Writing in 3rd Person Point of View

Almost all fiction books are written in either first or third person point of view. But when it comes to picking one for your own story, how do you choose which one to use? What are the differences between them? How does the point of view affect the story?

Choosing a point of view is an important decision. Although they seem similar at first, the two points of view can greatly change the style and tone of your story. So take some time and care to pick the one that makes the most sense for the story you want to tell.

If first person point of view gets the reader extremely close to the narrating character, third person point of view, in contrast, allows for much more flexibility with varying degrees of narrative distance.

Check out this article to learn more about first person point of view.


  1. The Difference Between First and Third Person
  2. Types of Third Person POV
  3. Why Choose Third Person?
  4. Difficulties of Writing in Third Person POV
  5. Choosing Between First and Third POV

The Difference Between First and Third Person Point of View

Imagine you’re watching a movie. As a scene unfolds, the camera will switch between various different angles and shots. You’ll see wide shots that show you a group of characters or a setting, mixed with close-ups of individual characters.

Just like the camera changes angles and perspectives depending on the scene, third person point of view allows you to change and vary perspective depending on what you want the reader to know.

You can choose how close the reader is to the main character’s thoughts, feelings, and observations at any moment.

Take a look at the following two passages, written from two different points of view:

“I've been kept waiting. The appointment was for half an hour ago, and I'm still here, sitting in the reception room flicking through Vogue, thinking about getting up and walking out. I know doctors' appointments run over, but therapists? Films have always led me to believe that they kick you out the moment your thirty minutes are up. I suppose Hollywood isn't really talking about the kind of therapist you get referred to on the National Health Service. I'm just about to go up to the receptionist to tell her that I've waited long enough, I'm leaving, when the doctor's office door swings open and this very tall, lanky man emerges, looking apologetic and holding out his hand to me.” – Paula Hawkins, The Girl On the Train
“Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale-blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had still been asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house. The driveway was long and circular, a deep horseshoe arc bending from the curb to the front door and back—so the street was a good hundred feet away, too far for her to see clearly, and even in May, at eight o’clock it was almost dark, besides. But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl.” – Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Immediately, you probably notice how different the tone feels between the two excerpts. While they are both describing a woman engaged in some solitary activity, the second excerpt—written in third person point of view—feels much more distant than the first.

Although the first excerpt lets you into the deep thoughts and feelings of the main character, the second allows you to get a bigger picture of the moment.

You get a description of what the main character is wearing, her body language, the shape of the driveway, and the size and color of the car, inter-cut with observations about the character’s feelings (“telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day” or “too far for her to see clearly”).

Overall, the second excerpt gives you a much clearer overall picture of the scene in your head, where the first gives you more insight on the attitude and perception of the main character.

Types of Third Person Point of View

When writing in third person point of view, you’re able to switch and change the perspective depending on what you need from the scene.

For example, if you need the reader to know things that the characters do not, third person will allow you the flexibility to do so. You can get close enough to relay a character’s feelings, but far enough to share a broader picture of the scene.

There are two main types of third person POV to create these effects: limited and omniscient.

     1. Third Person Limited

Third person limited is when the narrator hovers over one character’s perspective, sharing their inner thoughts and feelings. To use our camera analogy, think of this as a close-up shot on one character.

Here’s an example of third person limited:

“The boy was happy and—as only a child can—he felt grateful for being alive. He was sure that he had not wasted his time, for he had learned to contemplate Nature and to respect it. Then, because he was listening to the sea, the seagulls, the wind in the palm trees, and the voices of his friends playing, he also heard the first bell. And then another. And another, until, to his great joy, all the bells in the drowned temple were ringing.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The author is able to inter-cut a few pieces of narration here (“as only a child can”), but otherwise, this scene is completely limited by what the little boy directly sees and feels.

     2. Third Person Omniscient

In contrast, third person omniscient allows the narrator to describe events at a distance. This perspective allows the author to describe multiple characters at once, and often comment on the events that are transpiring.

Here’s an example of third person omniscient:

“When the dead doctor’s daughter saw Mr. Smith emerge as promptly as he had promised from behind the cupola, his wide blue silk wings curved forward around his chest, she dropped her covered peck basket, spilling red velvet rose petals. The wind blew them about, up, down, and into small mounds of snow. Her half-grown daughters scrambled about trying to catch them, while their mother moaned and held the underside of her stomach.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Here, the author is able to describe the scene as if watching it from a distance, sharing the actions of multiple characters in a short amount of time.

