top of page

What Is Third person Limited/ Close Third?

Third person is like a complicated knot that refuses to untangle. There is a myriad of opinions and thoughts around the topic, but very few facts. The big knot is third person limited, sometimes called third person close or close third. Along with its many names, there are many ideas around how third-person limited works.

Third Person Limited. girl thinking. illustration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy-2.jpg


What Is Point Of View?

Point Of View or POV is the perspective a story or narrative is being told from and how it is being told.

The POV that you write in defines the style of your narrative. How plot points are conveyed, what information the reader and the characters have at any given time, and how your reader relates to the character. POV Is vitally important and will impact how your write and how that writing is received by the reader.

What Is Third Person Limited?

Third person limited is sub genre of third person, where the narrative is written using the pronouns 'she, he, they etc.' and first names. In third person limited the POV of the story follows one character at a time. The narrator has a limited perspective on the story. The narrative can switch viewpoints, but the reader is only granted access to one character's thoughts and feeling at any given time. When the narrative switches POV in third person limited it is called head hopping and is generally frowned upon as it can confuse the reader if it isn't managed well.

That being said, only a few writers maintain a fully immersive third-person style. Most will occasionally dip into a sneaky bit of omniscience. Hoping the reader won't notice. This is one reason it's so hard to find examples of true third-person limited. It's difficult to tell if the meandering into omniscient recategorizes the books as third-person omniscient or if it remains in third limited with some head-hopping.

Close Third, Third Person Close, and Third Person Limited, What's The Deal With All The Names?

Technically close third or third person close refers to a more intimate writing style. One that really delves into the characters' minds rather than watching from the outside. Most stories use a mix of both, zooming into a character's mind to let the reader know their thoughts and feelings and then moving out again to describe a scene or indulge in a bit of info dumping. That's why they are so often used interchangeably.

The Benefits of Writing in Third Person Limited

  • Able to maintain objectivity that is often lacking in other POV types

  • Third-person limited allows the story to dip into multiple perspectives while maintaining a close connection with POV characters. This helps the reader to relate more easily to each character.

  • Readers understand the rules of close third, making it easier for them to follow the narrative without getting confused. Also making it somehwat easier to write.

  • As the narrator only knows what the POV character knows, it is easier to withhold information from the reader.

  • As there is clear segmentation/ cues regarding POV switches, the writing style can reflect the POV character's personality. The writing follows the 'voice' of the POV characters, which helps the reader to better understand the character's personality and feel closer to them

  • You aren't stuck in one character's perspective but can switch POVs.

  • Unlike in first person POV, third person POV allows for a certain amount of 'narrative zoom.' This is always for better world-building and scene-setting as the narrative can describe a setting or idea at a distance before zooming back to the POV character's thoughts.

  • There is a greater potential for tension. The reader can be told plot and story elements outside the protagonist's knowledge. Switching POVs also puts the main character at risk. Unlike in first-person POV, in third-person even the main character can die without losing the mouthpiece of the story

  • Access to a 'cinematic lens' allows the narrator to move out of the thoughts and feelings of POV characters, giving broader insight into the narrative's world.

  • Third-person limited allows for a narrative sieve, showing each character's inner world in a more organized and structured way that makes the journey easier for the reader.

The Drawbacks of Writing in Third Person Limited

  • Third person keeps the reader at arm's length. The narrative is not told directly using "I, me, we" as in first person POV, but through a distancing narrative lens. Someone is telling the story to the reader rather than the story unfolding in front of them.

  • Following multiple character's POVs can create confusion, often resulting in head-hopping

  • Unreliable narrators are often frowned upon in third person (althogh less so in third person limited than in other third person genres). While it can be done, there is an automatic assumption that the information being relayed to the reader is factual. This is not true of first person, where the narrator's unreliability is almost assumed.

  • The connection to the main character can be diluted by multiple POVs

  • The risk of head hopping in third person limited is very high. The temptation to reveal information that the POV character can't know, to switch to another perspective for just a moment, is massive.

  • Switching writing styles and voice based on the POV character can be tiresome for the writer and the reader.

  • When working with multiple POVs, there is a higher chance of continuity errors

  • It can be hard to provide the protagonist with all the information they need and tedious for the reader to be told the same thing multiple times in different characters' POVs.

  • It can be challenging to keep the story flowing without letting the reader in on information the POV characters are unaware of.

Tips For Writing In Third-Person Limited

POV choices should be made as early as possible, otherwise there is going to be a lot of re-writing involved. While story beats, character arcs and all that goos stuff is important, POV is equally so.

  • If you are in a character's POV, the narrator only knows what they know, even if another POV character is in the scene. One POV at a time.

  • Manage narrative distance carefully.

  • Limit character POVs; the more POVs, the higher the chance for reader confusion.

  • Decide early whether you want to change the writing style and voice to match the POV character or maintain a narrative voice throughout.

  • Let the reader know whose POV they are in as soon as possible, particularly if you are switching POVs frequently.

