Pros and Cons and Types of Third-Person
Hey guys, I’m back to talking about point of view, which was requested by an anonymous follower. Again, there are people who have talked about this better than I can cover in a blog post. The two books I like are Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress and Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. Like I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, there are three points of view:
First-person: I thought I was going crazy.
Second-person: You thought you were going crazy.
Third-person: She thought she was going crazy.
But I forgot to mention (and another follower brought to my attention) that there are plural versions too.
First-person plural: We thought we were going crazy.
Third-person plural: They thought they were going crazy.
The plural versions are used even less than second-person, but, they have been done. I know there are some science fiction stories that are written like this because the story is about a hive mind. What about plural second-person? I guess that could be done too.
I did a post outlining the common pros and cons of writing a story in first-person that you can read here. In it, I gave some suggestions on how to get around the cons, and then deflated some of the others. But today’s post is all about writing in third-person!
She thought she was going crazy.
In third-person, the narrator is someone watching and experiencing the story, but not participating in it. It’s like the narrator is looking over the character’s shoulder.
- Switch between multiple viewpoints easily, which lets you develop more characters from the inside.
- It’s also easier to describe viewpoint characters from the outside.
- You can bring the prose deep into your viewpoint character’s thought process or pull it far away.
- Since the character isn’t telling the story in his own words, the narrator can describe the world in words and ways the character wouldn’t. The style can be more beautiful than the character’s vernacular.
- Can cover scenes that the protagonist isn’t present for. You’re not limited to your protagonists’ worldviews.
- The narrator can tell the reader things the character doesn’t know.
- Third-person feels more distant. It’s not as personal. Readers don’t get to put on the character’s body and mind (they can get close, but not quite), so they won’t get as personal with the character.
- Tends to have a less distinctive language patterns.
- It can be harder to switch between memory, flashbacks, and opinions, and the switches are more likely to feel choppy.
(Some of these taken points are from Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint.)
- Since the writer isn’t technically bound by the character’s view, she might think she can zoom in and zoom out of a character’s thoughts, delve this info out and hold this info back, write this description this way and another description that way whenever and however she wants. In a way, that’s true–but only for the writers who know what they are doing and are doing it with a purpose. Like all writing, third-person takes control. You don’t just write it one way because that’s how it came out. That’s sloppy. You should have a reason for zooming into your character’s thoughts and a reason for distancing yourself from them. You should have a reason for writing one description with a sarcastic tone and another description with a depressed one.
If you read my first-person post, you might be looking at the pros and cons of both points of view and be thinking that obviously third-person is the best choice. Third-person is definitely the most flexible, but the truth is, it’s not the best choice for every story. Some stories are best told right from the character, in his voice, in first-person. People love the closeness. If your story is meant to be very personal and emotionally powerful, first-person is a great way to go. If your character’s view on life is particularly intriguing, entertaining, or insightful, first-person might be the way to go.
But, like I said, third-person is very flexible, and you can often get nearly the same effect as first-person. Just like I talked about how you can get around first-person cons, you can get around these third-person cons by simply getting deeper into your viewpoint character.
Third-person is so flexible, that you really need to break it down further…