Third person POV is the most commonly used point of view perspective, and it also offers the greatest amount of flexibility. From an omniscient, God-like narrator to limited third where the narrator tells the story of one character—there are many ways a writer can go with it. Emerging from close third is now another option: deep third person. This is practically writing in first person but with she/he pronouns. In this POV, there is no distinction between the narrator’s voice and the main character’s. They are one and the same. Read on to find out what deep third person POV is, how to use it, and what some potential pitfalls are.
What is Deep Third Person POV?
Deep third is when you write as the character, going directly into their mind. In this version of limited third, there is no narrator that’s not the character. No, there’s not much difference between this and first person except for the pronoun part. You’ll say “he did or she did” instead of “I did.” You’ll also use the character’s full name (instead of just saying “I” or “me”). The line between limited and deep POV is slim, so let me use an example to demonstrate. Read the following two excerpts and see if you can tell which one is limited and which one is deep.
Olivia glanced over at the guy a few seats down who had chimed in on her rant. White dude, far too attractive, baseball cap, jeans, blue T-shirt, expression on his face like he thought he was hot shit. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Krystal, who was still laughing.
Ivy’s only source of vanity was her eyes. They were pleasingly round, symmetrically situated, cocoa brown in color, with crescent corners dipped in like the ends of a stuffed dumpling.
Okay, which one is which? If you thought deep POV was from the first excerpt, you are right! It’s from Jasmine Guillory’s Party of Two (2020). The second excerpt is limited third, and it’s from Susie Yang’s novel, White Ivy (2020). Let’s talk about the difference between the two and how you can emulate deep third if you decide to choose that POV for your novel.
How to Write Deep Third Person POV
As you probably noticed, the second excerpt is written in a narrator’s voice about Ivy. Would Ivy likely compare her eyes to cocoa or a dumpling? Maybe. You don’t know this character, but no, probably not. That’s not how people talk. There is a distance between Ivy and whoever is explaining what she looks like.
Compare that to the first passage. Take note of how Olivia describes the man she sees at the bar. She refers to him as a “white dude.” She thinks he thinks he’s “hot shit.” This IS how people talk—this is how Olivia talks. Here, there’s not a narrator describing Olivia. There’s almost no line between Olivia and the person telling the story. In fact, the only reason there’s any question about who’s narrating is because of the pronoun “she.”
When you write in deep third, you remove that distance between protagonist and storyteller. Guillory didn’t say “Olivia noticed he was a white dude.” She just goes straight into the description. This is masterful deep third because she shows Olivia’s voice in what she observes and how she explains it. Any time you can include physical sensations, drop in backstory, knowledge, or voice, you’ll be writing great deep POV.
The reason to write deep POV is when you want the reader to really know your main character and empathize with her. There’s an immediacy to the writing too because the events are happening to this person and the reader is getting her real-time reactions. The pitfalls of deep POV are the same as they are for first person—you’re limited. You can only be in one character’s head at a time, and that character can’t know what they don’t know. This might not be the best choice for suspense, for instance, because she won’t know the bad guy is watching her until she’s confronted with it—no suspense there. Depending on your tastes and genre, however, deep third might be the best bet.