There are only 3 POVs written in the grammatical third person:

• Unlimited, formerly called "God POV", where the author tells reader everything s/he has to know, including all thoughts, feelings, motivations, backgrounds, etc of all characters whenever necessary (This is, without a doubt, the easiest POV to use since there are no "limits", hence its name).

• Inner Limited, exactly like 1st person but using grammatical 3rd person, i.e., "limited" to the "inner life" of one character but written in grammatical 3rd person she/he/it/they, rather than in 1st I/we.

James Joyce & Hemingway use Inner Limited almost all the time: the author picks one character and views world from his head but writes in 3rd person rather than in 1st; the author only records what protagonist sees and hears from other characters but none of other characters' thoughts or feelings unless spoken aloud.

The only unspoken thoughts & feelings which are revealed are those of protagonist, just as in 1st person POV (narration), but written in 3rd: "He felt very sad, and he wondered if everyone felt as he did at that moment when they lost something they'd dreamed of." (Here it is again, in 1st person POV: "I felt very sad, and I wondered if everyone felt as I did at that moment when they'd lost something they'd dreamed of").

Inner Limited POV has same limitations as 1st person POV but creates more emotional distance between protagonist (only 1st person POV employs term "narrator" for clarity of usage) and reader than does 1st person POV.

• Outer Limited (Hemingway called this the "fly on the wall POV"): "limited" to the "outer" things in story, only what can be observed, ostensibly objectively. No thoughts, feelings, motivations of ANY characters are revealed. Reader only sees/hears what can be observed/heard.

Without a doubt, Outer Limited is the most difficult POV to successfully maintain for any length of time, but it is just like a movie without any voice-over, so I suspect the reason more authors don't use it is (1) because it's so difficult to maintain successfully as every word can reveal subjectivity and author is supposedly objective and invisible, and (2) because it's difficult to create the emotional connection between readers and characters unless author is extremely skilled at realistic dialogue and convincing character development.

No other POVs are written in the grammatical 3rd person.

In some crime novels, the "good guys" are always presented in Unlimited POV and the "criminal's" thoughts and feelings are revealed in Inner Limited POV (3rd person grammatical masquerading as 1st person POV), apparently for the purposes of allowing readers to maintain emotional distance and objectivity when dealing with criminals' thoughts/feelings toward victims (since 1st person POV might make readers "identify" or empathize with criminal too much, since 1st person POV is the most intimate one).

Because using Unlimited for good guys, and Inner Limited for criminals in crime novels has been considered a separate POV by some critics (who called it "limited omniscience" among other bewildering terms) when used in this manner, i.e., only in crime novels, always with Unlimited POV for good guys, and always with Inner Limited POV for criminals, without variation, I called it "Combo POV" in MASTERING POV to distinguish it from simply using multiple POVs, which is what I would have ordinarily called it had crime novelists not already been being very rigid about its use in these types of books, and had critics not already recognized it as a "separate" type of POV rather than just as a combination of Unlimited (for good guys) and Inner Limited (for bad guys). That's why I called it "Combo POV and defined in these strict terms.
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message 1: by Stowe (new)

Stowe Great instruction, as always. Thanks

message 2: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria You're very welcome, Stowe. Have a delightful holiday.

message 3: by John (new)

John Hoggard Excellent.

I find it difficult to write in anything other than limited 3rd Person. I like to wield the power of omnipotence but be closer to one character in particular (sometimes I don't always know which character when I start!)

I use often use the WordWatchers short story competitions to practice 1st person, and what I learn from those experiences is that it's much harder and I need more practice!

message 4: by Stowe (new)

Stowe When writing in limited 3rd, I try to flip flop between first name and last name - in dialog tag - to bring the reader in or create more distance. Still in first draft so I have yet to see if it works. Thoughts?

message 5: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria Inner Limited or Outer Limited?

message 6: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria John wrote: "Excellent.

I find it difficult to write in anything other than limited 3rd Person. I like to wield the power of omnipotence but be closer to one character in particular (sometimes I don't always k..."

