1. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    POV - third person limited - I'm confused

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BookLover, Jun 25, 2015.

    Can anyone give me very thorough details on what it means to be third person limited?

    I have a general idea. I've read plenty of articles (and old threads) on point of views, and I know I want to write my WIP in third person limited. I started out in omniscient, but have since decided to switch to a limited view, sticking with one character per chapter. No head hopping. No going into detail about things that the POV character wouldn't have knowledge of. Still writing everything in third person.

    However, I'm running into problems. I'm confusing myself. I think my confusion lies in how to stay limited but not drift into first person while I do it. I mean, besides not using the pronoun I, obviously, how exactly is third person limited distinguished from first person point of view?

    For this story, I don't want to do the italicized direct thoughts of my characters. That's not how I want to get into their heads. If I wanted to do that, I'd rather just go with the first person point of view. I want it to be more outside of themselves but still stick to one character so that sometimes I can zoom in on how that particular character feels both physically and emotionally. Except the problem is that once I zoom in like that, I get kind of stuck in their heads and the narrator in general starts sounding like them. So if I have a sarcastic character, suddenly my narrator starts sounding very sarcastic. Then it starts to feel less and less like third person and more like first. So what am I doing wrong here?
     
  2. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    It's how Harry Potter is written.

    It's not first person but the reader only experiences things through one character. They only know what that one character knows and what that one character sees. They can't jump to other peoples heads and the story stays fixed on one character's mindset. I've heard people call this both Third Person Limited and Restricted Third Person.

    Harry Potter is a pretty good reference for how to write limited and Rowling rarely does italicized thoughts. And yes, unless you have an actual character narrating the story, then your writing usually WILL and SHOULD take on a unique voice that fits the character we're with.

    90% of the time this is a good thing and not something that should be actively avoided. A narrative with a unique voice is interesting. A narrative with a boring generic storyteller is dull.
     
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  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, POV and person are not the same thing. POV is the character(s) through whose eyes you see the story. Person is the way in which you express it.

    3rd person limited means you see only what the character sees at a given moment. You can switch to another character's POV and do that in 3rd limited, you just need a scene change to do it.
     
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  4. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    This is very helpful. I really wasn't sure how much my narration should sound like my characters. My characters have very strong, differing personalities, but I didn't want it to be first person. (I'm changing point of views every chapter.) But if this is how third person limited is supposed to be, then I won't worry so much about it.

    I never read Harry Potter (couldn't get into it), but I did read an article where they also pointed out that it was a good use of third person limited. Maybe I should read some Potter to help me better understand how to do third person limited.

    The article I read used this as an example:

    "Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly. The Dursleys hadn't even remembered that today happened to be Harry's twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn't been high."

    So I don't know what the Dursleys think of Harry, but I know a little about what Harry thinks of them. Still the narrative sounds distant, not necessarily like Harry's unique voice. But maybe Harry's just not all that interesting. lol. I don't know.
     
  5. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    I just mentioned it because most people have read Harry Potter and it is a good example. There are plenty of other books out there that make good use of a restricted narrative perspective. You can check out any number of them as examples. It shouldn't be too hard to find a list of third person limited books out there. Pick up one you think you'd like and see what other authors do with it!
     
  6. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    Have you read a lot of books? It's a pretty common point of view for authors. George R.R. Martin uses it in his Game of Thrones series. In fact, other than first person POV, there really is no other POV that's used as much. It's just whatever one character is doing or thinking at the time and everything is only from his point of view. It never switches and suddenly goes to someone else (unless it's between a chapter or scene break). You just need to read more books I feel that use this POV. That's how it helped me. You're not going to find the answer here I think as well as you may by reading a book using it as an actual example.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep; a lot of books use third person limited. We could flip the question by asking for the titles of some novels that you've read, and tell you which ones represent third person limited?
     
  8. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    :) I know a lot of books use third person. I guess I was trying to figure out what makes third person limited different from first person. From what I now gather, the only difference is the use of third person grammar. Once again I was over thinking things. :rolleyes:
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I recall Harry Potter, it switched between omniscient and limited third. The example quoted seems like an excerpt from one of the omniscient portions.

    You should also be aware that even with limited third there are degrees of closeness to the character. You can follow a single character around from a distance, or you can crawl right inside the character's head. If you crawl right inside (usually called close third) it really is mostly the pronouns that distinguish it from first person.

