Third Person Limited

The third-person limited point of view allows the reader to be inside the central character's head. Everything in the story unfolds from that character’s point of view. The character whose point of view is presented by the author is the third-person limited narrator.

Third Person Limited Examples

Perhaps the most famous modern example of the limited third-person narrator is the work of J.K. Rowling, in her “Harry Potter” books.

The reader experiences and feels everything Harry Potter does. But if something happens out of Harry’s view, the reader does not know about it. Other writers have used and still use this technique.

Here are a few examples of the limited third-person view of from popular books:

“Because he has no respect for the material he teaches, he makes no impression on his students. They look through him when he speaks, forget his name. Their indifference galls him more than he will admit.” – J.M. Coetzee, “Disgrace”
“Harry sat up and examined the jagged piece on which he had cut himself, seeing nothing but his own bright green eye reflected back at him.” – J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
“Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He was incapable of deceiving himself and persuading himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not at this date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, and only a year younger than himself.” – Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”

The third-person limited narrator appears in many classic and contemporary works, including writing by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and J.K. Rowling.

Third Person Limited Vs. Omniscient

Third-person narration is a story written from the character's perspective.

In writing in the third person, the writer can choose an omniscient (all-seeing, all-knowing) or limited point of view:

  • Third-Person Omniscient POV – allows the writer to slip inside every character, giving the reader a glimpse inside that character’s thoughts, motives, and plans. The third-person point of view is a bit detached since we, as readers, have godlike powers to step into and out of everyone’s thoughts.
  • Third-Person Limited POV – the narrator of the story is the main character whose inner thoughts, plans, desires, and fears are revealed to us directly. All other characters are observed from that narrator’s viewpoint.

Choosing which type of third-person point of view means deciding how much or how little of each character the reader sees.

Third Person Limited Omniscient

Limited omniscient is the point of view where the author allows the reader to view the events of the story through several character's eyes, but only one character at a time. You are getting a limited point of view from different narrators.

In “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy writes with serial limited omniscience, for example. He steps into one character’s thoughts for a while, then into another. He limits the reader to these points of view but keeps moving from one character to another like a master chess player.

The omniscient narrator point of view is supposed to be the least biased, most accurate viewpoint. The writer makes you think you’re getting the full picture, stepping inside each character’s mind as needed. When the writer deliberately limits that godlike view, we have the limited omniscient point of view.

Writing has no “rules” beyond some basic grammar, so authors are free to roam between voices and points of view. A work of the size and scope of Leo Tolstoy’s would not be so meaningful if readers could not move from one character to another, and Tolstoy could not practically have every character appear before a single protagonist.

Many renowned writers use the limited omniscient viewpoint, and it is sometimes referred to as head-hopping. Limited omniscient narration will allow you to see the story through the lens of a different character, not just the main character, like with a third-person limited narrator.

Writing In Third Person Limited

Writing from the limited perspective of a single character, you see the story from the character's pov (point of view). Third-person limited narration is an excellent way for the author to allow you to tag along with the main character.

All writers have choices in presenting information to readers. These choices are the different points of view: first-person point of view, second-person point of view, or third-person perspective.

The different perspectives are revealed in the pronouns:

  • First-Person PronounsI, We, Us
  • Second-Person PronounsYou, Your
  • Third-Person PronounsHe, She, They, Him, Her

See pronouns for different points of view.

Here are famous examples of each voice or point of view:

“Call me Ishmael.” — Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”
“Have it Your Way.” — Burger King’s slogan
“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.” — Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

What you learned:

After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:

  • Third-person limited definition
  • Examples of Third Person Limited POV
  • Limited vs. Omniscient
  • Third Person Limited Omniscient
Instructor: Malcolm M.
Malcolm has a Master's Degree in education and holds four teaching certificates. He has been a public school teacher for 27 years, including 15 years as a mathematics teacher.

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