What is third person point of view? Perhaps she knows; or he knows; or they know. The third person point of view is used to keep distance between the writer and reader. As a result, characters serve as a buffer so that the focus remains on the narrative. We’re going to break down the third person point of view, or third person POV, with examples from The Lord of the Rings and Uncharted, but first, let’s review some grammar details.
3rd Person Point of View Explained
A grammar guide to third person writing
The third person point of view uses he, she, they, descriptors, or names to communicate perspective. Let’s look at some examples:
- He was a great student.
- She succeeded in every way.
- They worked tirelessly to finish the project on time.
- The man with the funny hat sneered at those who passed by.
- Stella played the violin with maestro-like skill.
This next video does a great job of explaining the grammatical rules used to define third person point of view:
Now that we’ve reviewed some grammar guidelines, let’s dive into a third person point of view definition!
THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW DEFINITION
What is third person point of view?
A third person point of view is a narrative perspective in which the writer doesn’t directly refer to themself as the narrator, nor you as the reader. The third person POV is arguably the most popular storytelling perspective. In video games and movies, the third person POV refers to a perspective in which the camera is locked onto a character, either behind them or overhead.
Characteristics of Third Person POV
- Creates distance between writer and reader
- Used often by writers
- Can also refer to a locked camera perspective
Third Person Examples
Third person point of view in writing
There are two types of third person point of view in writing: third person limited point of view and third person omniscient point of view. Let’s break down third person limited point of view vs. third person omniscient point of view in detail:
Third person limited point of view: The perspective is limited to the view of one or more character.
Third person omniscient point of view: The perspective is shown from “above,” through an “all-knowing” entity.
This next video explains some of the intricacies of using the third person omniscient point of view.
Although “omniscient” and “limited” are both third person points of view, they’re very different. For example, the third person limited point of view works much better than the third person omniscient point of view in mystery novels. Imagine an Agatha Christie novel in which the narrator already knows who “committed the crime” — it just wouldn’t work well.
Take this excerpt from Murder on the Orient Express for example:
Murder on the Orient Express
'It is a good phrase that,' said Poirot. 'The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.'
Poirot is our protagonist; and he is a brilliant detective, but he doesn’t know everything. Christie keeps us on the edge of our seat by concealing essential information in dialogue.
Conversely, third person omniscient works much better for world-building novels like The Lord of the Rings. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from The Fellowship of the Ring to see how it’s done:
The Fellowship of the Ring
“Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. At ninety he was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark. There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.”
Tolkien delivers an incredible amount of exposition in this opening passage. Think about all that we learn about Bilbo:
- He’s incredibly wealthy
- He lives in Bag End in the Shire
- He made a fortune on some mysterious adventure
- He doesn’t seem to age
We’re able to learn all of this information so quickly because of the use of the third person omniscient POV. This opening mystifies us as the reader, and sets up the perfect opportunity for flashbacks.
When there’s so much backstory to relay, like there is in Tolkien’s world, we don’t really want to doubt whether or not the narrator knows what they’re talking about. Don’t forget that the third person omniscient point of view is also a great perspective for using dramatic irony.
What is Third Person Point of View in Video Games?
Third person POV in video games
The third person point of view can also refer to a fixed camera angle, used most commonly in video games. Perhaps the most acclaimed third person video game series is Uncharted, from developer Naughty Dog.
If you’re unfamiliar with the fixed “over the shoulder” camera perspective, check out the video below.
The purpose of the third person POV in video games is similar to its purpose in writing — to create a buffer between us, the reader/player, and the character we’re controlling/following. Usually, third person games use a limited POV. In Uncharted, we control treasure hunter Nathan Drake, privy almost exclusively to his thoughts and actions.
But sometimes, games tell or foreshadow what our character is going to walk into. One could argue that this gives us an omniscient third person point of view of the game-world.
The “over the shoulder” angle used in Uncharted isn’t the only third person perspective used in video games though. In addition, many games use the “overhead” or isometric angle, like the recently acclaimed Disco Elysium did:
Disco Elysium combines a top-down (isometric) perspective with a limited omniscient narrator. The result is a graphically beautiful game that allows you to explore perspective and perception in new and insightful ways.
Dive deeper into point of view
We covered how the third person POV is used in writing and gaming, but what about the first and second person? Don’t worry, we have you covered on those categories as well, with blog posts that go into similar detail on how each perspective is used by writers, designers, and filmmakers to expert effect.