Examples of Third Person Writing From Classic Fiction
If you're still a little confused about what the third person writing looks like in fiction, study these classic examples and examine how each author handles point of view.
Examples of Third Person Writing From Classic Fiction
Jane Austen's clear prose provides a perfect sample of the third person. Though Pride and Prejudice are very much Elizabeth Bennet's story, the narrator is not Elizabeth Bennet.
"I" or "we" would only occur within quotations:
When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him."
He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! -- so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"
"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
We can find a more recent example of the third person in Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Again, though it's Yossarian's story, he isn't telling the story to us. Note the dialogue tags (e.g., "he answered" and "Orr said.") In the third person, you'll never see "I said" or "we said."
"What are you doing?" Yossarian asked guardedly when he entered the tent, although he saw at once.
"There's a leak here," Orr said. "I'm trying to fix it."
"Please stop it," said Yossarian. "You're making me nervous."
"When I was a kid," Orr replied, "I used to walk around all day with crab apples in my cheeks. One in each cheek."
Yossarian put aside his musette bag from which he had begun removing his toilet articles and braced himself suspiciously. A minute passed. "Why?" he found himself forced to ask finally.
Orr tittered triumphantly. "Because they're better than horse chestnuts," he answered.
Finally, contrast these with a first-person example from Moby-Dick. In this case, the story is told by Ishmael, and he speaks directly to the reader. Everything is from his perspective: we can only see what he sees and what he tells us. The dialogue tags, of course, vary between "I said," when Ishmael is talking, and "he answered," when the other person speaks.
"Landlord!" said I, "what sort of chap is he -- does he always keep such late hours?" It was now hard upon twelve o'clock.
The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and seemed to be mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension. "No," he answered, "generally he's an early bird -- airley to bed and airley to rise -- yea, he's the bird what catches the worm. -- But to-night he went out a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him so late, unless, may be, he can't sell his head."
"Can't sell his head? -- What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you are telling me?" getting into a towering rage. "Do you pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?"
A trick to ensure that you are consistently using third person narrative in a piece of fiction is to do a complete read-through only paying attention to the point of view.
Points of View in Writing
There are three different points of view that can be used in writing: first person, second person, and third person. In academic writing, the third person point of view is usually clearer and allows a writer to come across as more credible. Due to this and other reasons, the third person point of view is considered the best in academic writing.
First person occurs primarily through the use of the pronoun “I.” This is the point of view used when a writer is writing about himself. There may be times when it is okay to incorporate personal examples into an essay, and if so, the first person will be used. However, it is generally best to avoid referring to yourself, as the writer. Statements like “I believe” or “I think” tend to weaken writing and are better when written in the third person. (example: “The U.S. government needs to pass this law” is better and stronger than “I believe the U.S. government needs to pass this law.”)
Second person involves the use of the pronoun “you” to refer to the reader. There are few times to use the second person in academic writing, as it can alienate the reader. Let’s look at the following example:
- All beginning college students should learn how to write well. Doing so will allow you to do better in school, and you will receive better grades.
Notice the shift that occurred from the first sentence, which is written in the third person, to the second sentence, which is written in the second person. This second sentence alienates readers who are not beginning college students since the information does not pertain to them. However, if the second sentence is written in the third person, even people who are not beginning college students can keep reading and learn from the essay:
- Revised: All beginning college students should learn how to write well. Doing so will allow them to do better in school and receive better grades.
Third Person involves directly stating who is being written about without using the words I, me, we, us, or you. In the example above, the use of both college students and they keeps this writing in the third person.
To clarify, here are examples of sentences written in the various points of view:
First person: I should learn how to write well.
Second person: You should learn how to write well.
Third person: College students should learn how to write well.
As mentioned earlier, most academic essays should be written almost entirely in the third person. The second person should be avoided, and the first person should only be used when using personal examples that help support claims made in the essay. In addition to enhancing credibility, another reason to write primarily in the third person is because frequent changes in point of view can create confusion for the reader.