What Third Person Limited Taught Me

I’ve written quite a few stories in the third-person limited perspective. My first novel, The Sunlight Plane, was in TPL. Since then I’ve moved on to fantasy as a genre, and explored the third person omniscient, and TPL with multiple points of view in one novel. I’ve been working on a new book since 2016. I’ve written and rewritten it so many times, in so many different ways, that I feel I’ve explored every potential avenue the story could take. It’s a complex story, one I’ve always struggled to tell. It’s a forbidden fantasy love story with elements of imperialism, racism, and alcoholism, which, I thought, needed multiple POVs (points of view) and a whole lot of complicated plotting to tell properly.

But I was wrong. This year, for the first time, I was able to draft the story from beginning to end, without any significant setbacks. I used the TPL and told the story only from one character’s perspective.

I wanted to talk about how the experience deepened my understanding of storytelling and the interesting authorial choices it forced me to make.

Enriching Your Relationship With One Character

I always struggled with depicting one of my characters in the novel. I could never get the complexities of her personality down right. She has insecurities, as we all do, but I could never depict them correctly, always making her either too confident or too vulnerable. I was never able to give her arc the justice it deserved.

This time, I wrote the story entirely from her perspective. She was my third-person limited narrator, and I experienced the world of the story through her eyes. This helped me deepen my relationship with this character. It gave me a more profound understanding of how she works. I always say that characters are individuals–people in their own right. Having spent so much time with her during this draft, I was able to pin down her personality better, and finally, tell her story the way I always meant for it to be told. With respect, care, and sensitivity.

The Devil Is In The Details

Because I had decided to tell the story from only her perspective, I had to work harder to bring out certain details in the other characters. My MC had to notice things she didn’t need to in previous drafts, because only through her, would the reader be drawn into the other characters. Through the MC’s eyes, we get hints of the other characters’ inner lives and struggles. The small things they say and do could suggest deeper motivations. Inadvertently, I had created a mystery around my other characters. Who were they? What drove them? Because my MC didn’t know, my readers wouldn’t know, and that drew them into the story, as intrigue always does.

Kill Your Darlings

The TPL comes with some sacrifices. This story is a love story, and I’d initially been following the perspectives of both characters in the plot. Since my MC was now the only perspective the reader got to encounter, I had to make some difficult decisions to sacrifice key scenes in the Love Interest’s journey. Scenes that the MC couldn’t be there for, and would only hear about later.

I realised this is what the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” means. Not that you should kill off your favourite characters for no reason, but that if the moment calls for it, you need to be able to let certain things go. I was very fond of the scenes I was sacrificing, but I knew that if I kept them, only for my sake, then I would be doing the narrative a disservice, and it would have a major negative impact on the plot and tone of the story.

By sacrificing those scenes, I made the right decision for the overall novel.

I never knew I could use the TPL to tell such a complex plot. I don’t think it’s the right choice for every writer and every story, but it was the right choice for me this time. The experience taught me a lot as the TPL inexplicably made my draft tighter, improved the pacing, and fixed a lot of major issues that kept cropping up before. While I’ll definitely experiment with other voices in the future, for now, I’m happy with the decisions I made.

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