1. kburns421
    Offline

    kburns421 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2013
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    14

    3rd Person - Between Limited and Omniscient?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by kburns421, Jul 21, 2013.

    There seem to be a lot of third person threads, but I didn't want to hijack someone else's with my specific question.

    Is it strange to have a story written in third person that closely follows the life of the main character, revealing her thoughts and actions (like limited third person) but very occasionally revealing crucial information to the reader that the MC doesn’t know and occasionally revealing thoughts of or information about another character when he is in her presence? The crucial information relates directly to the MC and what she is doing at that point in the story, and the thoughts of or information about the other character would also directly relate to her and what's happening in the story. Other than that, the story is about the MC, not about any other characters, so the story is never going to leave her and start telling what's happening in another character's life while she's not around.

    I know that anything can be done, but would something like this feel too weird or severely impact how close the reader feels to the MC? Does it all just depend on how I do it? The crucial information has to be included, but including the other character's thoughts is debatable. I don't want it to be too omniscient, if that makes any sense.

    If anyone has thoughts about this or just about the range of third person POV that falls between limited and omniscient, they'd be much appreciated!
     
  2. AnonyMouse
    Offline

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2008
    Messages:
    2,227
    Likes Received:
    337
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    What you're describing sounds dangerously close to head-hopping -- third person limited, where the narration haphazardly jumps from one focal point to another, without a scene change. This is usually indicative of a writer who wants the accessibility of an omniscient POV, and the intimacy of a limited POV. It typically doesn't work out well and can be very jarring to the reader. I don't know enough about your specific work to give specific advice, so i apologize in advance if what I'm about to say is too generalized or doesn't apply.

    You have a conflict of needs and wants. It sounds like 3rd person limited is what you want, but 3rd person omniscient is what (you think) you need. You want to stay close to your MC, but you need to find a way to get this info in or the story won't work. My advice: focus on what you want while finding creative ways to fulfill your needs. There are probably other ways to get the crucial information you require. Is it possible to introduce it earlier in the story? Perhaps your MC noticed this important thing a chapter ago, but didn't realize its importance until now.

    Alternatively, you could come right out and say what the MC doesn't know, but this is a tricky technique to master. It really takes me out of the story when I'm reading something that is very 3rd person limited and read, "little did Sue know Bob had a gun under the table." I cry foul the moment I see stuff like that, because there's always a better way to let your readers know the gun is there. Sue may notice the empty box of ammunition poking out of the trashcan, or the slight bulge in Bob's pants, or the way his hand keeps slipping under the table evey time he doesn't like the tone of their conversation. Thrillers and mysteries thrive on this sort of thing, the slow trickle of information. Be clever. Be subtle.

    Lastly, if you really must have an omniscient scene, I recommend inserting it earlier in the story. I write science fiction and fantasy; my characters often visit worlds they know next to nothing about. I usually begin these story arcs with a 3rd person omniscient section, often only 1-2 pages long, about that planet or some intriguingly relevant event that took place there. Infodump? Yes, if done poorly, but if it's interesting and relevant and doesn't totally rip your readers out of the story, there's nothing wrong with this approach.
     
  3. kburns421
    Offline

    kburns421 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2013
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    14
    Thanks, AnonyMouse, what you said about wanting the accessibility of an omniscient POV and the intimacy of a limited POV is perfectly put. I was concerned it might be jarring though, as you said, so I can figure out how to write it so that no one else's thoughts are included.

    The thing is, the premise of this story involves two different dimensions and a portal opening, but I need to explain the reason for the portal opening the first time it happens because it's important to the story for the readers to know even though the characters might never understand the reason. It has to be explained at least once in the beginning. After thinking about what you said though, I can probably use other methods in limited POV to help the reader understand future events pertaining to the portal and the two dimensions.

    On the other hand, what would be the consequences of writing in a focused omniscient POV, for lack of a better word? For example, the narrator knows more than the character, but the story sticks to the events happening wherever she is only (and only thoughts from her are revealed to the reader)?

    It's so frustrating because I've read so many books but can't remember what POV most of them were written in to even think of what works well and what doesn't.
     
  4. odolmen
    Offline

    odolmen Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2012
    Messages:
    34
    Likes Received:
    9
    The only example I can think of right now are the Harry Potter books. If I'm not mistaken, books 1, 4, 6 and 7 open up with a scene from which Harry, otherwise closely followed by the narrator at all times, is absent. The chapter focuses on some outside character whose point of view is used to develop the settings or the plot by introducing elements which Harry will later have to relate to.
    I've never found myself to be sucked out of the story by such a trick. A prologue-type of exposition that circumvents info-dumping and delves into other characters' minds might be an answer to your problem.
    That would work for your portal explanation scene, though not so much when it comes to tidbits of insight about the other characters' thoughts in the middle of a scene.
     
  5. AnonyMouse
    Offline

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2008
    Messages:
    2,227
    Likes Received:
    337
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    @ odolmen
    I agree. That's pretty much what I was getting at in my third example. You could write the portal opening from another character's POV, preferably a character who knows what's going on.

