Putting It All In Perspective | Third Person POV (Omniscient)

Point of View (POV) is defined as the perspective from which a story is being told.

This can be either from the perspective of a character or an outside observer who is relaying the ongoings of the characters to the audience. The POV a writer chooses can depend on a number of factors such as the story’s plot, genre, the age group it is intended for, or the reader’s personal preference.

I ran a poll on my Twitter page asking which POV other writers use in their fiction.

povpoll

Thank you to everyone who participated!

I continued to receive replies in the comments following the end of the poll’s duration, so the actual figures above may not be entirely accurate percentages.

Each style has its own pros and cons, which I will be reviewing in a series of posts throughout the month of February.

I’ve decided to devote two posts to Third-Person POV, as it generally falls into two zones.

This week I’ll be covering the POV I use in my own fiction: Third-Person Omniscient POV.


Third-Person POV is used when a story is being told from an outside source who is most often not a character in the story.

Third-Person POV uses pronouns such as She/He/They and Hers/His/Theirs. For example:

Nathan’s eyes shifted to the television as its image snapped to life on its cracked screen. Static crackled in the silence filling the room.

“This.” Lindsay indicated it with a tilt of the remote in her hand. She tossed it aside and sank into the cushions of the sofa behind him with her arms folding over her chest. “Look closer, you’ll see it.”

He squinted at it.

A distorted figure trudged from the shadows.

“What in the hell?” he muttered.

Third-Person POV Pros and Cons list

Third-Person Omniscient POV follows multiple characters from a distance. In the case of the above example, the story could revolve around both Nathan or Linsday, possibly branching off into closer looks at their individual lives.

A common explanation of Third-Person Omniscient POV is to think of yourself as a godlike figure to your story. You know everything about all of your characters and can look in on them at any point.

This is the POV I use in my own writing. I work with two or more protagonists, each with their own individual storyline connected to the one they share. In my opinion, this creates depth because it lets readers see multiple facets of the same story, which is especially important for the element I refer to as Grey Morality present in Guises to Keep. 

Each POV comes with its own set of Pros and Cons, and Third-Person POV is no different. Let’s recap from last week’s post on Third-Person POV Limited.

PRO #1 |Third-Person POV Can Let Writers Distance Themselves From Their Characters

Since a story written in a Third-Person POV is told from an outside perspective, it lets writers separate themselves from their work. Sometimes, an author may not want to live alongside or as their characters. This doesn’t mean they’re not invested in the story. It just means they want to put some distance between it and themselves. For example, I know of one or two writers who have done this because a character undergoes a traumatic experience but it would be too overwhelming for them to write as if they themselves were going through it.

CON #1 | Third-Person POV Can Feel More Distant To Readers

Unlike First-Person POV, which tells the story through the eyes of a character, and Second-Person POV, in which the reader acts as a character, Third-Person is told about the characters rather than by them.

This can cause the reader to feel distanced from the story because they may not feel as though they are a part of it. Instead, Third-Person POV can sometimes be like watching a television program or film. You, like the narrator, are an outside observer to the events on the page. As such, the reader may not be as able to become as invested in the story.

PRO #2 | Third-Person POV Lets Writers Explore Multiple Writing Styles

In Third-Person POVs, the narrative exists as something of a separate entity to the story, in that it is not coming from a character involved in the events. In a First-Person narrative, the story is being told by a character, so the narration is written as though they were speaking to the reader and telling them about what is or has happened. Using a Third-Person POV is a great option for writers who may not feel as confident in writing dialogue or worry their protagonist’s voice might annoy the reader over time.

CON #2 | Third-Person POV Can Result In Stiff Narration

If you’re like me and feel confident in your ability to write dialogue but find difficulty in writing narrative descriptions (as I mentioned in a previous post), Third-Person POV can be challenging. Unlike First-Person POV, in which the story is being told from the perspective of a character, Third-Person POV is told from an outsider’s perspective as though they are observing the events and relaying them back. I think this comes from the majority of my life being spent in an academic environment, where my assignments consisted of stating facts rather than evoking emotion with the words I was using to do so.

This is not to say Third-Person POV always comes with a stodgy or reserved narrative voice, but it can sometimes be difficult to find a balance or style that works for the story.

Even though I prefer using Third-Person Omniscient POV, I am aware it comes with Pros and Cons of its own.

