description without place

Point of View: All About First and Third, Plus How to Choose

Anonymous said:

Hi! I’m writing a story and I want to write it in third person, as I’m currently reading one in it and love their third person descriptions. However I’ve heard many people say they prefer first person stories. That matters to me as one day I’d like to be published. I’m really conflicted and wondered if you would help me by telling me why it’s frequently said third person isn’t as good/personal. Thanks so much for reading! I love your blog, it’s so helpful.


It isn’t true that third person isn’t as good as first person–it’s just different. While there are many readers who prefer first person, there are many readers who prefer third person. And many are okay with both. What matters much more is what’s right for your story.

There are three types of third person:

Third Person Objective the narrator is tied to the protagonist, only able to go where the protagonist goes and relay what the protagonist has observed or experienced. However, the third person objective narrator does not know (and may not comment on) the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist or any other character.

Third Person Limited - the narrator is tied to the protagonist, only able to go where the protagonist goes and relay what the protagonist has observed or experienced. However, the third person limited narrator DOES know (and CAN comment on) the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, but not any other character.

Third Person Omniscient - the narrator is not tied to the protagonist, and is able to go anywhere at any time and relay anything. The third person omniscient narrator knows all and can comment not only on the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, but the thoughts and feelings of other characters, too. The third person omniscient narrator can tell the reader things that even the characters don’t know.


There are also three types of first person:

First Person Protagonist the narrator is the protagonist, so can only know and comment on what they observe, experience, or are told. The first person protagonist can’t know what other characters are thinking or feeling unless they are told, however they can guess or make assumptions.

First Person Observer - the narrator is not the protagonist, but they are typically part of the story. They are only able to know and comment on things that they, themselves, observe, experience or are told. They cannot know what any other character (besides themselves) is thinking or feeling unless they are told. They can guess or make assumptions, though. Although they are often telling someone else’s story that they either witnessed or experienced, they are imbuing the tale with their own observations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

First Person Retold - the narrator is not part of the story. They did not experience or observe the events that took place, they simply heard about them from someone who did and are repeating what they heard. They can know as much as their source (or sources) knew or were able to tell them, and can only comment on the thoughts and feelings of characters if that information was made available via the source/sources. They can, however, make guesses or assumptions about character thoughts and feelings, and they can imbue the tale with their own opinions as well as related or unrelated experiences.


How to choose between them

The first thing you should do when choosing a point-of-view is to consider what information you need your reader to know:

Reader needs to know things the protagonist doesn’t. In this case, you probably want to look at third person omniscient, first person observer, or first person retold.

The benefit of third person omniscient is that the narrator doesn’t have to be part of the story or told what happened by someone who was part of the story. They simply know what happened, and what people thought/felt, because they know everything.

The benefit of a first person observer is you get a narrator who experienced what happened, but who has the benefit of learning things the protagonist doesn’t know.

The benefit of first person retold is that, since they’re retelling something that already happened, they have the benefit of hindsight as well as the ability to know information from multiple sources. Plus, they can filter what they’re telling through the lens of their own experiences, thus adding to the story in a way.


Reader knows only what the protagonist knows. In this case, the point of view you choose will depend on what’s more important to your story: your character’s internal world, their external world, or both.

- Internal world is more important - When the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, internal motivation and goals, hopes, dreams, fears, etc., are important, you may want to go with first person protagonist. This allows your reader to dwell inside the protagonist’s mind, knowing what they know and feeling what they feel, experiencing everything through their eyes. It’s a very intimate point of view which is great for character driven stories.

- External world is more important - When the setting, other characters, action, external motivation and goals, etc. are more important, you may want to go with third person objective. This allows the narrator to focus on what’s happening outside of the protagonist’s mind, without filtering it through the lens of the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and emotions can still be shown by the protagonist and other characters through dialogue, but not told or commented on by the narrator. This would be good for an action driven story where it’s less important for the reader to have an intimate connection with the protagonist, and where the characters communicating their own thoughts and feelings through dialogue (or hinting at them through their actions) is enough.

- Both internal and external world are important - When both the protagonist’s internal and external worlds are important, third person limited is a good choice. Third person limited allows the intimacy of knowing what’s inside the protagonist’s heart and mind, while still allowing for a more objective look at the world surrounding them. For example, in first person it can seem unnatural for a character to wax poetic about how the sun is shimmering on the surface of a pond–unless there’s a reason they’re noticing that. Third person limited allows that sort of description without seeming out of place and without sacrificing character intimacy.


If you’re not sure what the demands of your story will be–which may especially be the case if you’re winging your story rather than planning it out first–remember that first drafts are rough drafts, so it’s okay to start out in one point of view and change to a different one in a later draft. In this case, choose whichever point of view you’re comfortable with or which will work best based on what you know going in. Again, you can change it later. :)

There is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. A distinction needs to be made, as well, between (factual) truth and truthfulness: what renders a report of a raped woman (or any other narrative of trauma) truth is its very factual unreliability, its confusion, its inconsistency….The only appropriate approach to my subject [violence] thus seems to be one which permits variations on violence kept at a distance out of respect for its victims….


The key question, of course, is what kind of description [is appropriate for acts of violence]? Surely it is not a realistic description of the situation, but what Wallace Stevens called “description without place,” which is what is proper to art. This is not a description which locates its content in a historical space and time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a decontextualised appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being.

