Friday, September 21, 2012

Point of View 2

Point of View: Limited Omniscience

So omniscient point of view is a third-person narration (He said, she said, he did, she did) that can tell us at any moment what any character thinks or feels.  It was once very popular, but is less so today.

Drawbacks include the fact that it can be confusing; that it can be infuriating (if the reader can know everything but the writer prevents the reader from doing that...); and that it sometimes hamstrings a writer who needs to hold back information for suspense but who can't conscientiously do that if we know what everyone's thinking.

And so someone invented "limited omniscient third-person point of view." Just rolls off the old tongue, doesn't it?

Basically, this means that the writer limits the narrative to what just one person is thinking or feeling at a time. Write a short scene in first person. Then go back and change all the I's to he or she. You now have a third-person limited scene.

Or think of the narrator as an invisible elf who rides around on ONE character's shoulder and who can peer inside that character to learn how the character thinks and feels about the situation. My gut feeling is that third-person limited narration is the most popular today among readers, but I have nothing to back that up.

What you gain: You have some of the immediacy of first-person narrative, but without the egotistical "I, I, I" effect. Readers can more readily identify with the one character whose inner life they share. You avoid the confusion of grasshopper omniscience, leaping from head to head in a confusing way.

There are limitations, of course. If you stick to one viewpoint character for an entire book, you have to limit the reader to what that character experiences. Unless . . . 

Tame that grasshopper. Let your narrator make the leap to another person for stretches of the book. But time the leaps. Change viewpoint character at the end of a chapter, or the end of a scene.

And as you're doing that, go back and read what I wrote about creating characters with individual voices. This limited omniscience can work well to round out a number of characters in your saga.

Provided they don't all sound and think the same.

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