This post will be about how Third Person Unlimited Perspective can be used in a scene. As I explained in the basics to perspectives post, I will be using an example of a character called ‘The Debt Collector’, who I have been creating recently, arriving in a town via a carriage.
I have already done this for the first person and third person restricted perspectives, which I recommend you check out. However, unlike with the other third person, I’m not making a comparison with the first person, nor am I referring back to the other third person either. In this post I’ll approach the scene twice and show you how you can end up accidentally writing this perspective badly and how you can improve upon it.
The footman opened the door to the carriage anxiously; he was wary of the Debt Collector. She just sighed on seeing that they had arrived; she was uncomfortable in the bulky dress she had been told to wear and didn’t really want to move. The footman grew more nervous on potentially having disturbed The Debt Collector when he heard the sigh.
She looked calm though as she was as she took his hand and stepped from the carriage straight into the mud. She didn’t mind, but the footman tensed. There hadn’t been any proper roads for them to stop and the mud was everywhere. The Debt Collector knew this full well and that the mud was unavoidable. The calm composure she maintained did little comfort her footman though; if anything her lack of reaction just made him all the more afraid of her.
As you can see from the unlimited perspective you can read about the reactions of both characters and this comes from the all seeing and knowing perspective of the writer not restricting themselves to one character.
In my previous versions of this scene in the first and third person restricted, you knew that the Debt Collector had sensed that the footman was apprehensive about her having to drag her skirts through the mud. In the first person perspective I wrote from the footman’s viewpoint, I conveyed that he was aware that he was annoyed and was worried about irritating her further. You can get all of this from the unlimited third person perspective which allows you more insight into both of the characters reaction to leaving the carriage.
However conveying the detail of two characters perspectives does require more in terms of word count and the switching between the two characters can also be a bit fumbled. Within the first paragraph you are quickly getting the two characters perspectives on the ‘sigh’. I will admit that if I was reading a paragraph like that in a published work I wouldn’t be impressed. I would be even less impressed with the second paragraph where the perspective jumps within the same sentences and in some sentences the character’s perspectives isn’t even all that clear.
I would love to admit that I’d written the paragraphs to be that fumbled on purpose to show you how it could go wrong, but I didn’t, that is genuinely the first draft I wrote of the same scene using the unlimited third person perspective. It is not a perspective that I ever write in normally so I don’t have much practice in using it. Looking at it again I do need to tidy it up quite a bit.
The footman opened the door to the carriage anxiously; he was wary of the Debt Collector and didn’t really want to disturb her. She had been a bit irritated since this morning and neither he nor the driver had been sure what they had done to annoy her. They had looked desperately for a proper, unmuddied road to stop, but here in the town on the edge of the world there was only mud tracks.
The Debt Collector sighed when she noticed they had stopped; she was really uncomfortable in the dress she had been told to wear for this visit and didn’t really want to move. She saw the footman was anxious but she kept herself composed and took his hand to descend from the carriage. The heavy brocade skirts of her dress hit the mud and she felt the footman tense, wary of her reaction. She didn’t mind though; she hated the dress and she knew there would only be mud roads here. She wasn’t about to reassure him though; her reputation was the only thing that was likely to keep any of them safe.
Comparing the re-write to the original you can see that the two paragraphs convey only one character’s in each paragraph. You will however notice that I have had to add extra details to help explain the situation and emotional reactions.
For example in the first paragraph you hear of the driver as well, who with the footman was wary of their passenger who was annoyed, but it isn’t until the second paragraph that the reader learns it is because of the dress she had obviously put on that morning.
From the Debt Collector’s perspective you learn that she is aware of their reactions to her, but that her position in the wider world and in relation to them means that she can’t reassure them about the dress she hates. It isn’t a connection she is able to make with them; she knows they fear her and she needs to maintain that. You can even see from the first paragraph the footman’s assumption that it is something that they think they have done and try not to further aggravate because of the mud.
When done well (and I will admit it can be done a lot better than my attempts) the unlimited viewpoint offer the writer a lot of opportunity to convey a great deal more detail to the audience, you just have to be mindful of how you go about doing it and to not fumble your viewpoints as badly I as in in the original scene I wrote for this exercise.