    It's hard to give clear examples in a short context, but just a general idea:

    He was stirring the sweetener into his coffee when he heard the whistle. He found himself unable to move, but strangely undisturbed by the paralysis. Three blocks away, another middle-aged man had heard the same sound and reacted the same way, and three blocks beyond that, another man. The pattern continued all the way to the northern tip of the island. (omniscient)

    He was stirring the sweetener into his coffee when he heard the whistle. He found himself unable to move, but strangely undisturbed by the paralysis. (limited third, but fairly distant)

    He was stirring the damn saccharine crap into the mug of what Melinda had the nerve to call coffee. Everything was depressingly normal until he heard the whistle, which made everything just weird. He couldn't move, but he didn't seem to give a shit. (close third)​
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't go quite that far. As I see it, third person limited is (1) in third person, as you say, and (2) doesn't offer any more information than the viewpoint character has. But it can have varying levels of closeness--the mood and tone can be that of the character, or it can be that of a narrator. The character's thoughts and emotions can be made explicit, or they can be guessed from their words and actions.

    Edited to add: OK, BayView said the same thing, much better.
     
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  11. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Ah, I see. Thanks for the examples. :) Maybe my problem is I haven't decided on how close a limited third I want my book to be. I've been following my characters from a distance, and then occasionally trying to get into their heads. I thought I was getting too close to being first person by doing that. So then I'd try to pull away a little, and I was just confusing myself. :p

    I'll have to make a decision about how close I want my limited third to be and try to be consistent with that. Thanks for everyone's help.
     
  12. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    I have a concern, myself. Is omniscient considered sloppy? I'm following a single character around, in the sense that no information they don't know about gets revealed. But I also feel like I'm switching between characters a lot, even if they're essentially in the same room together.

    I think one example is, I have the main character hide behind something to eavesdrop in on a conversation. Grammatically, it basically switches to another character in the conversation. But MC is there to hear it all so it's also like witnessing it from their point of view. Am I wrong in doing this?
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not clear on what you mean by "switches to another character in the conversation". Can you offer a sample? It doesn't have to be from your actual book.
     
  14. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    Actually, I'm not sure if it even focuses on a single character in some scenes. I suppose it focuses on all characters at once during a single scene, which is what I'm worried about. Each character talks and gets their current situation described ("He said as he rubbed his neck." etc.) before moving on to the response. But in some scenes it feels more like one single character is the point of view. There's clear scene transitions between these POV changes, but I'm just worried if mixing it up like that is confusing. Is that sloppy? Should I just focus on one character's point of view?
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    If Fred can see Joe rubbing his neck, then Joe's neck-rubbing is still in Fred's POV. If Fred can't, then it would be a violation of third person limited to describe the neck-rubbing.

    A scene can focus on a character other than the POV character, in terms of plot or action--for example, everyone can be intently focused on what Joe is saying or doing, and the POV can still be Fred, as long as we're seeing what Fred sees, hearing what he hears, and so on.
     
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  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's definitely a technique where authors use omniscient as the framing tool and then zoom in to different characters for limited third. If the zooms are done smoothly and clearly and not too often, it works quite well. I've tried it a few times and given up b/c I found it too difficult, but I'll probably try it again sometime in the future. If you can make it work, it's really useful.

    But there's also a 'fault' called headhopping, which is, essentially, the same technique as above but done poorly. I'm not sure if you always need the omniscient breaks between different characters of limited third in order to prevent headhopping, or if it's just a question of not making the zooms smooth and clear enough, but I've definitely read stories where I couldn't keep track of whose head I was in and was getting dizzy from the frequent jumps. Something to avoid, for sure.
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The way I've understood it: you write in third peron and divulge only information that the POV character knows.

    Granted, there can be some flexibility, it seems. I'm currently reading Andrzej Sapkwoski's The Sword of Destiny and at times it's really obviously limited to Geralt's, the MC's POV, but at times these "zoom-ins and outs" happen. The latest chapter ended with Geralt deciding he wanted to bang this girl and then the narrator took it to another character's POV who left the scene and went to compose a song, then the narrator actually gave information about the future of Geralt and the girl, so it went way omni from there. For the most part, the POV is limited to Geralt, but there seem to be some jumps. But to keep it "purely" limited, you'd just show what the POV character experiences, sees, and knows.
     
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  18. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    Harry Potter is primarily limited 3rd person. But you are right. In a couple of the books, Rowling has opened with a chapter that is not from Potter's perspective. But the rest of the novel is in limited.
     

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