When writing in third person point of view, you are able to switch between these two perspectives depending on what the scene demands. You can make the reader feel close to certain characters, while also giving them a wider view of the world or experience.

Why Choose Third Person?

     1. Flexibility

As previously noted, one of the biggest pros of writing in third person point of view is the flexibility it allows you as an author.

You can switch between characters, zoom in and out on the scene, and give your reader a much wider view of what’s happening.

This allows for much more variety in your writing, as well. Not only can you share different viewpoints, but you can adapt the style and tone of your writing depending on how close you are to different characters.

For example, take a look at this scene from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

Even though this is written in third person point of view, the narrator is able to take on a unique tone when describing the Dursley’s, portraying them as snobbish and narrow-minded—without ever directly saying so.

But the author isn’t pinned down to this style of writing throughout the entire novel. Instead, she has the flexibility to change her tone and perspective depending on what she wants the reader to feel and observe at any moment.

     2. Shift Perspectives

Multiple main characters doesn’t necessarily call for third person point of view, however, most often stories that involve multiple characters require the ability to shift perspective while also keeping things between the reader and the narrator.

Letting the reader into knowledge that the characters do not know is a great way to build tension—and only a third person narrative can do that. 

Third person point of view will also be essential if you need to include scenes in your story from a protagonist’s life that they were not present for or too young to experience for themselves.

Take the example from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While most of the series revolves around Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling had to zoom in on the Dursley’s narrative here, because Harry was just a baby when the story begins.

     3. Objectivity

Finally, writing in third person point of view allows you as the author to paint an objective picture. You don’t have to limit the reader to one character’s perspective.

Plus, because you aren’t contained by one character’s voice or knowledge, you are free to write in your own unique tone or style.

Third person also makes it much easier for you to make sweeping observations, such as physical descriptions of characters.

When writing in third person point of view, you, as the author, get to play the mediator. You get to make observations and commentary that exist only between you and the reader—which is much more believable than information coming directly out of a character’s mouth.

Difficulties of Writing in Third Person Point of View

     1. Loss of Intimacy

One of the biggest disadvantages to writing in third person point of view is that you’re going to have to work a little harder to create an emotional connection between the character and the reader.

Take our two examples from the beginning of the article from The Girl on the Train and Little Fires Everywhere. When you read the first person narrative, you immediately feel immersed in the speaking character’s perspective. It makes it very easy to feel like you know her, even though the book has just started.

The passage written in third person feels a little more distant, even though we are still focused in on one character. We get little hints to how she is feeling or perceiving the events that are transpiring in front of her, but it’s much harder to really know her because we are kept at a bit more of a distance.

Creating this connection between the reader and your characters is definitely not impossible—authors do it all the time! It just takes a little more effort to make your reader feel close to them when the narrative point of view keeps them at a slight distance. 

     2. Easy Pitfalls

Although the flexibility of third person point of view is a huge advantage, it comes with some easy pitfalls.

You may be excited to jump from character to character—because you can!—but be wary of overwhelming the reader.

As mentioned in point #1, you want your reader to feel close to the characters. Jumping around from one to the next makes this slightly more difficult.

Also, multiple characters can become confusing or drag down the pacing of your plot. Make sure you’re only zooming in on characters that are absolutely necessary to tell the story, and avoid repeating information if you can.

Head-hopping between characters—especially if it’s in one scene—is very difficult to do without confusing the reader. Only attempt this if you feel confident that you can do it well. If not, try to stick to one character per chapter.

Choosing Between First and Third Point of View

When it comes to first and third person point of view, one is not more popular or marketable than another. Readers equally love and enjoy both, so choose the one that fits the demands of your story.

If you’re still unsure, think through the following questions and see if the answer becomes more clear:

  1. What perspectives do you absolutely need to tell the story? Do you need more than one?
  2. Will you need to recount events beyond what the main character directly sees?
  3. Do you need the ability to zoom in on characters while also zooming out on the setting as a whole?
  4. Do you need the reader to know things that the characters do not?
  5. Does your story need objectivity? Will you need to separate the character’s perspective from the narrator’s?

If you answered yes to most or all of those questions, you should probably write your book in third person point of view.

If you’re still unsure, check out this in-depth article on writing in first person point of view.

To learn more about points of view and many other topics that can help you write, edit, publish, and market your book, make sure to check out the Author Learning Center’s expansive library of exclusive articles, author interviews, and webinars.

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