators won’t refer to themselves at all. Instead, their pronoun vocabulary will almost strictly consist of “He”s, “She”s, and “They”s. Sometimes a third person narrator might break the fourth wall and address the reader as “You,” but, again, not in a way that would really include the reader in the story. They might say something like, “And you, dear reader, must understand that…”, but that’s really the extent of it.

Now, let’s move on to the part where I share some third person POV novels with you. Some examples are:

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone by JK Rowling
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • The Giver by  Lois Lowry
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Throne of Glass by Sara J. Mass
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

When we discussed first person POV yesterday, I mentioned that no one point of view was better than another, and that’s still true. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of each individual point of view in relation to the story you want to tell. To help you do that, here’s some of the pros and cons of third person POV:

The first is that a novel–or any type of story–written in third person is more likely to be considered “literary” than a first or second-person novel. If you’re interested in writing literary fiction, then this is probably the point of view for you.

The second pro is that third person can allow your own unique author voice to shine through. When writing a novel in first person, you can end up being limited by the type of vocabulary your narrator might have. In third person, on the other hand, you have a lot more freedom. Want to use copious amounts of metaphors? That’s okay, because it’s your style and it doesn’t really matter if your main character would use them or not. Have a huge vocabulary that you like to show off? Well, I mean, make sure you know what those words mean, and that they’re not going to be too off-putting to the average reader, but other than that, you can feel free to use them because it doesn’t matter if your main character knows what they mean or not. Of course, delving into your main character’s voice while writing in third person can also be a strong choice, but the point I’m trying to make here is that you have the option to explore your own writing voice, whereas that isn’t really an option in first person.

Third, it allows for variety with Third Person Limited and Omniscient POVs. We don’t have enough time to get into the nitty-gritty of what the differences between these two point of views are, but if you’d like me to make a separate post about them in the future, let me know! I view this variety as a pro because there’s so many different ways you can shape these point of views to meet the specific needs for your story, whereas with first and second person there’s less chances to experiment. If you enjoy a sense of freedom with your writing, you may really like this point of view.

Now let’s jump into cons. The first is that, with third person POV, it takes more effort to make the main character relatable and sympathetic to the reader. While limited POV may help with this a little, especially if you choose to use the character’s voice instead of your own, you’re still not entirely in that character’s head. This means it will take more work to get the reader to the point of seeing your character as relatable or even likable. For some writers, this isn’t a very big hurtle to conquer at all. For others, it is. I know that my main character in my series The Caspian Chronicles was pretty flat until I shifted to first person, but, of course, this was just my personal experience with this one specific project. The circumstances surrounding your novel may be completely different. Hell, the circumstances surrounding my future projects may be completely different.

The second con is that it takes more work to establish a strong voice. I know I also listed personal author voice as a pro, but the fact of the matter is, while using your own writing voice is a pro, it’s also harder to do. In first person, the voice is your character’s voice, which is almost always naturally strong, so long as your character is a strong character (strong meaning well-developed). In third person, though, it can be easy to fall into a dry, dull, essay-like voice that’ll make your readers feel like they’re plodding their way through a dissertation on the texture of dirt rather than experiencing a highly visceral work of art. I mean, if I wrote these blog posts the same way I write my college essays, you guys would’ve been gone in three seconds. Instead, I use my own personal writing voice, which hopefully makes the information a little more interesting. It’s the same with your novel. You’ve got to make the effort to find your own writing voice and use it to make your novel interesting to readers.

I’ll end this post in the same way I ended yesterdays: With a reminder that your decision on which point of view to use should be based on what your novel really needs. Do you feel like your personal writing voice is strong enough to carry a novel? Would your story benefit from or be hindered by a limited or omniscient POV? Figure these things out, and the answer might be simpler than you think.

Before you make your decision, though, make sure you check back in tomorrow for Day 12, where we’ll finally be exploring the unconventional Second Person Point of View as the end to this three-parter.

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