richard harland's writing tips

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2. Person & Tense

 

(iii) THIRD PERSON

 

Third person narration is when all the characters appear in the third person as ‘she’ or ‘he’.

Third person has advantages when you want to cover a wide range of scenes and narrative strands. In large-scale fantasy, it’s often impossible to arrange for any single narrating character to be present at so many different places and times.

Third person narration is also the natural mode when you want to give equal importance to a number of main characters. First person narration can’t avoid privileging the ‘I’ character over the ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’.

What’s more, an ‘I’ can only truly know his or her own thoughts and feelings. Realistically, a single person telling a story must hypothesize about what goes on in other people’s heads. If you want the immediacy of Free Indirect Discourse (see the Free Indirect Discourse page of the “Thinking Inside” section) for a variety of characters, third person narration is the way to go.

(Okay, you can jump between sections told by different first person narrators, but that’s more of a literary technique—and still restricts you to one inside view at a time.)

Third person narration is also the way to go if you want a movie-like excitement of dramatic action unfolding before the reader’s eyes. Film itself is an impersonal, single level form of presentation. First person narration can have its own energy and excitement, but it’s not the observational excitement of a movie.

 

OTHER PERSON & TENSE TOPICS

 

(i) THE 'I' NARRATOR

(ii) FIRST PERSON COMPRESSION

(iv) PAST OR PRESENT?

 
 

 

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Copyright note: all written material on this website is copyright
1997 - 2010 Richard Harland.