But Inner Limited is 1st person only written in grammatical third person: you give all the thoughts, feelings, motivations of one particular character from whose perspective you're telling story. However, using the grammatical 3rd person creates emotional distance, whereas using 1st person POV creates emotional intimacy.

Omnipotence is only in Unlimited, where you reveal the thoughts, feelings, motivations of all characters equally.

Do you write in Inner Limited or in Unlimited POV, mostly?

message 7: by John (new)

John Hoggard Hi A,

now you've put it like that - I guess I'm a "Inner Limited" kind of guy. For example in Lazarus the whole story is from the POV of our young hero/pilot, we "hear" his own inner musings, but everybody else, including the ship are described via his perceptions and observations of them. Although I'm aware that I switch POV to the POV of the Mysterious DaddyHoggy character at the end. For my writers group, the jury is still out on whether this POV switch (which I tend to do a lot in my writings) is desirable.


message 8: by Alexandria (last edited Mar 14, 2013 02:13AM) (new)

Alexandria There are many writers who successfully write all their books in Inner Limited, such as James Joyce and traditional/Indie Billie Sue Mossiman (she says she feels most comfortable in that POV, as opposed to 1st person POV).

Inner Limited is exactly the same as 1st person POV in that you are limiting your POV to the inner life of one character but doing it using the grammatical 3rd person (he/she/it/they) rather than the grammatical 1st person (I/we). One character is chosen and all his thoughts, perceptions, motivations, feelings are revealed as if we are in his head, but only the external, observable behaviors, actions, dialogue, etc of all other characters is revealed. Only one character's inner life is revealed. The POV is "limited" to one character's "inner" life and written in grammatical 3rd person.

Inner Limited creates more emotional distance between reader and characters than 1st person POV, and some authors are simply more comfortable writing in that POV. There is no better or worse between 1st person and Inner Limited: the POVs are exactly the same except for the grammatical person being used in terms of their limitations (1 character's inner life, all others' external lives only).

The only thing authors need to be aware of is the emotional distance that Inner Limited POV creates. At times, this can be desirable, and it is often used in crime novels to portray serial killers (because the author does not want the audience to share an intimate emotional bond with the character but wishes to reveal the inner workings of his mind, his emotional state, etc), to portray victims of violent crimes (imitating the psychological numbing these victims experience; in effect, imitating the emotional disconnect victims feel by re-creating it between character and audience), to portray characters who are consciously or unconsciously detaching themselves from their situations (Marguerite Duras does this frequently in her famous memoir/novel The Lover, the bulk of which is in 1st person POV. However, when the young girl is actually having sexual relations, for money or gifts, with her older, wealthy, Chinese lover, the POV is switched to Inner Limited. Instead of writing "He touched my breasts" Duras writes "He touched her breasts". Even my students noticed the shift in POV when reading the novel and they were not creative writers and were not familiar with POV: they simply noticed that she often shifted to 3rd person, and asked why. I told them to see if there was anything in common in the scenes where Duras did it: they quickly saw that it was all the sex scenes and the scenes where the young French girl humiliates her lover. Without any further prompting from me, they were then able to see that the girl was ashamed or embarrassed and was "observing herself" as if she were not the one participating in any of that action, hence the shift from 1st person, where the girl spoke using "I", to 3rd person, where the girl discussed her own behavior, actions, and thoughts using "she").

As always, switching POVs should only be done when there is a reason for it, one that the readers should be able to understand emotionally even if unable to articulate it.

That brings me to your final question on the POV shift to the Mysterious Daddy Hoggy character at end of story. What do you mean you switch POV? Do you stay in Inner Limited but switch the character on whom you are focusing? Going from Inner Limited of the hero/pilot to Inner Limited of Daddy Hoggy? If so, that is not switching POV since you are still using Inner Limited: that is merely changing Perspective, from one character to another in the same POV.

