A Matter of Perspective (Part Five – Third Person Limited)

This week we are looking at the second of the “third person” point of views that many authors use to tell their stories. This time we are looking at third person limited, which should be remarkably familiar – in many ways, it is nearly identical to first person!

Indeed, many of the rules that apply to first person also apply to third person limited. The author is allowed to tell the story from the perspectives of one character – and ONLY one character. A good example of this can be found in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. For a good majority of the books, the reader is only allowed to see the events and activities unfolding around the titular character, and his reactions to them. He certainly can see the expressions of the others around him, but the reader is not put into their minds. We only see things through Harry’s eyes.

As a result, this can actually be a good blend of first person and third person objective. Our narrator has an inside track to he thoughts and feelings of the main character and is presenting it to the reader in a detailed fashion. However, he narrator also is fixed to that character. The reader is not going to bounce around into the minds of the other characters.

This is one of my favorite perspectives to write, to be honest. It allows the author to maintain some mystery about their character (since not everything about the character needs to be revealed at any time), but still allows the reader to get emotionally attached to the main character, to relate with his or her experiences and see the world through their perspectives. It also gives the writer an attempt to “step away” from the character from time to time to help explain things to the reader. For example, if a villain put some form of powerful hallucinogen into the main character’s food, that may be difficult to indicate what’s happening from a first person perspective. it’s easier to write about the character staggering about and taking swings at enemies that aren’t really there while the others in the room mock and laugh at the main character’s plight.

The limitations to this perspective are similar to those of the first person perspective – with the exception, of course, that they author can avoid the situations of trying to write from an insane or drug-induced state. The author is still prohibited from moving into the mindsets of other characters. The reader may still find themselves associating with a character that makes them uncomfortable – although since the main character is generally the hero of the story, this is much less likely than when writing from first person. It’s possible that the reason why this writing style tends to be preferred is because it has the fewest limitations or drawbacks of any of the styles. It’s a fairly easy one to write from, and it helps to draw the reader in. Score on both counts!

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the scenario which I proposed in Week 1, but from the third character in my scene.

Pat watched the mouse as it poked its head out from under the paper. It sniffed the air, its whiskers twitching. Pat froze in place, refusing to move as the mouse scurried about looking for food. He glanced over to see a thin, orange-striped cat hunker down, its tail held high in the air and twitching.

Pat’s stomach grumbled as he watched the cat. “At least one of us will get fed tonight,” he thought to himself. He wondered if it was going to be the mouse, or the cat, that would leave the dark alley with a full stomach. He watched, envious of both of them, and wondered which would get what they sought.

Next time, we’ll look at the last point of view – third person omniscient. Until then, keep on writing!

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