In my last post, I published the first of a three part series on points of view (POV) and narrative voices. It’s been hard for me personally to figure out which POV is best to tell my story, stay true to my character’s voice and cater to my strengths as a writer.

third-person point of view

So I turned to Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel for some advice on the issue. Last time I shared his tips on the first person narrative. Next time I will discuss the omniscient voice. Today is all about writing in the third person limited and third person omniscient.

Third-Person Limited Narrative

Mosley describes the third-person narrative as “a small, emotionless, but intelligent creature sitting on the shoulder of the character who is experiencing the story.” For example:

“Brent Farley entered the room looking around for his mother.   Instead he saw Alice Norman standing near the buffet…Her fingers were cold, and so, Brent noticed, were her eyes.”

The Third-Person Limited Narrative Creates Distance

Much like the first-person POV, the third-person perspective provides the reader and the writer with a natural way of reading/telling a story. However, it’s far less intimate. This POV is an intellectual, impartial observer who is quite knowledgeable about the character’s life yet removed from her passions.

This approach puts less pressure on the character’s voice because it’s even tempered, steady. That said, it may also make it more challenging for you to convey emotional depth as Mosley writes, “ you can give momentary glimpses into [the character’s mind], but you cannot, as a rule, get deeply into her heart.”

The Third-Person Narrator Can Be Knowledgeable About Multiple Characters

One benefit of using this POV is that it’s relatively easy to jump from one character’s perspective to the next. For example, if two characters have a confrontation and then separate, you can describe each character’s reactions and next steps in consecutive scenes.

In other words, the third-person narrator can have more knowledge that either character individually.

While the narrator can “sit on the shoulder” of several characters, it should do so for a reason. For example, if the story is centered on a conflict between two people, it makes sense to only use their experiences to tell it. There is also nothing stopping you from telling the story from a single character’s POV using the third-person. But the decision should be a thoughtful one.

First-Time Novelists Should Consider Using Third-Person Limited Narrative

Mosley suggests using this approach for your first novel. He says it’s the most flexible and durable.

I think I get it. Creating a catchy enough voice/character to sustain a first-person POV is tough. That said, I believe that comes naturally for a lot of people, who are otherwise capable of writing a really amazing, intimate, or captivating story in the first-person. It’s a tough call.

What other narrative voices would you like to learn more about?  Share in the comments section below.


Take fifteen minutes to write a scene using the third-person narrative. Share with us in the comments below!

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

Share to...