Changing Perspective without changing POV is done in all sorts of works, in all sorts of POVs. Dumas' The Three Musketeers always remains in Unlimited POV (written in grammatical 3rd person and revealing all characters' thoughts, feelings, actions, motivations) but switches Perspective each time Dumas reveals a different character's internal life. It is not changing POV.

A work can also use 1st person POV from different characters' Perspectives. For example, my own novel Only with the Heart is comprised of three 1st person narratives, so it is entirely written in 1st person POV, but from three different Perspectives. It is not written in different POVs.

My novel The Kommandant's Mistress has two sections written in 1st person POV (Part 1, the Kommandant; and Part 2, the inmate he forces to be his "mistress" in the camps): same POV but different Perspectives. It is only in Part 3 where the actual POV changes in that novel: There, the fictional biographer presents his version of these two characters' lives and writes in Outer Limited POV, albeit an apparently ambiguous Outer Limited since Outer LImited POV is supposed to be completely objective and not reveal the author's feelings toward his characters: only his observations. Indeed, I do not reveal my own feelings toward the characters in this section, so it is in Outer Limited POV. However, I have created an unnamed, unidentified implied character - the biographer - who, while pretending to be objective and write his two biographies in Outer Limited POV, is actually passing moral judgments on the people he's writing about, condemning the Kommandant, for example, while clearly glossing over any of the "mistress' " less than innocent behavior; showing the Kommandant in a more negative light and the "mistress" in a more positive light.

In short, the fictional/implied biographer is writing a subjective biography of each character even though it is presented in Outer Limited POV. The readers, however, cannot possibly know this unless they have read the first two sections of the novel: that is the only way they can see the moral judgment that the biographer is making, the information he is intentionally or incompetently omitting, etc. - it's very complex, and some readers/reviewers missed it so much that they thought I fictionalized the "true" stories of the two characters presented in Part 3, written in Outer LImited POV, and thought the characters were real people).

I digress for a reason, however: is your own Mysterious Daddy Hoggy in a different POV or merely a different Perspective still written in Inner Limited POV? (I know I read it but cannot recall). If you actually change POV, for example, to Unlimited, then the Mysterious Daddy Hoggy would be representing some God-like character who is aware of the hero/pilot's story. To make something like that successful (you mention the mixed reactions of your critique group), the reader would have to feel he understood what the Daddy Hoggy character was, why he was there, etc. - even if unable to articulate said things - for it to be successful.

Hate to mention my novel again, but I can't think of anything on such short notice to explain a reason for changing POV. In part 3 of KsM, for example, I was stressing the point that NO history or historian is completely, totally objective, no matter how much it appears to be, because all history is filtered through the subconscious prejudices of the historian. Thus, there is no absolute "truth" or history that is true for everyone involved in the story. So, first the Kommandant's story, in 1st person rather than in Inner Limited because I wanted to force the readers to become emotionally attached to someone whom they would otherwise judge and condemn; then the "mistress' " story, also in 1st person POV rather than in Inner Limited because I didn't want her to be a stereotypical "victim" but, rather, a real human being with failings and shortcomings of her own who just happens to be the victim in this scenario; finally, the Outer Limited POV section, which reveals information to the reader that neither narrator has previously provided - either because the narrator is unreliable or because the narrator actually does not know that information - and thus the biographer must be the one who presents it. However, since the biographer is not really being objective, since none can be, and is subtly making moral judgments on the two characters, the reader, after some thought, realizes that neither narrator can be trusted completely as well as that no history book can be completely trusted.

Wow, bet you didn't expect a dissertation, huh? That's what happens when you ask a sophisticated POV question. So, is Daddy Hoggy still in Inner Limited POV, in Unlimited, in Outer Limited? Why is he there (only you can answer that, as author, and then determine which POV is best for your purpose of revealing the reason for his presence to your audience).


message 9: by Stowe (new)

Stowe >> Inner or outer 3rd?

It's the first draft so I might change it but it is inner 3rd.

My follow up is, within a given POV, can you create more or less distance and, if so, how?


message 10: by John (new)

John Hoggard A, thank you for such a thoughtful (and long!) answer.