—  Žižek, Violence
Watch on kenotype.tumblr.com

Personally I think it very important to look to movies for love, for a thinking of love, in fact if it is not immediately within the family where else will you look towards, what will you listen to? In the age of the search bar (which obviously I am not against at the level of knowledge), it is nice to listen to this, since the word love need not appear for what we listen to to be about love - the results of the search are immediately present in the act of listening: to immediately listen for, and with, love, to prepare the organ of the ear to listen for it. We can say that the we exists without having to at first make the distinction between two bodies, but maybe we can say there are two voices in the sounds we are hearing. What is important is that there are no bodies in front of us when listening to this. I listened through headphones, and was reminded of talking on the phone with someone you want to be with, that you are not within your body when you do so. To generate new organs to listen with. Two quotes from Marx: “If you love without evoking love in return” + “Just as music alone awakens in man the sense of music, and just as the most beautiful music has no sense for the unmusical ear” - the preparation of new organs to be able to be able to hear - retroactively and in the process of determination, there are no boundaries, no inherent limitations to the organs we can create to be able to continue, ears without bodies, the infinite production of new organs without bodies - that the sexual disjunction of the two in love is this difference: the difference in two (sexual) organs is clearer in thinking the two attempting to create infinitely new organs to interact, and they are different infinities so it is tough to assign measure, or rather, exchange- it is not reducible simply to exchange and use, we are attempting to invent a new world of appearances with our new organs, thus not in the non-world of market. In listening I wonder about the spaces that this will play. Listening to it I am reminded of Wallace Stevens’ ‘description without place’ since this is the question, how to describe new organs that cannot be placed in the space of exchange, that is the struggle at least as I understand it: how to create spaces to be in love, it is a very concrete struggle as it leads to the question, can you only love if you can afford a space, afford some property to be with your lover when jobs are disappearing and, barring UBI, is love only for the rich, who can afford a space? Who do you listen to? At one point does the family, the friends, the state, etc become some-one to listen to that can interrupt the immanent two you are attempting to create? When can you start listening? I think the scandal of Freud is also: children understand what love is - I mean ask any child of divorce and at 4 years old they know absolutely what has happened (and this question of age in relation to truth, there are geniuses of math who are young, those playing violin at 2 years old, etc.) The movement here: falling in love - in love - fights - break-ups - reunions - i love you - doubts - betrayal - loss (and here I am assuming that this is at the level of being, at the level of appearing there can be different orders) - this movement requires (the creation of) spaces to be able to do this. You cannot fight and break up and i love you and doubt and reunite in front of everyone (since every-one is not and cannot be totalized). If we had worlds enough, and time - there is no immanent end to the organs we can create and the new worlds of appearances that come with it, there is no capital R reason why love needs to end, we just exhaust the worlds - so it is good to listen to some sayings subtracted from the worlds they appear, and know they are true, because we need to start with some philosophical forcing, in anticipation of the loves to come from without and within since in love there is the moment of opening and closing where it is difficult to see which is which so you have to listen, and also speak, so maybe you can still create new worlds, to house the silences as well. Two voices, two silences, and the names are only known by the lovers themselves.


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“Partly inspired by Marclay’s The Clock” - what I remembered most about it, I was in Toronto seeing it with my friend, and it is the same time zone as Montréal where I was living at the time, so it was difficult to say when I leave The Clock, and it reminded me of the myth of the cave, as in, how do I know I am outside the cave? In fact the claim of exteriority is a pure cut. For example, at 3:29pm, we do not simply see one clock at 3:29pm, but at least two. We also do not cut from a 3:29pm to another, but the moment the clock strikes 3:29pm, twice. This is not an isolated incident. At 9:10pm we donʼt even see a clock, instead we see someone counting, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and the phrase “9,10” counts-as-now. In the first case there is the possibility of perhaps for every image that shows 3:29pm, that is, every image belonging to 3:29pm, but this also includes the clock becoming 3:29pm, as well as the possibility of showing the seconds in between, milliseconds, or any distinction whatever. In this way, the set of parts concerning any time whatever exceeds the set itself. Inclusion is in excess to belonging. But by how much? At another point, around 9:15pm, a watch is “regulated” (these are the words of the woman ʻfixingʼ a manʼs watch in the scene to coincide with the time). And at another point in the same hour, there is a close-up of a watch whose hands change by will of the person with the watch. Thus what succeeds a particular time can be absolutely chosen. It is never clear how much the inclusion of all the times that exist within a particular time exceeds the time itself, but it is clear it can be decided, as long as it does indeed succeed the time before. These moments of ʻfixingʼ a clock show that even within the bad infinity of The Clock, it is made clear that time is a purely subjective choice, and at any moment we can break with repetition and enter the domain of succession. I would look at my phone during The Clock, and would only see the time if there were no messages, and seeing the time, I would still be in The Clock. If there was a text message, from someone I loved, and my pocket against my leg as an organ understands a vibration can be a ‘hey this might be a message from someone you love.’ I would no longer be in the cave, I can claim exteriority. To partially quote a friend: from immanence of immanence, to immanence of externality, to externality of immanence, to externality of externality -

To love is to assert the difference within the same which makes me identical to myself, an identity without identity, and it’s what we listen for, and with. After the invention of music, the ear will have been what it will have been through what it enables and what consequences it unfolds, unlawfully. So far in Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Sounds we have about 20 minutes, which will become a day, which brings up the question what is a true day, a day dedicated to thinking a truth in a world, when a day is only a day when we think our new organs in the future anterior, take time to listen and after love we will always have had a loving ear.