  • Set the rules of your POVs and stick to them throughout your narrative

  • Decide early on whether you are going to change POVs throughout the narrative.

  • If you are going to change POVs, then decide which methodologies you are going to use to indicate a change to the reader.

    • Paragraph break

    • Scene break (***)

    • Named Chapter headings that let the reader know whose POV they are in. i.e., Chapter 1— John. Chapter 2—Miriam

    • Line breaks (three blank lines)

Examples of Books Written In Third Person Limited

I've never been a big fan of books that switch POVs. I prefer omniscient third, with a consistent voice throughout the narrative. My least favorite style is one where each chapter is written from a different POV. That being said, I did my best to cobble together some books that I've read that were written in third person limited. I had to dig to find these books, which include some of my least favorites. There's a recommendation for you.

The Giver by Lois Lowery—Third Person Limited

The Giver is a great book, at least in my top 100. I had the ending spoiled for me (which I don't mind) and knew where the story was going, and it was still a good read getting there. I likely won't ever reread it, but I was disappointed there wasn't a sequel. 8/10 would recommend it.

I've heard that The Giver is used as a set work for some schools, while mine was not one of them. I support this notion and recommend it for 12 and up. It's also the only book I can think of that is fully third-person limited without any POV switch. If there were any omniscient shenanigans going down, I don't remember them. And while I enjoyed the book a lot, it's not re-read for me, so I'll never truly know.

I only just started this book last night, actually. The power was out (South African load shedding), and I was desperate enough that I finally gave Charlie N. Holmberg another shot. I've read The Paper Magician, and while I loved the cover and the concept, the book was so dull and (sorry) poorly written that I never finished the series. I can deal with one, but not dull AND badly written. 1/10 do not recommend.

Keeper of Enchanted Rooms, so far, has been rather good. There's too much info-dumping, but I like the idea of a temperamental magical house, here's to hoping it develops a proper plot. Holmberg seems to struggle with plot, something I can sympathize with—good ideas with nothing to drive them along. I'll likely finish reading the book tonight, so I'll update before I post.

Update: It's the next day, Tuesday, if you're interested, and I utilized another suffering of load shedding to finish the Keeper Of Enchanted Rooms. It's good, way better than The Paper Magician. I'd give it a solid 7/10. I'm even adding it to my rather long list of books I want to buy, even though I can read them for free on Kindle Unlimited. It's a bit of a steal at $2.86. I'm excited for the 11th of April when Charlie N Holmberg is releasing part 2, Heir of Uncertain Magic (Whimbrel House Book 2) AND I'm even going to give some of her other books another shot.

More to the point, Keeper Of Enchanted Rooms is an excellent example of third-person limited, so if you're looking for books written in that particular POV, this is an excellent option. The POV switches between multiple characters, utilizing page breaks to show when a switch occurs. I only got confused once and only very briefly, so that's very well done.

Six Crows by Leigh Bardugo—Third Person Limited With Shifting POVs

I never finished this book. I loved the start of Shadow and Bone (written in first person POV) but thought it devolved rapidly from there. Six Crows sample was a bore for me, so I figured it would only get worst and didn't want to waste my money. Maybe one day, I'll give it another shot.

Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling—Third Person with SHifting POVs and Head Hopping OR Third Person Omniscient

The world at large claims Harry Potter is written in third person limited, so I included it here for the sake of completeness. HP is either written in Third person Omniscient, or J.K Rowling is head hopper. If you want an example of some seamless POV switches, read Harry Potter. She's so good at it that even while actively looking for examples, it can be easy to fall into the story and miss the POV switches, but they are there.

Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons—Third Person with Shifting POVs and Head Hopping OR Third Person Omniscient

I read this book on cloning recently, and while it began like a simple third-person limited book, there are a few examples of omniscience littered throughout the pages. They are so few and far between that it's difficult pinning the book down, is it written in third person limited with some accidental slips of head hopping, or is it written in omniscient?

Warrior Prime (Ink Mage Legacy) by Victor Gischler—Third Person Limited with Switching POVs

I'm pretty sure Warrior Prime by Victor Gischler is written in third-person limited with switching POVs. I read it on Kindle Unlimited a few weeks ago. I downloaded it again and skimmed through a few chapters to be sure.

The characters make this book, particularly Peyne Erlich, who is the rare humorous character in an action book. The story falls apart for me towards the end, but I don't regret reading it. I was oblivious to the three books that came before it. I might give them a read if I can't find anything else. 4.5/10, meh, maybe if you are bored and can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn—Third person limited with switching POVs

I've read a decent number of Bridgeton series (maybe all of them, I can't remember it was years ago). Julia Quinn might not have a strong grasp on history, but her characters are always interesting and engaging. To the best of my knowledge, most of her books are written in third person limited, often with switching POVs. Her books are a good lesson in characterization and how to write in third person without losing the connection between the reader and the main characters.


bottom of page