The author S.A. Joo's Writing & Editing Advice & Tips

A YA writer, represented by Black Hawk Literary Agency. The book is titled BODY JUMPING. Soon to be released.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Different Types of 3rd POV in Fiction

What point of view do writers use to narrate their stories? Some writers choose the First Person Point of View because they feel free to express the thoughts of the main character by injecting the voice of the character. It’s the most comfortable to write because it’s the most intimate point of view of all. But among newbie writers, the Third Person Point of View is exceedingly common. Why? Because it gives writers the freedom to go beyond what the MC can see from every angle. They think they’re playing it safe, but in actuality, they’re playing with fire.
First of all, they have to know that there are 3 types of Third Person Point of Views: 3rd Subjective (limited), 3rd Objective, and 3rd Omniscient. Beginners fail to distinguish between them and end up doing what’s known as “head-hopping.” The head-hopping occurs when a writer jumps into each character as if in 1st POV but while using “he” or “she.” So this is why I’ve decided to do a post on the different types of 3rd POV.
3rd Subjective (limited) POV is where the narrator can tell the entire story but by revealing the inner thoughts and feelings of one (main) character. The rest of the characters is shown only by their actions and dialogue. This is where the head-hopping can be prevalent. The writer must not go into the heads of the supportive characters.
3rd Objective POV is where the narrator doesn’t reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of any particular character. The readers are left to view the actions and dialogue of all characters. It’s almost like watching a movie. You know there is a main player, but the scene is from a distance and you’re not told of what’s in his head. 
3rd Omniscient POV is where the narrator becomes the god-like or the know-all story teller. Readers are privy to each and every character’s inner thoughts and feelings. The narrator can go inside of one character to another throughout the story. The downside of this is that the readers might feel too distant because there is no one character they can define themselves with.
So there it is. The answer you’ve been bugging me for. I could go into details by showing you examples, but that’s not for free. I’m a paid editor here. Thanks for the visit, and happy writing~


  1. Summed up well. I LOATHE 'head-hopping', and it's become a point of constant argument in my writer's group, where others insist that 'head-hopping' is in fact omniscient. So far my attempts at explaining that there is a difference between omniscient and head-hopping, and that what they are doing is in fact head-hopping and NOT omniscient, have fallen on deaf ears.

    Interestingly, I have NEVER written in first person. I don't like it. I don't want to write it, and for the most part I don't want to read it (there are a few exceptions to this rule).

    The other POV you sometimes hear mentioned these days is ‘tight’ or ‘deep’ third, which is described as third person limited, but going in deeper. I have sometimes seen this explained as writing in first person, and then switching ‘I’ for ‘he’ or ‘she’. I’m led to believe this is very popular these days.

    I tend to write almost exclusively third person limited or deep third.

  2. Objective 3rd is hardest for me--both to read and write. I find there's a strong correlation between it and agenda-driven fiction, of which I'm not particularly fond, I have to say.

    Ciara, never heard of a "deep third" before... It reminds me the kind of macro-zoom James Joyce would use, almost a stream-of-consciousness.

    A succinct and useful article, Sirra. Thanks!

  3. There has been one set of stories I find it near impossible to write in anything but 1st POV. Everything else is done 3rd Subjective with one main focal point for a character.

    My question becomes with the one story that is 1st POV, the story has side characters that have their own plot twists and while I never really describe anything more than movements and dialogue, is it okay to do a novel from 1st POV and then have maybe 3-5 sections throughout the novel be from subjective 3rd?


  4. Dear Samantha,

    I can't recall any book that I've read where POV type change has occurred, but I haven't read all the books in the world. Personally, I would never ever recommend anyone doing it because it would be a jarring experience for some readers. But it's your book. You have the right to experiment.


  5. That's really interesting and useful! Thanks!

  6. I write pretty much all my stuff in 3rd Subjective. It allows me to keep some things a mystery and the only thoughts or feelings shared are what is happening at that exact moment.
    I've toyed with writing a sci-fi horror in 1st because I feel it would be more intense.

  7. Thank you for explaining this very succinctly. I always wondered why I preferred some over the other. Now I know the difference. Good job.

  8. Thank you for clearly detailing the different POV's. Your article is very helpful. (as usual!)

  9. Thanks for this summary of different types of 3rd POV it is instructive.

    What would you classify books like the Harry Potter series or the Song of Ice and Fire series? There are multiple main characters and you are inside their heads at different times in the story. It's not quite 3rd Omniscient because you are not in everyone's head but for a chapter at a time you are inside one of them?

    Does this have a specific name too?

  10. Best example of switching between different 3rd POV? Stephen King's "The Stand". He handles multiple characters effortlessly. Mind you, it takes about a 1,000 pages to do it but still...

  11. Goran. They're both 3rd Subjective (limited). Only, in Song of Ice and Fires, there's a POV switch.

  12. Samantha. I just finished reading Ian McDonald's "The Dervish House" And while he wrote in a head-hopping 3rd limited (ick) he also managed to switch to 2nd at one point (double and triple ick) and got nominated for a Nebula. So it's been done and those pretentious people who give out awards must like it for some reason, but to an average reader, POV (1st to 3rd, 3rd to 1st, and anything involving 2nd) shifts are really jarring and I don't recommend them unless you are famous and want to shock the world with your genius or whatever.

    Just my 2 cents. Good article Sirra.

  13. You've been tagged for the Liebster blog award! *points to my blog* Go there for deets. <3

  14. Just wanted to say that Michael Tate's comment is exactly right. 2nd POV is banned from stories because it sucks to read and the switching of POV from 1st to 3rd or anything like that is not only jarring to the readers head, it is an interruption in their reading pace. They may have to stop and regain their bearings, and those that don't understand POV will not really know why, but they'll know there was something about the writing that didn't sit well with them.