Writing in third person.

Hello. It is I, Claudia, yet again asking for advice of my fellow writers who, I hope, will selflessly come to my aid, like princes and princesses on beautiful, white horses.

My main question is:

•How does one write in third person without confusing their dear readers?

I am currently working on a story that is written in third person, mainly because I wanted to give the readers an insight on not just the protagonists feelings and thoughts, but those of other characters as well.

My other questions are:

•Is it a good idea to do that, or should I just focus on the thoughts and feelings of the main character?
•Even tho I am writing in third person, should I focus on the main characters ‘point of view’?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this topic, and possibly answering my questions. Hugs and kisses. <3

I’m writing in third person and write through two character, but only one at a time. I’ll spend five chapters or so with my MC and then move over to the love interest for two or three chapters. It’s generally a much easier way to go to avoid confusing readers and gives the readers a long enough time for the change to really take shape.

But I’m new to writing in third person, so best to get other opinions.

I believe the rules are you should stick to one person at a time if you are in their head or can write multiple POV’s, but remain on the outside, not really showing what’s going on in their head but sticking strictly with actions.

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:point_up_2:

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Giving a different POV a separate chapter is more convenient for the reader, as opposite to shifting there and back between ‘heads’. Usually, it gets progressively harder with the number of POV characters.

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Hi Claudia!

So, third person is actually my preferred POV for narrators. The basic information you have to remember is with third person you have two choices:

A. Your narrator knows EVERYTHING–everyone’s thoughts, everything that’s going on. All. The. Things.

B. Your narrator is only in the head of ONE character at a time. This can be for the entire work, or this can simply be on a per chapter or per part basis, flipping between characters.

Option B has been the most common choices for fiction writers for about the last century.

The big thing to remember is once you pick, COMMIT. You can’t flip between A and B. That’s where things get confusing for the readers. The best example I can think of is the Harry Potter series. It is a hard and fast B. Your narrator is third person, but everything is seen/explained through Harry’s filter. There are occasional switches to other characters’ points of view (I’m thinking the first chapter of Goblet of Fire about the Riddle house, the first chapter of Half Blood Prince, where the “filter” character is the Muggle Prime Minister, Harry’s encounter with the Dementors in Prisoner of Azkaban, and the Godric’s Hollow chapter in Deathly Hallows). What all of these have in common when shifting characters is that writer is clear to make the distinctions between whose lenses we are looking. Both in the technical writing on the page (new chapters, using italics, etc.) and how things are described.

Hope this helps!

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This is primarily what I was talking about with my first post. You can switch if you want, but you need to make sure you’re very clear on who is the focus.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as the author, just make sure your execution is precise!

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Thank you so much for your help! It definitely made things clearer for me.
I’ll make sure to keep your advice in mind when I’m writing.

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So there’s a few different ways to go about third person and it’s strengths are different than first person.

First person is good for intimacy. When you need to be up close and personal with a character, this is when it is at it’s strongest. First person begins to weaken when you have a lot of characters or a very broad story. Imagine trying to tell a story like The Lord of the Rings in first person. It would be a tricky proposition.

Third Person’s strengths are in the breadth that it can give a work. Rather than focusing on one person, you can focus on an ensemble if you want. Large stories with many characters often work better in third person.

Now to your specific questions.

•How does one write in third person without confusing their dear readers?

For the most part people won’t be confused by third person if your writing is clear and concise. While first person is popular in the modern era and especially in internet circles, the vast majority of published books are in third person. That said there’s a few different forms of third person that you can use and this will help answer your next questions.

Third Person Omnicient: This is a form of third person where the narrator or voice telling the story knows everything. They know all the thoughts and feelings of all the characters and bounce around at will to tell you what’s going on. This may be tempting, since it allows the most freedom, but it’s usually NOT recommended. THIS is the kind of thirdperson that confuses people as it’s prone to what is called head jumping. When the author bounces around willy-nilly between characters it can be very difficult for the reader to follow unless the author is a master at what they do. You mentioned getting confused in third person? It usually only happens when this form is used poorly

Third Person Limited: This is the more common, easier to write, and recommended form of the third person. This is the form third person where the author follows ONE character and their thoughts at a time. The author knows what the character knows. This allows for a little more of the intimcay of first person, but retains the syntax and flow of third person.

And here’s a bonus. You can use MANY points of view in Third Person Limited. Works like Game of Thrones are written in this point of view. Just make sure that you put a hard break in before switching points of view and that you make it VERY clear who the new viewopint is when you switch. I always try to have the new point of view character’s name be the FIRST one mentioned after a switch and within the first sentence or two so my readers know exactly who I’m following.

