Mona was a waitress and she was in trouble. Big trouble…

Telling stories in the third person…

Shift over, she was beat. Checking her phone, Mona saw Detective Daxter had called again...

The third person (he/she/it) is the most common narrative point-of-view. The third person observes the main character(s) from a distance, describing how others might see/consider your protagonist. In other words, it gives the narrator greater scope and view privileges than the first person narrator.

If you are writing an extended piece of fiction, you might find it easier and more accommodating to work with a third person narrator. The following are some varieties of this narrative point-of-view

* Nowadays, it is common to have a third person narrator that observes your main character whilst simultaneously looking over his/her shoulder and seeing the story almost from his/her point of view. This ‘over-the-shoulder’ third person narrator can provide some of the advantages of the first person without the drawbacks – however, it is somewhat limited as you are largely viewing events from your character’s POV. For emerging writers, this third person narrative may be a safer bet if wanting to attract an agent.

* You may want your narrator to be quite separate from your character, however. In which case, you could have your narrator follow him/her from a distance, observing actions as if a camera and not directly informing the reader of the character’s inner thoughts.

* Or you could have an omniscient third person narrator – a ‘God-like’ storyteller who sees all and knows all.

The “It” narrative

This is an unusual form of third person narration that tells a tale from the point of view of an object or an animal. An “it” narrative might conceivably be the story of a ring, told by the ring, as it recounts its many owners etc…

Multi narrators

Some books/plays/films are narratives told from various POVs. More common in Victorian prose than in contemporary writing, multi narrators allow for a vigorous description of a community and is useful if the author wants to concentrate on the interconnectivity of a place.

Whichever variety you choose, it is important to be style consistent throughout your work (or if you aren’t, have a reason for that).

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About suehealy

Award-winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Arts Council England. January 2018 sees her play Imaginationship run for three weeks at the Finborough Theatre. Previous productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s work has also been performed at the Finborough, Arcola, Hackney Attic and Sterts theatres, and at festivals including the Claremorris Fringe (New Writing Award winner), the Brighton (Sussex Playwrights’ Award winner), the UEA Contemporary European Drama Festival, Norwich. Her work will also be showcased at the Criterion theatre on Dec. 4th. Radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has been a finalist for BBC Scriptroom 12, Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12 New Voices. Sue's prose has won the the Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award and has been published widely. Sue has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from juried artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. Sue is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She is currently London-based, completing a Ph.D. on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is an Associate Lecturer in Playwriting at the Universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, and tutors Creative Writing at City Lit. She is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

6 responses to “Mona was a waitress and she was in trouble. Big trouble…

  • Melissa

    The book I’m currently working on is in 3rd person. Usually I write in 1st person, but I felt this story would be told in a better way going the 3rd person route. My beta reader suggested I change it to my usual 1st person way of writing, but I just didn’t feel it was right. This post really helped me, so thanks for that! 🙂

    • suehealy

      Glad to hear the post has helped. This is something I struggle with a lot – almost everything I’ve ever completed has seen incarnations as both first and third… The rule of thumb I tend to go by is: short stories – 1st, longer works – 3rd. However, that depends on the story and is by no means true in all cases. It’s a tough call.

  • JSD

    Wow, I just found your blog and have learned so much already. It makes me appreciate even more all those wonderful books I’ve read. I guess my idea of writing the great American novel is going to be put on the back burner. For now I’ll stick with the few paragraphs I post periodically. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. 🙂

  • kdoherty89

    Dang, the novel I’m working on is in 3rd person as well! The post is amazing and quite helpful.

  • Judith Post

    I think multiple POV can be rich and powerful in mysteries and suspense novels. I just finished Julia Spencer-Fleming’s ONE WAS A SOLDIER, and having each important character in the book come at the story from his/her own perspective made for a layered, in-depth, emotional impact for each event. Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes add complexity to their stories with multiple POV, too. In the right novels, it’s a wonderful tool.

    • suehealy

      It is actually one of my favourite narrative POVs to read (or watch in a movie). I think it is a bit of a challenge for a writer but yes, it works well,particularly if you are looking at community/inter-connectivity. Thanks for your comment!

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