WE 5.1: Third Person Limited

We’ve talked about point of view before, but only in general terms: this time we delve into third-person limited in detail, explaining how to use it and when to use it and why.

We apologize for the lateness of the post, and the lameness of this episode description: this is what happens when all three of us go to conventions on the same weekend. Expect a cooler update soon.


So… yeah, that original post pretty much sums it up. Why should you employ third-person limited, as opposed to first-person, or third-person omniscient, or third-person cinematic? What are the pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Soulless by Gail Carriger. Vampires, werewolves, and parasols in a steamy, punky, bodice-rippy, alternate-history London.

Writing Prompt: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Producer Jordo all walk through a room, and each of us sees the room differently.

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33 thoughts on “WE 5.1: Third Person Limited”

  1. I saw the glass of water and wanted to fill it with seahorses.

    Great show! I glad to see you’re covering POV’s in detail. Thanks a lot. I hope you’re doing 1st person next week. You can never hit the basics too much.

  2. I saw the glass of water and threw it across the room angrily. Wonderful podcast! It’s definitely things I’ll need to work on. By the way, I loved Way of Kings. I’m already anticipating the next one.

  3. I haven’t listened to the cast yet–I’m sure it will be up to your usual standards–but when I saw the last line of this update, for a moment I was actually expecting an update about a cooler.

    “You put ice in it. And it KEEPS FOOD COLD.”

  4. I saw the glass of water and wondered how long it had been there

    Good as always. Looking forward to picking up Way Of Kings. Recently read I am not a Serial Killer and Warbreaker. Good stuff you guys… (Also am a Schlock addict)

  5. Hydrogen Hydroxide is nasty stuff.

    What sort of madman would leave a open container of it someplace where a child could get their hands on it…

    I’d vote Dan.

    BTW – This one could have been longer…and congrats on the parsec thingamabob (2 years running, aint it).

  6. So I don’t know how else to request a topic, so I’ll just randomly post it in a comment.

    Is there any way you three could address Con etiquette in a podcast? Especially for the bigger ones? That would be fantastic.

    Thanks so much for Writing Excuses!

  7. I saw the glass of water, noticed that it still had condensation on the sides with recent fingerprints, and glanced around quickly and cautiously, wondering who was in my dorm room.

    Love the ‘cast. I love to use third person limited, and I guess I frequently encounter several of the pitfalls mentioned. I’ll have to go back and edit them out, now. Thanks!

  8. The glass of water tormented Jim. He had been duct-taped to the chair for over five hours. The naked light bulb flickered casting dark shadows across the glass. His captors were probably waiting to see how long it would take until he cracked.

    A bead of condensation rolled down the glass like a tear of agony.

    He couldn’t take it anymore, Jim stood up, the chair riding him. He grunted and lunged at the table like an animal. The glass spilled the life giving liquid on the table; the water ran down and splashed on the floor.

    Not wanting to waste it he lapped it up like a dog. It tasted like dirt but he didn’t care, his tongue was dry and his lips were chapped.

    A chair leg struck the bulb shattering it, engulfing the room in darkness.

    “Today isn’t going to be a good day is it?” He asked the artificial night.

    “Not for you.” A deep voice replied.


    I picked up Warbreaker the other day, I’m halfway through it. It’s awesome! I can’t wait to find out what happens with Siri and the God King… not what I expected.

    I do have one problem with it though, it makes my writing pale in comparison. :-(

  9. He glanced around the room, looking for potential weapons. There was a glass of water on the table. Splashed in a face, the water would distract long enough for him to shatter a jagged edge to the glass. It would have to do; the table looked too heavy to move.

    Jones eyed the beaker of clear liquid warily. He lifted it an inch above the table and tilted it, just a little. The liquid moved too freely to be nitroglycerin. He let out his held breath in a rush. A cautious sniff revealed no odor. Could this actually be harmless? Here? Then Jones had it: heavy water!

    “But what none of you realized,” said the detective, triumph in his voice, “was that the diamond is still here in this very room! A clever trick with index of refraction–” and here he raised the glass and poured the water on the floor, soaking the expensive Persian rug “–allowed the diamond to be hidden in front of our very eyes!” He upended the glass, tipping a clear, sparling stone into his left hand.

    Hmm, actually that last is more cinematic. Oh well.

    – Alastair

  10. Striding briskly into the room, Brandon was under pressure to find where Dan had hidden the plans to the time bomb before it was too late. The truck sized bomb was sitting quietly in the center of town, numbers glowing green, reducing down to zero second by second. Dan wanted to make sure his bomb was not easy to disarm so he had built it using only one color of wire, blood red. It was also protected by a mercury switch so it could not be moved. This is why Brandon, now joined by his sidekick Howard were desperately searching for Dan’s wiring schematics.

    “It’s got to be here somewhere.” Brandon said.

    “Maybe he left it on his desk mixed up in this pile of papers.” Howard said wiping a stream of perspiration from his brow with the back of his hand. “Hey look, a glass of water. Boy am I parched.”

    Seeing a thin wire running from underneath the glass, Brandon tried to stop him. “Howard, no. It’s a trap.” Too late. Howard had already picked up the glass dropping a heavy net down on them both making them both fall to the floor, their legs buckling from the weight. Suddenly a door opened on the other side of the room and Dan stepped in laughing hysterically.

    “I don’t believe it, you have known me all this time and still fell for the old wired glass of water trick.” Dan said as he knelled down to gloat at the helpless pair.

    “Dan why are you doing this?” Howard asked. “You’re not a serial killer, I know, I read the book.”

    “No I’m not a serial killer, that’s why I’m killing them all at once.”

