WRITERS WORKSHOP: 3rd Person Point of View (3rd POV) Limited/Multi

Here’s the second part of the outline for the Writers Workshop we recently did on Points of View and Tense. I separated the entire outline into separate blog posts for ease of use and navigation.

***At the end of each workshop, we collect email info in order to notify attendees of 1) when this post goes live, and 2) Date, time, and place for the next workshop. These email slips are then shredded. (For privacy reasons,  we don’t keep the slips for longer than a month, so even if you already filled one out from a past workshop, I no longer have your info.) Please get in touch with me through Facebook, Twitter, or a comment below if you left without leaving your info.***

For the first part of this outline, 1st Person POV and 2nd Person POV, click here.

 photo 3rd Person POV Limited Blog_zpskcglfmcp.jpg
In 3rd POV, the reader can slip between being *inside* the Narrator’s head and being *with* the Narrator (like a little parrot on the Narrator’s shoulder).


3rd POV Limited Single

  1. Uses he/she/it (Maybe they for gender-fluid).
  2. *With* and *inside* Narrator: Details are given as if the reader is perched on the Narrator’s shoulder seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling/touching everything the Narrator touches. Narrator emotions and thoughts are explored but usually not to the extent that they are in 1st POV. (*Shallow* 3rd POV allows less penetration because there is more of a Narrative “filter”, more of a Narrative presence. Example: He felt the frigid winter wind through four layers of clothing and he imagined it freezing the very marrow in his bones. *Deep* 3rd POV feels and functions like 1st POV but uses he/she/it/they instead of I. Example: The frigid winter wind pierced through four layers of clothing and froze the very marrow in his bones.)
  3. *With* and *inside* Narrator: Events are experienced *with* the Narrator, as well as *from inside* the narrator, but there’s usually less internal commentary.
  4. When is it used: Every genre and category.
  5. Pros:
    1. Transparent and Familiar: The most common POV, which makes it the most “transparent” vehicle for a story; readers don’t have to get over something unfamiliar (different sex/gender/race, etc, or even the uncommon use of “I”) in order to “get into” the story.
    2. Flexibility: Has a greater range and fluidity – can establish intimacy with the reader like 1st POV, but without the claustrophobic feeling 1st POV can produce.
    3. Sympathy with more *types* of Narrators: Readers can sympathize more easily with a POV that might otherwise make them uncomfortable, because there’s a buffer or boundary or membrane between the reader and the Narrator.
  6. Cons:
    1. Has some of the cons that 1st POV has – like the Narrator must be where the key events happen. Or have a compelling, high-stakes reason for not being where key events are happening.
    2. May break reader trust: Like with 1st POV, it can be difficult to regulate the flow of information. The reader only knows what the Narrator knows, and withholding information can be a huge trust-breaker, like when the Narrator needs to know something but his/her mentor says something like “you’re not ready to learn that yet” without giving a very compelling and logical reason for not revealing that information. (It becomes too obvious that the author is trying to withhold information to 1. Build tension through mystery or 2. Keep the Narrator and other characters jumping through plot hoops or 3. Both of the above.)
    3. May require extra initial practice/training, mentorship, or writers group feedback to train yourself out of POV breaches (reporting what a non-POV character is thinking).

 photo 3rd Person POV Limited Multi 1 Blog_zpsxe3isahn.jpg
In 3rd POV Limited Multi, the reader can be *inside* and *with* a POV Narrator, and you can use a different POV Narrator in different scenes/different chapters. Here’s what that would look like for Chapter 1.
 photo 3rd Person POV Limited Multi 2 Blog_zps25qbhhzo.jpg
Use the natural break between chapters as a graceful transition to another character’s POV. Here’s what 3rd POV Limited Multi looks like for Chapter 2.

3rd Person Limited Multiple

(like 3rd person Limited, but told from the POV of many different characters ***with adequate scene/chapter breaks that form graceful transitions***):

