Sometimes writers structure their book so that the third-person limited point of view alternates from scene to scene between major characters in a book. However, within each scene, only one of those characters’ point of view is used. This literary device is known as third-person multiple or third-person rotating limited.
I used this technique in my novel Windmill. Each scene switches to the perspective of one of the four main characters. Their stories overlap to form the larger novel, with each character akin to a windmill’s turning blades, metal slivers catching the glint of the sun (The sun is a symbol in the book for “truth.”) in a slightly different way. Each character symbolized a unique approach to the story’s central problem, so seeing how they incrementally dealt with obstacles arising in the plot aided in the examination of the book’s theme.
Such a storytelling technique offers several advantages:
• Can get inside more than one character’s head – A story told solely in first-person, second-person, and third-person limited points of view can only be told from one character’s perspective. As with third-person omniscient, a rotating point of view allows the writer to tell the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters; unlike third-person omniscient, however, rotating the third-person limited perspective allows the writer to hyperfocus on each character.
• Lacks omniscient point of view’s disadvantage of being dispassionate – Third-person limited allows writers to tell a story from a more personal perspective, allowing the reader to better connect with the character; rotating allows for this connection to exist between the reader and multiple characters. In addition, since each of the main characters’ motivations will be better understood, some behaviors by characters won’t appear inexplicable (Why do villains do some of the dumb things they do in stories, after all?), which always is a potential pitfall of an omniscient narrative.
• Maintains a consistent narrative voice for each character – When using an omniscient viewpoint, many novice writers try to make the narrative’s tone imitate the character’s personality. Called the imitative fallacy, this results in a disjointed voice or rhythm to the narration. Focusing on the perspective of a single character in a scene, however, usually eliminates this problem. A rotating point of view allows each of the major character’s personalities to come out in a way that reads smoothly.
Writers who choose this approach must make sure they balance the amount of words given to each character whose perspective takes center stage in a scene or chapter. Telling the bulk of the book in third-person limited with one viewpoint character then switching in Chapter 12 of 15 to another viewpoint character will feel uneven and gimmicky. A good approach often used among today’s romance and erotic romance writers is to switch the viewpoint character every one or two chapters between one main character (such as the female protagonist) and then the other main character (such as the male love interest).
Of course, multiple viewpoints need not be restricted to third person limited. Many authors have experimented with using the multiple approach in first person major so that the book has two or three protagonists.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.