1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    First person vs third person limited

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Sep 24, 2009.

    I would like to know what the differences are between these two perspectives? Obviously, first person uses "I", while third person uses "he/she/it". Hm, but what else? In both the first person and third person limited views, the story unfolds from the narrator's perspective. We get to explore the narrator's thoughts, but can't read other characters' minds. I don't understand what the strengths and weaknesses of these two perspectives are. I would love to hear some feedback on this. Thank you very much.
     
  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    From what I understand...

    Third person limited means we only get into the heads of a selected few people. Third person OMNISCINT means you get a wider ranger, we see things from POVs of other characters, not those in the immediate group.

    They all have strengths and weaknesses and they mostly have to do with the story you're talking about.

    So let's say you're writing a story and you want one of your characters (let's call him Bob) to be seperated from the rest to give him a subquest or a solo adventure. You wouldn't want it to be in first person if Bob is not the narrator and you don't plan for the narrator to follow him. Therefore, you'd put it in third person limited so that you can explore Bob's side-quest while focusing on everyone else.

    Omniscent is wide-ranging, so you can include other people. Maybe you want to follow the POV of the mayor of Bob's village? So you have Bob, the other people in the group, and the mayor of Bob's village together to make the story seem whole.

    That make sense?
     
  3. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thanks for the response.

    Does that mean with first person, you must stick with the same "I" throughout the entire novel, while with third person limited, you can change perspectives after a chapter break, etc.?
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Third person omniscient actually provides for the godlike narrator to speak to the reader about things that are not known to any of the characters, not just from outside an inner circle of characters within the greater group of characters. It allows for the narrator to present information to the reader without need for the characters to have become aware themselves.
     
  5. Robert
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    Robert Banned

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    No, you can use first person with different point of view characters in different chapters or scenes, and you can stay with the same third person character for an entire novel if you wish to.

    Take a look at some of the books you've read and see how they differ in their use of point of view. You may never have noticed it before, but use of point of view can vary a great deal.

    I've just finished a book (an excellent book as it happens) that used short chapters, third person past tense for some chapters, second person past tense for others, and still others were in second person present tense. Sounds like a nightmare, particularly the use of second person, but it was gripping from start to finish.

    Cheers,
    Bob
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    In first person narration, the narrative voice is merged wth the voice of the main character, so you have a two-in-one kinda thing. It's generally limited to what the character sees, thinks and experiences first hand, though certain novelists have seen fit to remian in first person but disembody the narrative voice, allowing them to narrate other characters beyond the perception of the main character while remaining in first person (some critics call this the impersonal narrative voice). First person produces a singular point of focalisation, which forces the reader's understanding of the novel through this particular lens, if you like, and the narration, being fused with the narrated character's voice takes on the qualities of that voice, something that can be used to great effect in affecting how the reader interprets things in the novel and how the narrated character is constructed.
    Third person can either be 'omniscient', or 'limited'. Omniscience (wrongly) implies an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator; literally, God is the narrator of your novel (he is the only possible candidate who is 'omniscient'). In this mode, you can reveal anything about anyone, anytime, past present future, inside their head or millions ofmiles above them. Many readers find this approach to be a little dull, however, as it is often less focussed than other modes, and tends to encourage 'telling' rather than showing. Also, if your narrator is indeed omniscient, you need to consider why they are revealing what they are revealing, to whom, and how, something that often proves difficult to do. For example, if you were narrating a detective story in this mode, why would te omniscient narrator not name the criminal early? Is it deliberately misleading the reader, or is it not really omniscient? If it is being misleading, how far can what it says be trusted? And what is its agenda in lying to the reader?
    The final mode is third person limited, which again is narrated by a "third", usually disembodied, person. In this case, the point of focalisation is limited to one particular character, and the narration focusses on them. There is a considerable amount of flexibility here, which is why it is a popular approach. You can focus yourself strictly through their eyes and mind, as with first person, or you can move out a bit too, to discuss things relevant to that character but not necessarily perceived by them--that is its most important distinction from first person. Generally, however, third person narrative is not 'coloured' by the voices of the narrated characters, unlike in first person, so characterisation must be achieved in a different way, and it is more difficult to deliberately control the reader's interpretation of the text as it is not focussed through a lens in the same way that first person is.
     
  7. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thanks for the replies.

    "to discuss things relevant to that character but not necessarily perceived by them"
    Care to elaborate on that? It'd be great if someone could provide some examples.

    Cheers.
     
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The only way I can think of is:

    Jill thought Bob was hot.~ We see this from her POV.

    Back to Bob's POV, we see that he doesn't know this.
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Third person limited could still be from only one character's point of view throughout the entire book. That's what I generally do, as well as several other writers. And it doesn't even have to be a select few. It just means that you're only in one person's mind at a time, and to change narrators you have to start a new chapter or do the *** thing

    As for the differences, it really depends on how the author executes it. For me, when I write first person, I much more in the mind of the character than when I write third person, and the narrative is the character's voice as much as the dialogue is. When I write in third person, I might not be saying exactly what she thinks as much, and there is a slight difference between the way she talks and the voice of my narration.
     
