Third-Person Point of View: Omniscient or Limited

The third-person point of view is a form of storytelling in which a narrator relates all the action of their work using third-person pronouns such as "he," "she," and "they." It's the most common perspective in works of fiction.

There are two types of third-person point of view: omniscient, in which the narrator knows all of the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story, or limited, in which the narrator relates only their own thoughts, feelings, and knowledge about various situations and the other characters.

The Advantages of the Third Person

Very often, new writers feel most comfortable with a first-person perspective, perhaps because it seems familiar, but writing in the third person actually affords a writer much more freedom in how they tell the story.

third person point of view infographic
The Balance.

The third-person omniscient point of view is the most objective and trustworthy viewpoint because an all-knowing narrator is telling the story. This narrator usually has no biases or preferences and also has full knowledge of all the characters and situations. That makes it very easy to give lots of supporting details about, well, everything.

If, on the other hand, the narrator is a mere mortal, then the reader can learn only what is observable by that person. The writer will have to rely on other characters expressing their thoughts and feelings since the writer won't be allowing the reader to effectively read their minds.

The Golden Rule of Consistency

The most important rule regarding point of view is that it must be consistent. As soon as a writer drifts from one point of view to another, the reader will pick up on it. The effect will be that the writer will lose their authority as a storyteller and surely also the reader's attention.

For example, if the writer is telling the story using limited third-person narration and then suddenly tells the reader that the lover of the protagonist secretly does not love him anymore, the writer will have lost the reader. That's because it's impossible for the third-person narrator of this story to know a secret unless 1) the person who has the secret or another in-the-know character tells them, 2) they overheard someone revealing the secret, or 3) they read about it in, say, a diary.

One of the writer's jobs is to make readers feel comfortable as the writer takes them into a new world.

Examples of the Third-Person Perspective

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, like many classic novels, is told from the third-person point of view.

Here's a passage from the book:

"When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him. 'He is just what a young man ought to be,' said she, 'sensible, good-humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!'"

A more contemporary example is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which is written with Harry as the focus but from the point of view of someone observing him and those around him.