In Lazarus, I do indeed, now you've explained it, only change perspective. Our hero gets the girl and exits stage left (so to speak) leaving DaddyHoggy to contemplate his reasoning for bringing them together, thus revealing to the reader, for the first time, that he has been manipulating their lives from the very beginning of the story.

In my WIP novel, things are more complicated (deliberately) - it's nearly all Limited Inner, but because the main protagonist often hides from his real world issues inside is online gaming life/avatar I switch (at least in this first draft) to 1st person because I want the unreal game character to feel very real and intimate to the reader, because at these times, he's more real to my main character than he is to himself in the real world.

(I like to give myself a challenge!)

message 11: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria It sounds like you're doing fine then. What does the group think is not working with the Mysterious Daddy Hoggy figure? Since the POV doesn't change, that's not the "problem".

WIP sounds very interesting, indeed. And challenging.

message 12: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria Stowe wrote: ">> Inner or outer 3rd?

It's the first draft so I might change it but it is inner 3rd.

My follow up is, within a given POV, can you create more or less distance and, if so, how?


You've already created emotional distance by using Inner Limited POV instead of 1st person POV or Unlimited POV. Is the character himself feeling the "more or less distance" toward some other character(s)? If so, you could have him sometimes referring to that other character by first name, when protagonist feels closer, and by last name, when protagonist feels more distant.

As long as you're consistent with that, the readers will probably pick up on it emotionally.

The only other way to get more emotional distance is to switch to Outer Limited, but that is the most difficult POV to master, and if you're having problems with Inner Limited, I wouldn't advise you to attempt it unless you want to pull all your hair out. My newest novel is in Outer Limited (not any of my OP novels that are being put out as ebooks) and many is the time I've thought myself not talented enough to do an entire novel in that POV.

To see something written in Outer Limited POV, see Alain Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy or (90% of) In the Labyrinth.

Good luck and let me know if I didn't answer the question to your satisfaction.

message 13: by Stowe (new)

Stowe Thank you Ma'am. That's why you wrote Mastering POV - you're the master!

message 14: by John (new)

John Hoggard Hi A,

WordWatchers don't have an issue with Lazarus per se (in fact they rather enjoyed it), but quite often in our internal short story comps, which are only 2.5K words, I will often have a change of perspective (usually to make a point) and it's often noted that this is perhaps "cheating" given the shortness of the number of the words available and that I couldn't find another way of telling the story...

BTW, listen to the words of this song - it's one of the best ever true POV songs you will ever hear:

message 15: by Stowe (new)

Stowe Alexandria:

Would you agree with the following, "POV does not tell the story like a narrator, he tells he his thoughts?"

Here are two examples for 1st POV:
1 - "The practice of letting fear go was something I had to pick up quickly in Afghanistan."
2 - "Let it go, just let it go."

#2 is more of an internal dialog but conveys the same intent as #1. Would they be interchangeable or are they two separate subjects of study? Which would be better in 1st POV?


message 16: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria They're both 1st person POV. One is the narrator talking more to some other character or audience than to himself, since he already knows where he picked it up.

The second is the narrator talking only to himself, about something he knows.

#2 contains more Urgency and character development, always good things in a work of fiction or film or script, etc.

You have it in quotes, so the character is saying it aloud. Internal dialogue in 1st person POV is not put in quotes. That's how the reader knows when the narrator is talking to himself aloud, in his head, or to someone else.


Oh, as for the quote, I have no idea what it means. Sorry.

message 17: by Stowe (new)

Stowe Yes, helpful - thanks! The quotes were a formatting error, not meant to be dialog. Both were meant to be without quotes.

BTW, I borrow MASTERING POV from the library. It had to be an interlibrary loan requested from a library 270 miles away. Your masterpiece is still running strong and being stolen from libraries.

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Alexandria Constantinova Szeman
Alexandria Constantinova Szeman

Author of several award-winning & critically acclaimed books in all genres, including THE KOMMANDANT'S MISTRESS, and ten others. (formerly writing as "Sherri").
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