Hope this helps! If you need to read more I strongly recommend googling Third Person Omnicient and Third Person Limited for more info. There’s tons of great resources out there for writing.

Cheers!
-Michael F Kane-

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Thank you so, so much for taking your time to explain this to me so clearly and in such a detailed way! It helped tremendously.

I will make sure to research different forms of third person in more detail.

You see, English is not my first language, and therefore, I haven’t studied English literature nor English grammar at school, I had no idea that stuff like “Third Person Omnicient” and “Third Person Limited” even existed!

Seeing how educating your answer was, I’m assuming that you know quite a bit when it comes to writing, so I would be very grateful if you would share your opinions on this:

My book is a thriller/drama that revolves around two characters and focuses on their development as the story progresses. The main point of the book is to see how different situations and circumstances have certain effects on people, and how it changes them. I want the readers to go on this inner ‘journey’ with the both characters.

What would you suggest is the best to use here? Would third person still be a good choice?

Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help!

Ha thanks! English is my native language and I actually have a related degree from a university so I’ve got a decent understanding of the nuts and bolts of writing. Now I just have to keep on doing! :wink:

I see this as being done one of two ways.

You could very easily do this first person if you wanted. You might could switch back and forth between each character on every chapter. The main difficulty with a first person work with more than one point of view character is that it can be tricky to make the two characters have different “voices.” I once read that if you’re writing first person with more POVs that you should make each person’s internal voice so distinct that you don’t have to use a name for the reader to know who’s head we’re in.
Yup that sounds hard! :smiley:

To avoid that, I personally would probably go with Third Person limited. This might let you do some cool things. One of the fun parts of about this point of view is that you get to think about each scene and ask a question. “Who’s point of view makes this scene the BEST it can be?” It even lets you try multiple people if you decide it didn’t work the first time. you can always go back and switch a scene.

Third Person Limited will also let you hide information from both other characters and the reader.
Let’s say there’s a secret that Character A discovers. You can show their shock and cut away before actually revealing to the reader what Character A found out.

Now we switch to Character B. Neither B nor the readers know fully what’s going on, and we can watch Character A react and eventually reveal the secret.

Third person limited with multiple points of view lets let’s you REALLY control the information you give the readers, which could be a REALLY useful tool in a thriller.

Hope that’s some good food for thought!

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Yes, exactly, I thought about doing the story in the first person but I was worried about my characters being too similar.
I also tend to focus way too much on characters feelings when I’m writing in the first person, so I reckon that the best choice for me would be to write in third person.

Thank you once again for sharing your (most likely) hard-earned knowledge with me.
I really appreciate you taking your time to help me and putting in the effort to explain everything in such a detailed way.
I wish you all the best!

No problem!
Glad I could be of service!

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It depends on what you mean by “confusing” the readers. Do you mean wondering who the main character is?

In that case, this depends on what point of view you’re writing in. There’s omniscient—which is where your narrator knows everything about every character you write about—and then there’s limited—which is where your narrator is restricted to only knowing about one character. Limited is basically first person, but you just change the pronouns.

I’ve never written or read a book in omniscient—it’s the hardest point of view to master, and thus, not many third person writers use it—so I can’t really answer your question if you’re writing in this point of view. My only guess is to let us know who the story is following the most? For example, if you’re writing in omniscient, and the story features three main characters: Abby, Blake, and Christine; then you’re going to be writing everything that each person sees, feels, thinks, and knows. Your narrator is God, so they’re telling your readers everything they know. However, to avoid confusing your readers on who the story is following, you need to make sure that the main character is in every to every other scene, and how they play a large role in the story. You can have the three walk around a market, until Blake’s eyes find something that catches their interest. Blake wanders off, and the friends are no longer in the scene because they do something else. And throughout the story, Blake is the person your narrator talks about the most—they follow Blake on their journey. This allows us to know who your main character is.

But then again, this is just my assumption. So take this advice with a grain of salt. It’s best to go searching around Google for “how-to’s” on omniscient.

As far as writing in limited third person, then it’s a totally different thing. Like I mentioned, limited is the same as first person, you’re just changing the pronouns. Instead of focusing on everyone else at the same time, you’re only focusing on Blake. Their thoughts, emotions, what they see, what they feel, and so on.

