[Prompt] – May 22 – Third Person Limited

This week’s prompts are all about point of view and narrative voice.

Write a story from the third person limited POV.

“Third Person, Limited” means that, unlike yesterday, your narrator never says “I did this”, rather you talk about “he went to the door”, “He opened it.”

The ‘Limited” part means that all the judgements and assumptions, all internal thoughts are limited to those of the character through whom you are telling the story. No popping out of Dave’s head to jump across the room and tell us what Mandy is thinking as she looks at him. The only thing we’re privy to is what Dave thinks Mandy might be thinking about him.

Within this framework you can still play with the form: your limited persona can be like Nick Carraway, reporting on Jay Gatsby’s life, rather than telling us about his own adventures. You can give your limited persona the ride of her life through a whitewater canyon and let us see it all from her perspective.

Third person limited is great for short stories, because it lets us – the readers – identify with one character, and ground the story somewhere. You don’t have much space in a short story and the last thing you want is to confuse your readers (unless, of course, the whole point of your story is to confuse your readers!). Letting them get to know a character by showing their reactions to events, puts you half way to rooting for (or against) the protagonist.



One thought on “[Prompt] – May 22 – Third Person Limited”

  1. I couldn’t resist continuing yesterday’s story from Betty Sue’s perspective.


    Betty Sue put on her sun hat and opened the door to go out to weed her flower garden. The phone rang.
    “Betty Sue, come on over and have coffee with me.” It was a call from her neighbor, Zelda Mae.
    “I’m sorry, Zelda Mae, but I was just going out to weed my flower bed. The garden club’s meeting here next Tuesday, you know, and I have to get it weeded or I’ll be shamed out of the club. Some other time.”
    Betty Sue hung up the phone with a sigh. I just don’t know what to do about Zelda Mae, she thought. She’s very lonely, I know, but I swan, I don’t know how much more of her knit pickin’ of other women I can stand. She needs something useful to do. Maybe Fr. Joe could help me figure it out.
    Betty Sue spent the morning weeding her flower bed and wracking her brain for some way to help Zelda Mae without getting sucked into her awful compaining. She came inside, showered and fixed herself a tuna sandwich and a glass of sweet tea. After lunch, she looked at her Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and rested.
    After she had rested, she called the church and asked for an appointment with Fr. Joe. He sent word that she could come on over.
    As Betty Sue walked to the church, she was struck again with its majesty. The weathered stone tower shone in the sunshine. The bells, though they were quiet now, reminded her of all the solemn services she had attended there: High Mass on Christmas and Easter, Daphne’s wedding last Fall, and her own father’s and mother’s funerals, sad but still comforting. The stained glass window over the door was one of her favorites, the descending dove. The Holy Spirit was alive and well in this place. She opened the door to the office wing and walked in.
    “Hi Betty Sue. I’m glad you could come,” said Fr. Joe. “What can I do for you?”
    They walked into his office. “It’s Zelda Mae. “I just don’t know what to do about her. She wants me to have coffee with her nearly every day, but I can hardly stand to listen to her run down all my friends. She criticizes everyone.”
    “Ah yes, I’ve had a little experience with that myself,” said Fr. Joe.
    “I know she is lonely, but I don’t know how to help her,” said Betty Sue.
    “Do you know if she has any hobbies or other special interests?”
    “No. I know she misses her mother a lot. She died last year, you remember. I’ve thought about taking her with me to the Rest Home when I go to visit my Aunt Jordan. But I don’t want Aunt Jordan bear the brunt of all her complaints. Aunt Jordan would have no place to go if Zelda Mae decided to visit her regularly.”
    “You know, your Aunt Jordan is a soft spoken woman, but I think she would deflect Zelda Mae’s complaints quite easily. Jordan is a strong woman, and one who, in my experience, does not suffer fools easily. I was speaking with Mrs. Thomas, the administrator at the Home, just the other day. They need volunteers to brighten the days for many of the folks whose children live far away.”
    “Maybe that is the tact I should take. Zelda Mae knows I visit there regularly. Why don’t I take her with me the next time I go. We could both meet with Mrs. Thomas and let her tell us the needs. But I think I should discuss the situation with Mrs. Thomas first. Zelda Mae might make things worse.”
    “That is probably a good idea, but speak gently about Zelda Mae. I think she has been too much alone these past few months. I don’t remember her being so critical before her mother died.”
    Betty Sue made and appointment to speak with Mrs. Thomas and told her a little about Zelda Mae. Mrs. Thomas said she would be happy to meet her.
    “I have guidelines for non-relatives who want to visit here. The guidelines include not complaining about their lives. The people here have too many problems of their own to listen to complaints of others. Of course, I can’t control what their children say to them, but I have certainly had to do a lot of comforting after some children leave.”
    Betty Sue called Zelda Mae the next day.
    “Zelda Mae, I’m going over the Rest Home tomorrow to visit my Aunt Jordan. I am going to meet with the administrator, Mrs. Thomas, too. I understand they need some volunteers over there. Would you like to go with me? After we visit, we could go to lunch at that cute little Tea Room that just opened.”
    “I’d love to go with you. I forgot you had an Aunt there. What time do you plan to go?”
    “How about 10:30?”
    “That will be fine. Are we walking”
    “I thought we might. The mornings are still cool. I’ll drop by your house at 10:30.”
    “OK. See you then.”
    The two women met with Mrs. Thomas, who explained that they needed people to spend time with the residents, especially those whose children could not visit. Mrs. Thomas asked if either of them did handwork or played cards. Both replied in the affirmative.
    “That is wonderful,” said Mrs. Thomas. “We have ladies who like to knit and crochet, but they can’t get out to buy yarn for their projects. If either of you could shop for yarn for them, that would be wonderful. And I am trying to get card games going on a regular basis. Many of the ladies and men, too, play Bridge and several play Canasta and Rummy. I think it would make their days a lot more enjoyable if they could do it on a regular basis.”
    Betty Sue said she would love to shop for yarn, and Zelda Mae volunteered to get card games organized. When they went to visit Aunt Jordan, Zelda Mae was so enthusiastic about getting card games organized, that she didn’t complain about a single person. Betty Sue told Aunt Jordan, also, about her willingness to shop for yarn. Aunt Jordan agreed to talk with her friends about the new activities and everyone had a good visit. Aunt Jordan was feeling well enough to go to lunch with the two “girls,” as she called them. The new Tea Room was a big hit.
    Not over night, but gradually, Zelda Mae began telling loving stories about her friends at the Rest Home, and stopped complaining about everyone else. As, the other ladies in the town began to feel more comfortable around Zelda Mae, they began inviting her over for coffee and cards. Zelda Mae gradually became the happier person she had been when her mother was alive. Miracles still happen.

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