The Meaning, Examples, and Various Styles of Third-person Narrative

Meaning and Examples of Third-person Narrative
Usually a story, either in a novel, play, or movie, is narrated to the readers by an unknown person. That person can be the hero of the story, another character from the story, or a third-person altogether. Penlighten provides third-person narration examples to help you understand this type of narration.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
What is Narration?
Merriam Webster defines narration as the act or process of telling a story or describing what happens.
The first novel in the Harry Potter series―Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone opens with "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense." J. K. Rowling, the author of the book, introduces a peculiar couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, to her readers. We get the feeling that she knows them very well as she can tell so much about them. The story continues as Rowling gives us more information about their work, their son, and their secret.

However, according to Rowling, the real story begins on a particular day. She describes events of a particular "gray Tuesday." This makes us wonder if she herself is present in the story as she knows so many fine details of everything. As the story progresses, it is clear that Rowling knows everyone and everything that happens in the book, but she is not involved in the story. She observes everything from Harry Potter's journey to Hogwarts, his friendship with Ron and Hermione, and his battle against Lord Voldemort. Then, she narrates those incidents to us. This is called third-person narrative.
Third-person Narrative Definition
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines third-person narrative as "a writing style that uses a set of words or forms (such as pronouns or verb forms) that refer to people or things that the speaker or writer is not addressing directly."
The writer simply describes characters and events to the readers. He/she is usually not involved in the story itself, but is a mere observer. However, the style of third-person narration can vary based on what the author wants to highlight in the story.
Third-person Limited Narrative
This is a form of storytelling in which the narrator has limited himself to a single character, usually the protagonist of the story. The narrator conveys thoughts, feelings, and actions of only one character in detail to the readers. It is sometimes called "over the shoulder" perspective where the narrator knows only the things perceived by a character. In this form of narration, the readers can know one character in depth; however, he/she may not be aware of the thoughts and feelings of other characters.

For example, the Harry Potter series is told in the third-person limited narrative where the author limits herself to the protagonist, Harry Potter, from the series. Another example of the same type can be The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
Third-person Omniscient Narrative
The narration of the Harry Potter series sometimes deviates to the third-person omniscient narrative as well. From time to time, the narration shifts to other characters in the series and narrates their thoughts and feelings. Third-person omniscient narrative means a narration where the narrator is aware of everything in the story right from the time, places, incidents, all the characters, and their feelings. In short, the readers are treated with information about what everyone thinks and feels with such a kind of narrative.

For example, Middlemarch by George Eliot and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.
With the objectiveness of the narration, it can be divided into two types:
Third-person Subjective Narrative
In this type of narration, the narration describes thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc., of characters in the story. If the narrator sticks to describing thoughts of only one character, then it can be termed as third-person limited narrative. However, if the narrator conveys thoughts of more than one characters, it can be taken as third-person omniscient narrative as well.

For example, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
Third-person Objective Narrative
Opposite of the subjective narrative, third-person objective narrative does not delve on the thoughts and feelings of characters, but it is very an objective or unbiased point of view of the narrator. This type of narrative only records the actions of charters and does not interpret those actions.

For example, Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It seems quite interesting as well as challenging to write a story using the third-person narrative style. You must keep in mind a few things before using this style in your story.
Third-person Pointers
◆ First, decide if your story demands the third-person narrative or not.

◆ Decide in which style of third-person you will narrate your story to the readers. Choose from either limited, omniscient, subjective, or objective style of narration.

◆ As you will be writing in the third-person perspective, avoid using "I" in the story.

◆ Refer to characters as "he", "she", "it", or "they".

◆ Do not provide any information about you, the narrator. It is only needed if you, the narrator, is also a character in the story.

◆ Imagine and convey the events of the story as if you have witnessed them.

◆ As you will be an intermediary between the readers and the story, you can describe the events and characters in great detail.

◆ Follow the character's point of view, especially in the limited narrative. For example, as a writer, you know that a character cheated on another character. However, the second character is unaware of that. Then, do not reveal the information to the readers through the second character as there is no way that character knows the truth.
◆ The author is vested with a lot of flexibility while making decisions regarding how the story spans out.

◆ As you are not the part of the story, readers will not judge you―the narrator.
◆ In the third-person, if the narrator does not give information regarding the time and place, following the story-line becomes difficult.

◆ Using pronouns like "he" and "she" can be difficult while assigning them to every character in the story.
Like Charlotte Mason, a British educator, once said, "Narrating is not the work of a parrot, but absorbing into oneself the beautiful thought from the book, making it one's own and giving it forth again with just that little touch that comes from one's own mind." True that! We hope we have aided you in being able to pen down fascinating stories in third-person narrative.