  1. Uses he/she/it/they.
  2. Details are relayed through several characters instead of just one.
  3. Events are relayed from several characters, usually from different physical locations.
  4. Used in: Fantasy, Sci Fi, Epic, Saga. Usually used in order to cover many events happening at once or around the same time, which impact one central story.
  5. Pros:
    1. Dramatic Irony. (where the audience knows something the Narrator or other characters don’t): You can build a lot of tension with dramatic irony – some characters will do something or know something that might endanger or devastate another main character (the soap scenes in Downton Abbey. Crime fiction or thriller.)
    2. Less framing and filtering. To reveal what a character is thinking, switch to that character’s POV at scene break or chapter end. (Romance)
    3. Epic Feel: You can cover an epic amount of time and space, while maintaining a decent amount of human, universal, or intimate connection. (Game of Thrones)
  6. Cons:
    1. Most Important Con: Raison d’Etre. Each character must have a compelling reason for existing. They cannot exist just because you need someone to reveal what’s going on in the enemy camp. They must be fully formed, sympathetic, fleshed out *people*, not remote cameras. ***Having a new POV show up 3/4 of the way through the book in order to show what’s happening in a location that contains none of the original POV characters can read gimmicky (aka, taking the easy way out because you couldn’t figure out how to get one of your main characters there, or showing an unwillingness to “kill your darling” by cutting a scene you think is just so super nifty).
    2. 2nd Most Important Con: Cloning Machine. Each character must be different enough that the reader doesn’t get confused about which POV they’re following. Each POV needs its own set of values, moral compass, goals, weaknesses, etc. Having too many that are similar reads like you, the author, needed to show what’s happening in multiple locations, but could not be bothered to create unique characters.
    3. When in a POV, that POV is limited. You can’t be in Narrator A and knowing what another character is thinking about, even if the other character is a POV character in another chapter or scene. That’s called “head-hopping”. (Jack hoped Rose believed him when he said he didn’t steal the diamond. Rose believed him and knew he was innocent.)
    4. Investment Dilution: Too many characters can dilute the the reader’s interest in the story. It’s easier to care about one or two people than it is to have the same amount of emotional investment in a dozen characters.
    5. Investment Failure: Each time you switch POV characters, there’s a lull in tension as the reader reconnects to a POV they haven’t been following. Good for having a “breather” between two or three intense personalities. Not so good if there are so many characters, the repeated “reacquaintance” periods sap the story of most of its tension.

***Bonus Note (wasn’t covered in the workshop):

If you’re using 3rd POV Limited Multi, how do you choose which character should be your Narrator?

This can be answered many ways, depending on your personal philosophy about writing, and your ultimate goal with the story. For example, if your philosophy is to strew your emotional guts on the page, or your ultimate goal is to use writing as a therapeutic exercise to exorcise your demons, then the simple answer is: You do you. That’s it. Use whichever character will help *you*.

If your writing philosophy dovetails with the desire to communicate a story to someone else, or your ultimate goal is to get into traditional publishing or to independently publish or you want to post it on a blog/site/forum, then yes, there are some key points to keep in mind:

*Let the character with the highest stakes (they have the most to lose) narrate the scene. This is like watching a debate between presidential candidates. The audience wants to hear the candidates talk about national issues, proposed solutions, etc., speaking one at a time. The audience doesn’t want to hear what the cameraperson is thinking as they zoom in on one face or another. The audience doesn’t want to feel how hungry the makeup artists are feeling.

*Or choose the POV character who is an agent of change (they are the catalyst for plot developments, or their choices have far-reaching consequences). Try to make this an early conscious decision, especially if you’re planning on querying agents or writing blurb-copy for your Amazon page. It’s very frustrating to get to the the querying/blurb-writing part and find yourself with main characters who do a lot of “realizing” and very little else.

Example: Twenty-nine-year-old John Phish is an ace detective from posh Newport Beach. He’s used to crimes like potted plants stolen off front porches. When he’s transferred to San Francisco to solve the hectic horrors of high-tech espionage, he realizes he’s in over his head. When his new housemate is framed for murder, John realizes things are getting worse. Realizing the transfer may have been in the best interest of his former boss, John flies back to Newport Beach and realizes that his former boss is planning on making him the scapegoat for some major drug stuff.


Even though he works for one of the best tech companies in the world, Mike Moley can’t afford to rent a San Francisco apartment on his own. He puts up an ad and interviews dozens of candidates, eventually settling on a guy who shares his interests in orienteering, whitewater rafting, and Napa Valley wine tours. His new roommate, John Phish, also happens to be a conservative Republican police detective, but nobody’s perfect.

While staying late to clean up some terrible coding in a client’s security network, Mike witnesses his supervisor being attacked and rescues him. Then the threatening emails start appearing in his inbox. All five of them, including the super encrypted private one only his brother at the Pentagon knows about.

When his brother’s girlfriend’s body appears in Mike’s living room, and fabricated evidence points to them having an affair, Mike enlists his new roommate’s help to outwit and evade the police long enough to find the person who wants to ruin his life, while trying to earn back his brother’s trust.

Coming soon: 3rd Person Point of View Omniscient

More writing articles:
WRITERS WORKSHOP: First Person Point of View (1st POV)
WRITING: Foreshadowing
WRITERS WORKSHOP: Writer’s Block & Writing Anxiety
Writing: Filtering ruins your descriptions.

Connect with me by leaving a comment below, on Twitter (@JoanWIP), or Facebook.

Hang out in my mental playground! For cheaper than a venti latte, my highly-rated short stories are available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume and Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning Volume. #Fantasy #SciFi #Horror #Fables #Fairytales #SelfRescuingHeroines #DiverseBooks.

 Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning has been reviewed as “Smart” “Fresh” “Disturbing” and “the part of Wonderland people don’t talk about”!

 Fresh Cuts: Breaking has been reviewed as “Twisted” “Hilarious” and a “Delightfully perverse collection”!

Products used for this project:

Best erasable pens I’ve ever tried.

Pink graph paper. Unique, fun, and useful.
 Stitch Lego Minifigure. It’s freaking adorable.


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