Points of View 2

Third person limited or subjective

When a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ tells the story, this technique is only one step removed from first person. But the one step gives the writer a little more distance from the piece and allows occasional forays into descriptive passages and access to other events and characters. Phrases like:

Meanwhile, back at his father’s house, Jim’s brother was throwing crockery at the wall. Methodically, deliberately, until every cup, saucer and plate was smashed to smithereens.

This knowledge of what Jim’s brother was doing at another place, is not accessible to Jim – if he is a first person narrator. Jim, if he were a first person narrator, would not be able to know what was happening elsewhere – unless he was physically there.

Remember, using third person limited, the writer is still constrained to the inner thoughts of one narrator, but there is some scope to leave the scene where the narrator is and go to other locales.

The advantages and disadvantages of using this point of view are as follows.



The use of the ‘he’ or ‘she’ narrator allows the writer to step back a little.
Greater scope for descriptive passages.
The freedom to occasionally step into heads other than the main character and report their thoughts.

The reader is one step removed from the main character but can still be ‘involved’ if the writing is strong enough.
Easy for the writer to ‘get off the track’ and ramble on.
Lacks the immediacy of First Person.

Third person limited

The following is the opening to a short story entitled Skin Deep (Dabbs, 1985: 1) written in third person limited.

Jane surveys the scene of social intercourse she has been sentenced to participate in and once again, a familiar growing detachment creeps over her. Disconnection is setting in quite badly this time. She must stop this business of being an observer – rather than a participant. But it is becoming more and more difficult to control. Too late to slip on the chameleon skin she has worn for most of her adult life. That skin had been shed some time ago and has now been replaced by an impenetrable carapace. Odd that no one seems to have noticed it.

David is on the verge of exasperation; again. She notes the set of his mouth. A profile shot is all she needs to be able to gauge his mood. After seventeen years of marriage there are few surprises left in any husband.