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How To Start Writing in the Third Person

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Though it's easy to fall into the habit of always writing in the first person, it's crucial to be able to use 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.

For more on point of view, "How to Choose a Point of View" will help you think strategically about your choices.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1 hour

Here's How:

  1. Choose a particularly compelling -- or problematic -- scene from a piece of prose you have recently written in the first person.
  2. 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 third person limited first.
  3. 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? Likewise, are there any limitations in using this point of view?
  4. Make a list of three or four advantages of the new point of view: ways the new voice helps develop plot and/or character.
  5. 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 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?
  6. 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.

Tips:

  1. 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 evalaute point of view in all the fiction you write.
  2. 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."
  3. Want to practice other aspects of craft and technique? Find more craft exercises here.

What You Need

  • Scene from a recent story or novel.
  • Computer or paper and pen.
  • Quiet place to work.
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