It’s time to wrap up this review of the various points of view in storytelling by looking at third-person perspectives. The classic!
In third-person perspectives, all characters are referred to by their name or “their”, “his”, “her”, and so on. You’ll never find them using “I” or “we” as the narrator in these stories do not play an active role in the story itself. The narrator may never be defined, or could be a witness describing what they saw, sometimes taking the form of bookends to the main story itself.
This perspective usually defines everyone’s initial introduction to storytelling in general. Think back back to when you were a child – subjects (other kids, anthropomorphic creatures, objects, etc.) were described in a simple setting and their actions were laid out in a manner that was easy to follow. Now being a parent, I can see that these stories aren’t so easy to write since our tendency as authors is to wander off the beaten path. Sure, you can find first-person and second-person perspectives in children’s books but third-person is by far the most prevalent.
Did you ever have one of those custom books when you were growing up where the store insert your name as the protagonist? I did and it was an instant favourite of mine! It’s hard to remember now but I think it was some space adventure, possibly with dinosaurs? So, instead of telling that story in second-person perspective, I was instead still reading a story in third-person, but about myself.
There’s quite a few techniques to employing third-person, I generally find that there are three in particular which cover the majority of what you’ll read.
Omniscient – Third-person omniscient narrative voices know all. They can describe the world around each character, even aspects that characters may not be aware of. As a reader, you will also be treated to the thoughts and feelings of any character within the story. Due to the narrators god-like status in these stories, they tend to be very reliable (something I’ll get into in a later post) and descriptive. Epic and classic stories use this narrative technique heavily. If you want a relatively short, but well crafted, version of this style then I’d suggest The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
Limited – Third-person limited narrative voices follow along one character as they interact with the world around them. A novel using this technique may dedicate separate chapters for different characters but you won’t find that switch without a break of some kind. When with a character, you will be made aware of everything they know, see what they see, and hear their thoughts, but nobody else’s. Most modern work in third-person uses limited (sometimes referred to as subjective) due to its ability to up the drama since the reader isn’t able to know other character’s thoughts or intentions.
Objective – Third-person objective narratives voices relay only the events taking place within a story in an unbiased manner. This is almost like a written camera lens – you won’t be diving into the heads of characters, instead observing from a distance. If there are any feelings or thoughts being read, it is only because they have been expressed out loud by a character. Like the limited perspective, objective voices can ratchet up the drama by keeping thoughts hidden but, if written poorly, they may come across too procedural or cold. You’ll sometimes see this type of voice in stories that provide a short aside, like (if I’m remembering right) a chapter about the town-shattering earthquake deep into Stephen King’s IT.
So that’s it! Narration all wrapped up. On the writing front, I’ve recently finished a really quirky short story which which enter submission hell soon enough. I hope to get this blog back to a more regular schedule once again so thanks for keeping with it during these small breaks.
Keep turning the page,
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