  10. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Basically, I see the 'zooming out' that arron mentioned as a kind of limited omniscience. Third person limited is pretty much the same as first person, but you can seamlessly shift into various stages of omniscience at any time. That tends to be awkward in first person, if not impossible. As arron said, flexibility is one of the key differences.
     
  11. averylynne
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    averylynne New Member

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    Which point of view

    I have found that over the years in my writing I have always defaulted to writing in 3rd person. However I have found this to be a pain as for one I give too much information away at the beginning and I can never get past the first couple chapters of my stories even though I have a plot and story outline to carry the story to further chapters. I have tried to write in first person and though I find it easier to progress past the first initial chapters I find it boring and dull, only having the one point of view through out the entire story.

    My question is, is it possible to write in first and third person in one story?? If so is it an acceptable style?
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    It is possible to mix POVs, but not as easy to pull of successfully.

    When you discussed third person, did you mean third person limited or third person omniscient (some just call it omniscient POV)? There is even third person dramatic, but that is very rarely used.

    In any case, with 3rd person limited, it is not that different from first person. The perspective is a little more distanced from the POV character, but not enough to give away the store much more than 1st person POV, unless you're switching character POVs each scene--then it could happen.

    Terry
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It would be ill-advised to try to blend the two. Even switching characters in first person would be preferable (and it's not preferable to much). My advice would be t further explore the possibilities offered by both first and third person. You'll get a lot of mixed advice on this forum, and the best way to use it is to have done a lot of thought and experimentation with POV yourself so that you understand the motives behind any particular piece of advice, and from your comment, it seems that you haven't really grasped the full potential of either first or third person narration.
     
  14. averylynne
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    averylynne New Member

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    I default to third person omniscient. Is there a better way to tell a story when you have multiple characters that you introduce and tell their story separately until they all come together?

    I may have been writing for many years but have never actually had any help.
     
  15. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Third-person omniscient is probably the easiest POV to handle that in, so if you're having trouble with it, it's not because you're using the "wrong" POV. You can follow multiple characters with other POVs too, but you have to be careful not to make it confusing. Try to keep it to one POV per scene, and switch views in a predictable way, such as at chapter breaks.
     
  16. LOrmy
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    LOrmy New Member

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    1st or 3rd person

    What are your preferances?? I find it easier to write in 1st but i love the freedom of 3rd person, i like to show how all the charcaters are feeling.

    Your thoughts?
     
  17. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    For me it depends on what I'm writing, for something dark and horror-based I tend to use first person, as then I can play with psychological delusions and neurotic fears. But for other, more literary stuff I go with third person, I just like the way I can make third person flow, whereas I also like how first person can be so personal and direct in the language.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Third-person limited is actually very similar to first-person in many ways. Both follow the story through the "eyes" of a single character, as opposed to omnisicent which can "see" through the "eyes" of any character and switch, even within the same sentence .

    One difference between first person and third person limited is that, with first person, the narrator is explicate--he/she is telling the story, presumably, to an audience. The first person narrator is generally expected to explain why he or she is telling the story to the (often invisible) audience.

    For example, let's say you're writing a story about someone on death row. The first person narrator may say something like, "I need to let my story be known, so that everyone know how I came to be on death row, and that, although I'm guilty of the crime, I had no choice in the matter..."

    A third person limited narrator (aka "the viewpoint character") can reveal this information, but (generally) won't explicitly address the audience. No "reason" is needed because no one is "telling" the story explicitly.

    Such narrative as described above could be done in third person limited, but it would require another character.
    ("So, did you do it?" Dave asked from the next cell.
    "Yeah, I did it," Ron answered. "But I want you to know, I had no choice in the matter.")

    This is an indirect way (not necessarily the only way) that the third-person limited narrator can address the audience. The information can also be provided in narrative exploring the "viewpoint character's" thoughts.

    A first person narrator can directly address the audience. A third person limited viewpoint character will generally address the audience indirectly.

    A first person narrator will tell you what's in his thoughts, where a third person limited, you will see or hear it without it being told to you explicitly. A third-person limited can (but will not necessarily) have deep penetration, where you "are" the narrator and you "think" along with the narrator, even as you "see" through his or her eyes, "hear" and "smell" and "feel" through his or her sense.

    Charlie
     
  19. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I disagree that it is expected that there is some motive for telling first-person stories...certainly that is the case with some works, but by no means in the majority, and definitely not necessary. The narrator isn't necessarily addressing anyone either (besides the reader, which is the same in all storytelling, obviously), and so is no more likely to directly address the reader than a third-person narrator.

    Also, remember not to confuse the narrator and the narrated character in third person writing. They are never the same; the narrator must either be another character, or a sort of disembodied narrating spirit.
     
  20. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    It seems that any time one ventures past the basics, someone is bound to disagree. Naturally, writing is an art form, and there are bound to be differing opinions.

