Writing in third person is writing from the third-person point of view, or outsider looking in, and uses pronouns like he, she, it, or they. It differs from the first person, which uses pronouns such as I and me, and from the second person, which uses pronouns such as you and yours.
Writing in the third-person provides flexibility and objectivity. In fiction writing it enables the narrator to be all-knowing. The personal pronouns used in third-person writing are he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs.
Third Person Writing in Literature
- "He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners!—so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!" - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” - George Orwell, 1984
- “Their commander was a middle-aged corporal—red-eyed, scrawny, tough as dried beef, sick of war. He had been wounded four times—and patched up, and sent back to war.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
- “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets.” - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford
"He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him." - Ernest Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants"
- “She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes”
- Lord Byron, "She Walks in Beauty"
Third Person Writing in Advertising
- Plop Plop Fizz Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is - Alka-Seltzer
- The King of Beers - Budweiser
- It's the real thing - Coca-Cola
- A diamond is forever - De Beers
- The happiest place on earth - Disneyland
- It keeps going and going and going - Energizer
- When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight - FedEx
- The Possibilities are Infinite - Fujitsu
- The best a man can get - Gillette
- It wouldn't be home without Hellmann's - Hellman's
- It's finger lickin' good - KFC
- Nobody can do it like McDonald's can - McDonald's
- Good to the last drop - Maxwell House
- Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline - Maybelline
- The greatest tragedy is indifference - Red Cross
- Takes a licking and keeps on ticking - Timex
Third Person Writing in Famous Quotes
- “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” - Oscar Wilde
- “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” - Winston Churchill
- “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” - Albert Einstein
- “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” - Helen Keller
- “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” - Victor Hugo
- “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” - Henry Ford
- “Family is not an important thing. It's everything.” - Michael J. Fox
- “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
- “A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” - Lou Holtz
An Objective Point of View
These examples illustrate the different ways to write in the third person and which pronouns to use. The first person point of view might read "I never make mistakes so I never learn." The second person would read "You never make mistakes so you never learn." See how this differs from the third person, which would read "He never makes mistakes so he never learns" and is much more objective.
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Examples of Writing in Third Person
By YourDictionaryWriting in third person is writing from the third-person point of view, or outsider looking in, and uses pronouns like he, she, it, or they. It differs from the first person, which uses pronouns such as I and me, and from the second person, which uses pronouns such as you and yours.
Writing in the Third Person
Though it's easy to fall into the habit of always writing in the first person, it's crucial to be able to use the third person as well. Both first person and third person have their strengths and weaknesses; what works for one story may not work for another.
This exercise will help you observe the effect of writing in the third person point of view to add this tool to your toolbox. It might also show you directions for the story you hadn't considered before.
Any distance you can have from the page, or new ways you can have of seeing the same narrative are important.
Often, as writers, we are too focused on what we think the story is about, rather than - perhaps - what it has become on the page. Changing point of view can give you a new perspective, often illuminating new pieces of your fiction, inspiring new ideas, and - ultimately - making for deeper and more introspective fiction.
What You Need
- A scene from a recent story or novel.
- Computer or paper and pen.
- Quiet place to work.
How to Write in the Third Person
- Choose a particularly compelling -- or problematic -- scene from a piece of prose you have recently written in the first person. Try to find a piece that includes both dialogue and exposition.
- Rewrite the piece from the third person point of view. Take your time. It may require some strategizing to pull off the transformation. You'll also have to consider whether or not you want to use third person omniscient or limited. In moving from first to third, it might be easiest to try the third person limited first.
- Notice how the change in point of view changes the voice and the mood of the story. What freedom do you have with this narrator that you did not have before? If you have chosen limited third person, is there anything that you now know about the character that you didn't before? If you have chosen omniscient, does the new information inform or inhibit the story? Likewise, are there any limitations in using this point of view?
- Make a list of three or four advantages of the new point of view: ways the new voice helps develop plot and/or character. Does it change the structure? Does the heart of the story change, or does it become more refined?
- Make a list of the limitations of the third person point of view with regard to this particular piece. Is it the most effective way of telling this story? Were there ways in which it was harder to develop your central character with the third person? Did it force you to use other techniques in revealing your character? Was the voice stronger or weaker? If weaker, was the trade-off worthwhile?
- If the new point of view works well with this scene, consider changing the point of view for the entire piece. Otherwise, return to your original.
- Even if changing to the third person point of view has not improved this particular piece, remain open to it in future work. Use the lessons learned in this exercise to evaluate point of view in all the fiction you write. As you become more comfortable with the third person, you might begin to find the distance it can provide helps you have a new perspective on your narrative.
- Lorrie Moore has a good explanation for how she chooses POV: "There are times when the first person is necessary for observing others (not the protagonist) in a voice that simultaneously creates a character (usually the protagonist); then there are times when the third person is necessary for observing the protagonist in a voice that is not the character’s but the story’s."
- Want to practice other aspects of craft and technique? Find more craft exercises here.