Writing in Third Person Limited

Hello everyone!

As I promised last week, I wanted to start breaking down the various types of writing styles, starting with Writing in Third Person Limited.

Limited is a style we’ve all probably heard more than any other. It is current trend for writers and often allows us to draw the reader into our characters deeper and easier than the other styles. What it is, in a nutshell, is writing using one point of view (POV) per chapter or scene, hence limiting our scope of view (Yeah, I know. That was a little cheesy. lol).

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast.

As with every style there are certain nuances that make it unique. The biggest is only allowing the reader to see and know what the POV character does. An easy way to describe it is by thinking of it as our POV. No one sees what we do, knows what we know, and sometimes hears what we hear. Make sense?

One of the biggest benefits of using this style is building various emotions like apprehension, frustration, and joy. Since we only experience what a solitary character does, we tend to be more invested in their life and experiences. Because of that, it’s the perfect style to use when writing mysteries, romances, and thrillers. A couple of examples are two of my favorite authors:  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhhone Mysteries (Alphabet series). There are plenty of others, but they’re the first ones that came to mind. lol

The hard part of this style comes when we want to show everything else around our characters. This is where strict discipline comes in handy.

To maintain the emotions and feel of the world around our character, as well as the integrity of our story, we must not venture from the confines of our character’s head. Think of it this way, would you be on the edge of your seat if you knew who and what the bad was and planned to do? Maybe, maybe not. So why chance spoiling the moment we’ve worked so hard for?

I know, it’s hard to keep those little scenes to ourselves, but that’s the beauty of switching at a scene break or at a new chapter. We can then go into another character’s head if we choose and draw the reader into their world. Often times, they will see and understand things differently than our other character (I like to compare it to discussing politics or religion. Both people may have the same information, but they choose to interpret it in a different manner).

Using multiple characters in this manner can build a fun conflict between the two, and often lead to our readers choosing sides.

The biggest drawback to using this (In my opinion) is developing other characters. The problem is, we need to make the other characters seen through our main one’s POV as real as the people we interact with daily. That can be hard when we only show them through one POV, and that’s where people watching takes on a whole new level of importance.

No matter what style we write in, having believable characters are needed for a good story (Again, just my opinion. I’m a character type of guy. Lol). As easy as people watching sounds, how often do we miss something when writing them? Whether it’s a simple thing like habitually scratching a chin, shifting from one foot to the other, or chewing and popping gum, we nearly always miss something or don’t explain it right, so take notes and pay close attention to those little quirks. It could mean the different between having a best friend for your MC or a cardboard cutout they carries around.

While writing them can be simple for some, many of us can’t just imagine a new personality. That’s where practice comes in. Yep, you heard me right. Writing other characters does take some practice. It can be as easy as reading over what we’ve written until we’re happy with how we explained them, or even creating a bio for them by listing their personality, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and fears. Sometimes writing a short story from their perspective adds some tremendous insight into them. We could even give them a POV section all their own, but a good rule of thumb is to keep the number of POVs limited to a handful at most. It depends on how spread out the story is. If it’s in a single location, one or two are often enough, while if it’s over a large area, more may be needed. There are no set limits. It’s all about what works best for our stories and moves them forward. Generally, the basic POVs will be our Protagonist (MC?), Antagonist (MC?), and Secondary Protagonist (Protagonist’s friend?) and Secondary Antagonist (Antagonist’s assistant/rival?) if needed.

Try a little of everything to find what works best for you. We can even do that for our main characters if we’re short on ideas. When writing them into our story, just remember to view them as our POV character would unless it’s in their POV, then switch. Make sense?

One thing I wanted to mention is Third Limited can be confusing as it is a style that can be used along with Third Person Omniscient and Multiple Selective. Many become confused when a chapter or scene begins with a good portion from one POV before another is brought it. This is often done because that character is the focal point of the scene or events taking place and their part of the story needs to be told. This can happen at any point in a story, so keep that in mind when reading.

That about wraps up this week’s post. Next week we’ll discuss Third Person Multiple Selective (I’m looking forward to this one. :D).

As always, I’d love to hear what you think and if you have any tips or ideas I may have missed.

Until next time, my friends, let your imaginations fly!


About CP Bialois

Where do I begin? Well first I guess it's only fair to say that CP Bialois isn't my real name. It's a collaboration I made out of the three greatest pets anyone could ever want. My real name is Ed and I'm just an average person that has found a way to do what he loves. For as long back as I can remember I loved to pretend. Whether it was with my Transformers, GI Joe, or He-Man toys I loved to create intricate plots and have them fight it out. As a fan of horror, science fiction, action, and comedy I dare say my taste in movies are well rounded. Some of my favorites were Star Wars, Star Trek, martial arts, and anything with Swarzenegger in them. I'd write my own stories about the characters I saw in the theaters or TV or I'd just daydream about what I'd see myself as the hero of course. You can't have a daydream without beating the bad guys, getting the girl, etc. It's just not right to envision yourself as a flunky or sidekick. As far as books I loved Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island, Dracula, and the normal assortment. My early love was the Star Trek novels, I'd read them or the Hardy Boys relentlessly. For a time I could tell you the plot of over a hundred books not to mention comics. I have to come clean and say that I learned to read because of comic books. I was bored, make that extremely bored when we started to read in school. Reading "the cat fell down" really didn't interest me. My dad, who continues to astound me with his insight to this day, figured comics would work. With that in mind he went to the newstand in town and bought issues of Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Tales From the Crypt, and Spider-man. He patiently read through them with me until I picked it up. Whether it was him or the comics I learned to read in about two weeks and for a while few were as good as I was. For years after that whenever we'd go out he'd always spring for a couple of comic books for me. While it wasn't exactly the perfect beginning everything I've ever read or have seen has influenced me in some way and now is the time I'd like to share some of the ideas I've had over the years with all of you. I hope you enjoy my stories, they're always fun to write and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.
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9 Responses to Writing in Third Person Limited

  1. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here is a great post on the 3rd person limited POV.

  2. I’ve been writing in the limited third person for years. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it just felt natural. I like the way it allows the writer and reader to really get into a character’s head, a trait particular to prose fiction.

  3. I boycott and detest Third Limited completely, as it is (if used as intended) inseparably connected with the “show, don’t tell!” injunction.

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