I’m a fan of third person Point of View (POV). Some of my all time favorite authors write in it—Laini Taylor, J.K. Rowling, Melina Marchetta, etc—but beginning writers often make a serious mistake when writing in third person POV. This is a mistake that I made as well when I was new to writing, and it wasn’t until I was talking with an agent at the Talcott Notch Literary Services at a conference that it really dawned on me.
Third person POV has more than one way to write it—it’s not like first person POV. With first person POV, it’s easy. You’re in your MC’s head, and only your MC’s head.
With third person POV, there is close and omniscient.
Third Person POV: Close v. Omniscient
First comes the false assumption that writing in third person POV means you can head jump from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph. This isn’t true at all. If you are head jumping constantly within a scene, then you are writing in third person omniscient POV. This is something that is old-school, and you’ll see it in some classics such as The Omen.
With omniscient, you are writing from a narrator’s POV, a narrator that knows everything that will happen and everything that is happening in everyone’s head (hence the term omniscient). The voice is usually lacking, and stiff. As much as I personally love The Omen it is voiceless, the plot and concept of the novel are what carries it—and that’s true for many books that are written in omniscient.
Third Person close POV
In today’s marketplace, third person close POV is highly preferred. There is a reason that first person POV is really prominent in most marketplaces. Readers love to be that close to the characters. They love being able to know one character that intimately. Third person close POV is similar to first person POV in the sense that you are only in one head. You only know as much as that one character knows, and you cannot jump into the head of any other character in that scene.
In the next scene, you can change characters. But not within a scene. This is what separates it from first person POV (along with, of course, the use of the he/she/hers/his pronouns instead of I/me/my).
Third person close POV is better for many reasons:
- It’s easier to find a voice. You are writing from the POV of a character, and each character should speak differently and think differently. Which helps to bring more color and vividness to the writing.
- Readers—as well as agents and editors—prefer it. It gives the reader the same sort of intimacy as first person POV does. You are allowed to know characters deeper.
- Omniscient is dead. Sorry, but it’s just the truth. Very few authors can pull off omniscient, and very few readers/editors/agents are interested in it. It’s old-school, and it’s being left in the dust. (There are a few exceptions, but those exceptions are only allowed when an author has an amazing command of their own voice. When their voice is so unique that you can pick up a random, scattered sheet of paper, read a few paragraphs, and think yes, this is Laini Taylor that’s when someone can write in omniscient. If you don’t have a strong voice, omniscient will only weaken it further.)
When you are writing in third person POV, make sure to realize what you are using. Don’t just default to omniscient because you think that’s how third person POV should be written.