You are going to be using their names along with their pronouns, and you may also use other ways to mention people without sounding too repetitive. For example:

Instead of saying: “Jane and May looked at Iris.” —if we know that Jane and May were sisters, you can say: “The sisters looked at Iris.” —if we know that they’re friends, you can say: “Her friends looked at Iris.” —if they have no relation to Iris, or perhaps, for any other way, you can say: “The girls looked at Iris.”

Ah. Then you are probably writing in omniscient.

For that, I’m gonna link you over to this resource: Using Third Person Omniscient POV.

Well, that depends. Like I said, omniscient is the hardest to master. Most people who write it, tend to fail at it because it is so difficult. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another way to write other character’s thoughts and feelings. There is such a thing called third person limited multiple. In this point of view, you can switch to different characters every other chapter or scene. But during each chapter or scene, you have to focus on a single character. Otherwise, if you focus on other characters during that scene, you’ll make it confusing.

So if you’re doing it by chapters, then that means you can add the name of the character to the chapter title, and then that chapter focuses on that character alone.

For instance:

Chapter one: Kirstin

The wind blew Kirstin’s hair in her face…

Chapter two: Bailey

“Get out!” The voice of her brother was audible behind the door. He repeated himself again, this time pounding his fist against the wood. Bailey sat in the corner, tears streaming down her face…

The other way is through scene breaks. For instance:

Chapter one:

The wind blew in Kirstin’s hair in her face…

~ * ~

“Get out!” The voice of her brother was audible behind the door. He repeated himself again, this time pounding his fist against the wood. Bailey sat in the corner, tears streaming down her face…

<>

But the answer to your question determines on your story. If you didn’t have the story follow the other characters, is it going to change the course of your plot in any significant way? If the answer is no, then keep it to a single character.

An example I can give would be Harry Potter. If I remember correctly, the beginning chapters had switched between the Dursley family to Dumbledore because Harry was still a baby. It started with the Dursley family so we could see how horrible they act, plus, they’re life was going to change drastically once Harry would arrive. Then, once they fell asleep, it switched to Dumbledore because he was the one that decided to give Harry to them, and a few other important pieces of information was exchanged between the other characters (Hagrid and Minerva). Then, after that, the story focused solely on Harry because he is the main character. The story is all about him and his experiences. If it changed over to Ron or another character, then things would be different… but just slightly because their points of views don’t really move the plot forward. If that makes any sense?

You should always focus on the main character. The story follows them on whatever the journey they go on, and therefore, they are important—not only because they are telling the story, but also because without their point of view, the story doesn’t move forward. Imagine watching Stranger Things in just the point of view of the parents… the story would be incredibly boring, wouldn’t it? That’s because it wouldn’t be heading toward the goal. That’s why the focus is set on multiple people—the kids, because they know Eleven; the teenagers, because they’re trying to find Barb; and the two adults (the sheriff and Will’s mom), because the sheriff protects the town and smells something fishy with the government building, and the mom is the whole reason why we know that Will is still alive. Each character is vital to the story, hence, that is why we follow their stories and why they’re all main characters. But the official MC here is between the boys and Eleven, because that is who the story follows the most.

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Third person limited is great if you’ve got an ensemble cast. Bonus points if you can describe dying from that perspective!

Once again, you’ve helped me so much! Thank you, I really appreciate all your helpful advice.

Like I’ve mentioned already, my book is a thriller/drama that revolves around two characters and focuses on their development as the story progresses. The main point of the book is to see how different situations and circumstances have certain effects on them, and how it changes them. I want the readers to go on this inner ‘journey’ with the both characters.

Both characters ‘growth’ and development is really important to the plot, and it’s vital for me that the readers keep getting an insight on both of them throughout the story, and see how they are changing.

Hence, my question about focusing on more than one character. I seem to have two main characters which are equally important to the story. :disappointed_relieved:

And thank you, really. I appreciate your answer, I found it really helpful! I hope you have a great day/night ahead. <3

Hello again Claudia. So in my post option A was 3rd Omniscient and B was 3rd Limited :slight_smile:

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Yes, I’ve realized that after I actually learned that such things even exist! Haha
Thank you for clarifying it!

A good example of third person done right is the book Innocently Falling by MandyMunch here on Wattpad. I think she captures the third person voice perfectly! The good thing about third person is the author can reveal as little or as much as they want. :slight_smile:

I prefer to use mixed style. It would sound quite monotonous with only third person or only first person POV. So, when giving descriptions of personas and environment - usually third person. But there are dialogues and communication between the different characters as well. Then, first - person POV is activated. :slight_smile:

I like writing in third person because i feel it helps me describe what all the characters are thinking and feeling. It helps me devote time to all my characters better.