POV Breakdown: Third Person Limited

I’ve been asked to write a series of short articles on POV in fiction/memoir. The requirement is for my explanation to turn on the light bulb for the densest writer. OK maybe not THE densest, but a writer whose skills and knowledge are on a steep learning curve. I’m going to try it out on you first.
Writing Tip for Today: We’ll begin with the most widely used point of view, Third Person Limited. When you are crafting scenes, it’s likely that you either “hear” dialogue, see the action in your mind’s eye, or a combination. Understanding POV is like that too. Only in Third Person Limited POV, there are a few rules to follow:

  • Where’s the Camera? Think of the camera as pointed outward but a tad behind your main character for the action. This character doesn’t see himself, he sees the world around him. In Third Limited, the reader is also able to point the camera inside so readers see what he sees, hear what he hears and understand any emotions or thoughts this character has. Thus, with the camera just behind him, following him everywhere he goes, we can see his world as well as be an outside observer of his thoughts and emotions. The character wouldn’t, however, see himself blush, or his own face unless there’s a mirror involved.
  • Third Person Pronouns. Third Person Limited POV uses pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they.” Use “I” “you” or “we” only in dialogue.
  • Limited Means One. The “limited” indicates that we aren’t going into other characters heads. This is where writers get confused. Your POV character can observe others, hear others, shake hands, smell cologne or even taste the other characters, but he CANNOT know their thoughts/emotions except by inference. Inference might seem like a POV error, but unless the writer plainly writes that another character thought or felt some way, it’s still the POV character’s judgments about another person. In Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford, Father Tim (POV Third Person Limited) exclaims to his secretary, “Emma!” he said, astounded. “Is that you?” “This,” she said with feeling, “is the most me you’ve seen in years.” She turned her head this way and that so he could get the full effect. This last line might appear to be in Emma’s head, but in fact Father Tim knows her well and understands her body language. Your character can guess at another character’s thoughts/intentions/emotions the same way we do in life: by interpreting dialogue, body language and circumstances.

NEXT: Third Person Deep POV.

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Email this to someone

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “POV Breakdown: Third Person Limited

  1. Linda, I am giving you The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award!

    You can read all about it in my post on Monday, February 6. Don’t worry, if you don’t have time to participate, that’s A-OK with me, but if you’d like to participate, here are the rules:

    Thank the person who awarded you, blog about it, list seven things about yourself, and list 10 other blogs you would like to pass the award on to.

    Aloha! –Cheryl

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *