The Pros And Cons Of Writing In Third Person

The Pros And Cons Of Writing In Third Person


Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we look at the pros and cons of writing in third person.

I have discussed first and second person during the last two weeks, this week I want to talk about third person. Remember, the viewpoint you use will either bring your readers closer or take them further away from your story. First and second, for example, are closer than third person – attached or omniscient – or a narrator.

We use the pronouns he, she, it, and they, for third person. We often use third person in crime and romance novels. Back in the day, before self-publishing, we had to cater to very rigid genre demands, but as the rules of genre and of writing in general change and evolve your choice of viewpoint is, mostly, up to you and your story. We have a lot more room to play.

Consider this example of third person attached or limited:

He didn’t know what to do. He held on as tight as he could. His fingers were aching, a numbness spread, his arms began to cramp. Below him. Feet, thousands of feet. A gaping chasm of nothingness. He stretched his toes and felt nothing. No ledge. No foothold. His calf burned from the strain. It hurt. His fist was stuck, the crevice was small, just enough to lock his hand in. His knuckles were raw. He had to get up, he had to pull, once more. He made it onto the ledge. He flipped onto his stomach and looked down, trying to see where she had landed.

Third person seems to be common ground, for readers and writers. It is a space where most people are comfortable. You can divide third person into attached, omniscient and narrator.

You slam down the phone. You try to calm your breathing. You need to make a plan. You cannot live like this.
“What’d he say?”
“Not now, Mom.” You can’t do this. You run your thumbnail along the ridge in the table.You need help. You need money. You need to raise your child. His child. If only you knew what a few cheap drinks would end up costing you.
Happy writing!

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  1. DL Kirkwood

    Great article, Mia! Thank you for the much needed insight, I know the groups I have joined (and stayed on) discuss this often.

  2. Sally Lazanas

    Thanks for your examples above if writing in 1 st, 2nd, and 3rd person.

  3. P Morris

    Some helpful advice and good things to think about, but I disagree with some of it.
    Film has the luxury of (usually) not being inside characters’ heads, and thus it has more freedom to jump around to any scene involving anyone without a main character present. We can see things a main character did not witness.
    I don’t see how it’s a bad thing if a book does the same thing, as long as it’s done well. If the story you want to tell NEEDS to be able to jump to many scenes involving many people, go for it. It’s silly to limit yourself and it’d be even sillier if books were not allowed to tell those kinds of stories.
    I don’t think it’s necessarily annoying to have a short-lived pov that never pops up again. Viewpoints don’t need to be frequent and long if it’s obvious this is just a small scene with one-off characters. Though I guess these small scenes don’t always need to be inside someone’s head and can just be omniscient, with just the narrator witnessing the event.
    You could harp on about how that’s lazy, impersonal and distances the reader by not letting them experience the scene through a character, but eh again if film can do it why not books?
    I just feel instead of just telling people that they shouldn’t do something, explore all sides of it. Tell them the benefits of doing the opposite. You say there are exceptions. What are the exceptions?

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