    Ash fell from the sky, but he wasn’t wearing a parachute and his body crashed through the ceiling, hitting Dan and knocking him out cold. Howard managed to use some parkata urbatsu moves to free himself from the net. He quickly rose to his feet, looking down and the unconscious Dan laying on the floor, covered with Ash and blood he saw the bomb schematics sticking out of Dan’s lab coat pocket. “Luxury.” Howard cried reaching down to grab it.

    Suddenly a huge pile of poo carrying a big gun waltzed into the room. “I hope you didn’t think it was going to be that easy.”

    To be continued…

  11. Are publishers now enrolling their authors in high school Shop classes so they can use engraving tools to practice signing E Readers?

  12. What I like about third person limited is the used in intrigues. You can let the character lie in another way then in first person. For example let the reader catch on to that the viewpoint character is lying but leave them to figure out why and to what end the character lied.

    Third person limited lets you hide internal processes when you feel like it.

  13. When he saw the glass he thought he should spit in it; but realized that would be too obvious, and given the translucent nature of the glass and liquid, easily observable. He then began to quickly think if the papers in his pocket were large enough to cover the entire top of the glass. That way he could cover the top, invert the glass near the edge of the table, slide out the paper and leave the full glass of water upsidedown on the table… Nope- too small.

    He wanted to touch it, to pick it up and study it, but didn’t dare; not until at least he knew what he would do with it when he did. Was it truly just a glass of water, or something more sinister? He should pour it down one of their throats when they came back… if they came back. He moved closer to the table, and studied it. The table was a square, and if you divided the top into four smaller squares, the glass sat precisley in the middle of the smaller square closest to the locked door. How long had the glass been there? How long had he been here?

    He moved even closer, bent down and put his hand nearer the glass. His eyes were level with the rim of the glass. He slowly waved his hand behind the glass and gazed intently as the appearance of his fingers was repeatedly distorted, clear, distorted… Suddenly an image formed in his mind; a girl? woman? smiling? laughing? As quick as it formed, it was gone. Was she important? She? Who? His mind began to grasp at the fleeting image, tentativley first, then frantically. He struggled to put it back together, but the harder he tried, the quicker it fled from his minds eye. The glass of water was still there, inches from his face. He quickly stood, grasping the edge of the table hard enough to make the muscles in his forearms quiver. When it seemed he must relax his grip, he let go with his right hand, brought it across his body, and with a violent exhalation, whipped his free hand back across his body, across the table toward the glass of water. The glass appeared to explode where it stood, it was simply no longer there. He glanced at the back of his hand; wet with blood and water. How did that happen? He looked down and saw fignernail sized fragments of glass on a square table. As he looked up movement caught his eye… the door was opening. They were coming back.

  14. I didn’t notice the glass of water because I was too busy thinking about how thirsty I was and looking for a glass that should have been on a shelf by the fridge.

  15. “He then began to quickly think if the papers in his pocket were large enough to cover the entire top of the glass. That way he could cover the top, invert the glass near the edge of the table, slide out the paper and leave the full glass of water upsidedown on the table… ”

    Sounds like the Hardy Boys.

    I liked the Hardy Boys.

  16. Just read finished Soulless – started yesterday, had a hard time putting it down. So good!!
    Thanks for the recommendation, Howard

  17. Aren’t there different kinds of Third person limited? Like the over the shoulder, v. In the head, just like for first person.

    Howard viewed the glass of water and wondered what would happen if Schlock was shrunk and ingested the glass of water. He thought, “Hmm.. he’sd probably die of water poisoning.”

    You can also do a more limited scope more towards first person…

    Howard viewed the glass of water and wondered what would happen is Schlock was shrunk and ingested the water. He’d probably die of water poisoning.

    Or you can do the same voice as first person with all of the pronouns changed…

    Howard viewed the glass of water. He imagined Schlock dangling from the edge trying to be oral with the glass. Ha. Schlock would probably die of water poisoning.

    I’ve been writing my book with the last one, where the thoughts aren’t separated from the narration. I kind of like it ’cause it adds flavor, yet gives me control over those bossy characters that won’t shut up if I try first person. (I tried first person, but then the characters fought for control over first person, so I switched to third person limited and that worked better, but as I went along, I realized that the only difference between first and third person was the pronouns… this was a subconscious decision, or at least all the little voices in my head.)

    I’d also like something on Method writing… ^_^ I thought I was the only one that did things like eat rare well beef because my character had done it and I wanted to do it too.

  18. Another great podcast. Realized I hadn’t commented before, and wanted to just say that these podcasts are one of three things that have greatly improved me as a writer in the last year. The other two being the SFWA’s website and, oddly enough, TVTropes.org.

    Seriously though, thanks for doing these!

  19. Hi. I’m wondering if someone could briefly explain what 3rd person cinematic is and how it differs from 3rd person limited. I did look online but found so much contradictory advice on what it is and how it’s different, I really don’t know what to believe.

    One website (gone now but was there last week) went so far as to say that it was only used the Maltese Falcon and made it sound like it had not been used since (which I find really had to believe).

    I appreciate the advice.



    P.S. @Brandon I’m really enjoying the Mistborn Final Empire audiobook (8 hours in) and am curious if you design little floor plans for the buildings as part of the outlining process? What about maps?

  20. @David — I believe the difference is that third limited allows dipping into one person’s thoughts — i.e., the protagonist — while third cinematic doesn’t involve any interior thoughts, just like a movie. You’re right, they are very close. But when the text includes what the main character is feeling or thinking, then it has slipped from third cinematic to third limited.

  21. I saw the glass and thought what an odd place for a glass…it’s not half full, it’s not half empty, they are clearly using the wrong size of container for that glass…

    I know I am resurrecting old threads but after listening to the 6.2 episode, I listened to this one, and couldn’t find a ‘cast on Third Person – omniscient.

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