What Is Third-Person Limited Point of View? (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As a writer, you might use a certain point of view to assist readers in comprehending your narrative and the characters you've developed. Third-person limited is a viewpoint that authors often use while creating works of fiction. Understanding this perspective may assist you as a writer in developing suspense, converting plot progression, and introducing character attributes through observation. In this article, we define third-person limited, review when to use it, explore tips for using it, discuss other types of third-person perspectives, and provide examples of this viewpoint.

What is third-person limited?

Third-person limited is a style of writing that involves a narrator who has access to just one character's point of view. This implies that the narrator feels one character's feelings and internal thoughts and observes any other characters via their eyes. This perspective allows for the development of a storyline around the lead character without disclosing every element of the narrator's life.

When to use this viewpoint

This perspective may be useful in conveying a tale through the viewpoint of a distinctive or interesting character. If the viewpoint of the characters changes during the narrative, you may also write in this perspective to stress the influence of the change on their way of thinking. This viewpoint aids in creating learning scenarios, as a reader may comprehend a matter before the main character does or may interpret the situation differently.

Because this kind of third-person perspective enables the development of suspense by withholding information that the narrator does not have access to, it's very effective when used in mystery novels, particularly when the principal character is the detective solving a case. Suspense drives mystery novels because writing in the third person conceals many aspects that might otherwise be open if the writer told the story from another perspective. This produces a sense of anticipation.

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Tips for using this perspective

Some tips for writing in this perspective include:

Select an interesting narrator

Determine who might narrate the story. It may be beneficial to have an external narrator who is not engaged in the story or a character close to the lead character so that their limited knowledge of the main character's thoughts makes sense inside the story's setting. When deciding which character can serve as the primary point of view for a chapter or scenario, focus on the individual who stands to lose or gain the most.

Whatever character gets confronted with the greatest stakes, the one who stands to lose the most in a given scene might be the most attentively followed, as their thoughts and behaviours may carry the most suspense for the reader. Readers empathize with people who are also learning, and you may impart essential knowledge to them through these personalities.

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Understand your character

Ensure that you clearly understand your leading character. This may help ensure that the reader understands the character's emotions, ideas, and views organically. It's also important for the reader to be able to make sense of the story's context. To better understand your character, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is this character's history or backstory?

  • What is their primary motive in the story?

  • What are they afraid of the most?

  • What are their long-term and short-term goals in the story?

Rewrite in other perspectives

As a revision exercise, rewrite a scene from the viewpoint of a character other than your primary character. This may aid in the development of distinctions between your major character and the supporting cast. Consider altering your narrative viewpoint after you've established one. You may choose to tell your story through the eyes of a small or inconsequential character like a security guard, rather than through the perspective of your protagonist.

The reader's interest or uncertainty about this secondary figure might lead them to ask the questions you want them to ask. Perhaps your protagonist is aware of something you don't want the reader to discover yet. Because the secondary character is unaware of the knowledge, narrating from their perspective enables you to conceal it from the reader reasonably.

Maintain your perspective

Once you've chosen a narrator, continue writing from their perspective in whatever portions of the tale you choose to include. This provides a solid basis for your narrator and allows them to develop their voice throughout the story. For instance, if you're writing from your protagonist's point of view and then abruptly change to another character's point of view in the middle of a scene, the disruption may startle your reader out of the plot. If you choose to change viewpoints, do it only at the conclusion of your scene, chapter, or section.

Use an unreliable narrator

Write from an unreliable narrator's viewpoint. Unreliable narrators intentionally withhold information from the reader and may sometimes present misleading information that is subsequently challenged in the storyline. This may help build suspense in the narrative and serve as a foundation for plot developments. The use of an unreliable narrator is a trusted technique for creating suspense.

When you restrict the information on the page to the perspective of a single character and that character is concealing some information from you, or just does not know an essential piece of information, you may withhold shocking information from the reader and create captivating narrative twists.

Other types of third-person perspectives

Here are some other kinds of third-person perspectives:

  • Third-person omniscient: A third-person omniscient narrator has access to the internal lives of many characters, going back and forth to explain the experiences of various characters in the story. When the emotions of several people are significant or when the protagonist is not present for all significant events, authors may opt to write in the third person omniscient.

  • Third-person objective: If a third-person narrator is not aware of any character's thoughts or emotions, they're often speaking in a third-person objective voice. Many people consider this approach as a camera that can see and hear occurrences but can't read the thoughts of the characters.

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Examples of this kind of third-person perspective

Here are some examples that can help you understand this perspective better:

Example 1

Below is an example excerpt of the third-person perspective:

Mary wakes up three hours early every morning before going to work. She spends two of those hours getting her first- and third-graders ready for school and loading them onto the bus. Jennifer then gets ready for work, racing out the door for coffee like she does every morning. She stops for a while after pulling into her parking place to collect her belongings and attempts to concentrate her attention on her work. As she enters the building, she meets her colleague Clare, batting aside another yawn and saying, " Clare, good morning. How's everything going this Monday?"

As they step into the elevator and push six, Clare says that she's okay and starts a story about her weekend. When the elevator arrives at their level, Mary walks toward her desk, waving at Clare, who goes for the break room. Mary goes on her computer and begins sifting through the emails she'd received over the weekend. She relaxes into her nice chair, and she wonders whether anybody may notice if she slept over lunch. Mary notices Clare grinning at her across her cubicle wall, two cups of coffee in hand, as she scrolls through her last message.

Example 2

Here's another example excerpt of the third-person perspective:

Richard's 30th birthday was approaching. He was very excited to check his phone and browse through birthday wishes and thoughtful notes from his loved ones. Richard enjoyed parties and hoped that someone at work had planned a surprise party for him. He hadn't mentioned his upcoming birthday, but he knew his colleagues had liked his previous parties. Yet, no one addressed his birthday as he stepped into the workplace. He welcomed each coworker he passed, and they smiled back, but there were no birthday pleasantries. Joe, his best friend at work, was even sick at home.

Richard completed his work for the day, said his goodbyes to his coworkers, and headed home. Richard drove into his driveway and entered the code to unlock his garage door. As he saw light shining from beneath the door, Richard tilted his head. "Surprise!" Joe had a lot of birthday decorations around him, and he stood in front of a group of Richard's closest friends. Richard ran to greet Joe and all his friends. Richard spent the rest of the evening with his friends, having a good time and celebrating his best day.

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