PRO #1 | Third-Person Omniscient POV Lets Readers See More Facets Of Your Story

Guises to Keep revolves around three protagonists, and its structure relies on the division between the genteel class and the servants of the manor house. One chapter lets the reader touch base with the earl’s grandson while he is speaking with his valet, while the next is set in the stable with the equerry as he tends to the horses. Both occur at the same time, but this way the reader can see both happen.

There are also a couple of chapters where none of my protagonists appear. One features some of the manor house’s servants who are close to two of the main characters, and another focuses on a different protagonist’s sister and aunt. These are both important pieces to the overall story in wrapping up some loose ends and providing some much-needed information about the conflict’s true origins.

Third-Person Omniscient lets me drift as I need to and show the reader what is important at any given moment. If you have a story with an ensemble cast, especially a large one, this might be the point of view that works best.

CON #1 | Third-Person Omniscient May Not Let Readers Get Intimate With Characters

As mentioned above, Third-Person POVs can sometimes create distance between a reader and your characters. In the case of Third-Person Omniscient POV, this can happen more often.

Unlike First-Person POV and Third-Person Limited POV, in which the story sticks with following one character, Third-Person Omniscient POV shifts between two or more protagonists. This shift may sometimes make readers feel as though they are not able to get to know all of the main characters because their time is being divided between them.

PRO #2 | Third-Person Omniscient POV Lets The Writer Cover More Ground

“I’m all about Third Person (Omniscient). I like to dive into the mind of multiple characters in a scene, so the reader can gain perspectives they wouldn’t normally have.” ~ R.T. Cole, Twitter

In my case, Guises to Keep features an ensemble cast ~ and a large one at that! While I don’t go too deep into my characters’ thoughts and let their actions demonstrate how they are feeling, using an objective variation of Third-Person Omniscient POV allows exploration into their individual problems and the choices they make as a result because I can move around and show multiple sides of the conflict.  Readers get familiar with the stakes of everyone involved, leading to what I hope can be an amount of depth and complexity.

Doing my best to avoid spoilers, here is a quick breakdown of several plot points and who knows what by the end of Chapter Thirty-Four.

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No single character in Guises to Keep knows absolutely everything about what is going on, even by the end of the final chapter.

The reader, however, knows everything.

This is what is known as Dramatic Irony, which occurs when a reader is provided significant information before a character. This can create a sense of empathy for the character because the reader can see a glimpse of their fate and/or impending doom, as well as an interest in seeing how everything is going to play out. In Guises to Keep, for example, the reader’s knowledge of JE’s end of the bargain he has with FD might have readers be more sympathetic towards CR trying to get her out of it because she doesn’t know the whole of the situation like does, but it could also make them more understanding of JE because they know what is at stake for him. Dramatic Irony can help build depth in a story and is in my opinion easiest to achieve in Third-Person Omniscient POV.

CON #2 | Third-Person Omniscient POV Can Feel Disjointed

In First-Person and Third-Person Limited POVs, readers stay with one character for the whole story. With Third-Person Omniscient POV, however, they get glimpses into various characters

I would describe this as flipping back and forth between television channels, with each character’s individual plot being a different show. You start off watching something like The Walking Dead until it goes to commercial, at which point you switch over to Downton Abbey, then Friends. While these shows are all great, they are all very different from another, and it can sometimes take a few moments for your mind to switch gears.

The same can happen in Third-Person POV narratives. Alternating between characters means your reader might have to readjust. If one chapter follows the hero on his quest, the next gives a peek into the villain’s lair, and the one after shows the hero’s brother in a dungeon working to free a group of fellow prisoners before shifting back to the forest where the hero is found in the midst of a battle sequence, it can be a little disorienting.

This is not to say you can’t shift focal points between chapters and let multiple characters stand in the spotlight if they aren’t all gathered in the same room. It just means there needs to be a clear break so readers do not feel as if they are being thrown from one scene to the next.

 

And with that, we have come to the end of this series on the pros and cons of various POVs.

Remember, the POV you choose for your story can depend on a number of elements. My advice here is don’t decide on the POV just to conform with industry standards or a specific genre. Like I often say, let the story tell you what it needs.

If there is a writing topic you would like to see covered in a future post, don’t hesitate to let me know!

I’m always available on Twitter and Facebook, so ask away!

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