Third-Person Point of View: Omniscient or Limited

A Readathon Celebrates The 200th Anniversary Of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice
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The third-person point of view is a form of storytelling in which a narrator relates all action using third-person pronouns like "he" or "she."

Third-person point of view can be omniscient, in which the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story, or limited, in which the narrator only relates his own thoughts, feelings, and knowledge of various situations and other characters.

Often ​new writers feel most comfortable with first-person, but writing in the third-person often allows a writer more freedom in how a story is told.

Third-person omniscient point of view is generally the most objective and trustworthy viewpoint since an all-knowing narrator is telling the story. This narrator has no bias or preferences and also has full knowledge of all the characters and situations. In first-person point of view, the narrator has a limited vantage point and might have biases that interfere with his perceptions; his lens is not objective. Novels are commonly written in third-person.

A trick to remembering the difference between omniscient and limited is to think of yourself -- the writer --as either a god, in which you can "see" everyone's thoughts (omniscient), or a mere mortal, who can only know what is going on inside the heart and mind of one person (limited).

The most important rule regarding point of view is to be consistent.

As soon as you slip from one point of view to another, the reader will pick up on it, and you lose your authority. Your job as the writer is to make the reader feel comfortable as you take them into your world. If you're telling the story from a limited third-person narration, and then suddenly the reader is told that the lover of the protagonist secretly does not love him anymore, you have lost the reader.

There is no way for someone in the story to know a secret without the person telling them, having someone overhearing them, reading something someone wrote or hearing it from a third party. 

Classics Use Third-Person

Jane Austen's novel "Pride and Prejudice," like many classic novels, is told from the third-person point of view:

"When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him. 'He is just what a young man ought to be,' said she, 'sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! -- so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!'"

Still have questions about third-person? Read some more examples of third-person from classic fiction.

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