    What I was trying to say (and perhaps I misstated it) was better expressed by an outside source that I have found. This site does not allow posting of many outside links (or I would provide the URL) nor copyright protected material, but I'll do my best to point you to the site. In this case, I think the copyright issue (of posting a quote from the site) is addressed as follows:

    The web page is entitled "Critical Concepts: First Person Narrator" by Lyman A. Baker. The work is copyright protected but the author states in the copyright statement that "Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use." I believe my posting here is both non-commercial and educational. So I'll post the quote:

    According to the author, a question
    These questions need to be addressed, as the author of that site states. Not that it always is, but it should be.

    This is what I meant, not that the first person narrator is "expected" to "state why" but that these questions are on the table and should be addressed.

    Naturally, one may disagree with this point. Writing is, after all, an art form.
    I do believe it's wise advice however.

    I actually was basing my own statement on earlier reading of "Characters and Viewpoint," a Writer's Digest book, and a subsequent course I took on character development, although I may not have worded it properly.

    I must also disagree with this statement:

    Actually, a third person narrator generally will not directly address the reader. It can be done, I'm not saying it should be ruled out in all cases, but it's rare, and it's rarely done well.

    In the case of the first person, the reader is more easily addressed. (Though first person can also be narrated to another fictional character, or in the format of a letter or manuscript to a fictional recipient, etc. I'm not claiming that the "reader" meaning you, must be addressed in first person, but it can be done more easily in first than in third person.)

    I can give an exception to what I'm saying, even though it's just a "hint" of directly addressing the audience, and it's in movies, not in a book: There are some Eddie Murphy movies (in third person) where something absurd happens, and, just for a moment, Eddie Murphy looks directly at the camera, with a humorous expression that actually wordlessly acknowledges the audience.

    Another example is the Bugs Bunny cartoon (which is in third person) where Bugs is talking to the "monster" and says, "Look! Out there in the audience!" and the monster yells, "People!" This device was used several times in Bugs Bunny cartoons and its primary humor is in the fact that it's so rarely done it's unexpected. (Another example in Bugs Bunny, Bugs says, "Is there a doctor in the house" and someone in the audience says "I'm a doctor!" and he says, "What's up doc?")

    But these are exceptions. Rarely is the audience directly engaged in a third person narrative. It's much more common in first.

    There's a reason for pointing this out: Because sometimes, most of the time, when the reader is directly engaged in third person narrative, and it's just plain bad writing.

    For example, you probably wouldn't want to write a sentence like this in a third person story: "It was a rainy night, just like the nights you always see."

    Yes, it's third person, yes, it addresses the reader, but is it good writing? No. Often, when it's done, it pulls the reader out of the narrative, and that's not a good thing.

    Again, not saying it can't be done, ever. But most of the time... ugh.

    Charlie
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You don't need to actually invoke the audience to be directly addressing it. Any time a narrator in third person delivers an imperative, or asks a question, or, as you stated, uses the second person, they are directly addressing the audience, and in my experience (and maybe it depends on the books you read?) it isn't at all uncommon.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's called narrator intrusion, and is neither common nor recommended in contemporary fiction.
     
  23. Darkom
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    Darkom Member

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    Indeed, it is a terrible idea in plain narration, but there are certain occasions when you can indirectly address the reader, and most of the time they aren't even aware that you did it. Using dialogue, your focus character can follow the same logic the readers would (if it does not require some knowledge the readers do not have) and ask the question that readers would undoubtably be feeling. Or you can use thoughts, and do much of the same thing, though I agree being obvious about it makes for terrible writing.

    But, in essence, any major explanation or epiphany, either through dialogue or what have you, is directed both at the reader and at the character. I know I get goosebumps during a particularly dramatic scene, and that is the author reaching out and touching me directly.

    I'm not sure if it's the same thing, but it falls in somewhat the same category, I would think.

    Ah, also, I have seen narration, not thoughts, use direct questions to great effect. They aren't, technically, addressing the reader, but symbolizing what the character would be thinking at the time, without writing out their exact thoughts. I suppose it's kind of like telling for internal dialogue.


    But hey, what do I know? I'm sure most of you are much more experienced writers than I (no sarcasm intended). Thanks.
     
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  24. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Yes. Good point. I mentioned that earlier, and you're right. In third person, the reader is only indirectly addressed, almost never directly. Unless, of course, you're Bugs Bunny looking for a doctor in the house.

    Soliloquies are an example. Certain conversations between characters are another. In the Da Vinci Code, for example, when Leigh Teabing reveals the "secrets of the Grail" to Sophie Neveu, he's really revealing that information to the reader. But it's through his conversation to Sophie, and is thus indirect.

    I'm not sure what you're saying here. What the character "would be thinking"? I'm wondering if you are talking about third-person limited where the viewpoint character is thinking and the narration is following their thoughts. As in:

    Sarah walked down the stairs and reached for the handle. It was locked.
    Oh, no! What should I do now?

    In third person limited, you can write the above sentences/paragraph without putting the question in quotes and adding the tag, Sarah thought. The thought section is sometimes, but not necessarily, in italics, depending on author (and editor) preference. This is not addressing the reader so much as revealing thought through the eyes/brain of the viewpoint character.

    We're at all different levels, and all are welcome to share their thoughts!
    Thanks for sharing yours!

    Charlie
     

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