    Or you could write it from an omniscient POV, using what I call a "nature scene." Imagine, for example, the portal is a force of nature and write its approach, arrival, and impact. This allows you to depict its opening without the inherent bias of being in a character's head. And, unlike an infodump, it's still exciting and relevant. When using this technique, the portal becomes your focal character; you're writing what it's doing, instead of writing about some other char observing it.
     
  6. KaTrian
    Online

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    Along the lines of what odolmen said, you could write a separate chapter that contains this crucial information. I wouldn't mess it up with the chapter that's otherwise in 3rd prsn limited. There's some flexibility to it, some say, but I find it a little jarring if the author "slips," reveals information that the pov character wouldn't know. Indeed, a lot comes down to how you execute it, so you might want to write out your vision, then have it reviewed by other readers (and reader-writers). Based on the feedback you get, you can make your decision whether you intentionally head-hop or separate that info to a chapter of its own. Just my two cents.
     
  7. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,821
    Likes Received:
    7,345
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yeah, I think you can use both POVs if you want. Just don't mix them together in the same scene. If you're seeing a scene through the character's eyes, then keep to that. You can't include anything she doesn't know or see in that scene.

    If you need the omniscient point of view, start a new scene. But do be aware, it's more fun for the reader if you let us figure out what the character is like, by residing inside her head for a while. Don't be tempted to step outside and 'tell' us about her, unless you really have to.

    If you do need to step outside, it's always fun if another character does the seeing, and describes your original character and what's happening to her. This is another way to do it. You don't always have to resort to a narrator, or third person omniscient, to get a second opinion about a character across to the reader.

    It's actually easier to do than it sounds! Just write it the way you want, and you can edit for this sort of thing later on.
     
  8. kburns421
    Offline

    kburns421 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2013
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    14
    Ok, I've been thinking about what everyone is saying here.

    Thanks to the advice, I've [tentatively] decided against having any other character's thoughts included. I've realized it would probably just detract from how close the reader feels to the MC and would probably end up as head hopping the way I would want to do it.

    Jannert, I know what you're saying about how it's more fun to get to know the character through showing rather than telling. I'm going to have to keep reminding myself of that as I write. My issue though is still about the portal and two dimensions and the events in the story because there are things I need to convey that the character doesn't know, but I'm not sure they're enough for entire chapters as AnonyMouse and odolmen have suggested (good advice, just not sure it'll work for this particular story). Although, thinking about it now...

    The first chapter has the MC and supporting character as kids. The portal opens for the first time. After that, the story moves forward about ten years. I could make the first chapter omniscient about the kids and the opening of the portal as kind of an intro to the story and then the other chapters as limited following the MC. I'm not sure if that would feel weird though.

    Everyone is making good points about jarring the reader though, so I'm actually considering going with omniscient. I know it creates distance, but I'm worried the story is going to lose something if I'm too limited in what I'm able to write about the events happening. I think writing omniscient but keeping the story so that it follows only her life (never jumping to the life of any other character) might keep it close enough to relate to the character but far enough to give the necessary information.

    As you said, KaTrian, a lot of it is execution. I might have to try writing the first chapter, maybe even writing it first with one POV and again with another, and having someone read them.
     
  9. Jon M
    Offline

    Jon M Member

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2012
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    I-80
    Sounds like it would be better if you just stuck with Third Omniscient and occasionally manipulated the narrative distance so that the story read like Limited. Google psychic distance for more information on how to do this. The concept is very much like how a camera lens works, and that is the way I typically visualize this process. Omniscient is like a wide-angle, and reducing the narrative distance and focusing on one character is like zooming a lens in.

    Omniscient does not always have to be distant.

    Whatever you do, it is probably wise to establish the POV quickly so the reader does not feel like you have "broken the rules" by changing the POV-style later on.
     
  10. Kelson
    Offline

    Kelson Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Indiana
    Hello Kburns,

    First, I am really impressed by all of the great advice everyone has offered. I agree with everything here. What I may have missed (and I am sorry if I have) is the inclusion of voice in your story. I am assuming that your protagonist is the narrator based upon what you have written. Yet there are some really creative ways around your quandary that have worked successfully, "the Interlopers," "Gift of the Magi," and "Lovely Bones," just to name a few. If you are dealing with portals through reality it seems to me that you may very well be unfettered and able to get creative enough to pull off what you are trying.

    I was drawn to your post because I have done precisely that in one of my stories. Have I done it successfully? I don't know but I do know that the few that I really trust to read it were flabbergasted by who the narrator was and how they were omniscient in the end. And surprise endings are always a plus.

    I just want to say that I think that you can pull the story off in the manner that you describe if you stay true to the voice of the narrator though out and have a plausible reason for them being omniscient. Oh it's been done before some may say. Yeah, but not by you or the way, you imagine.

    I would love to see some of it when you're ready to share. You can find all of my stuff free by web searching Kelson's Challenge or Kelson Hargis.

    ~Kelson
     
  11. kburns421
    Offline

    kburns421 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2013
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    14
    Jon- Thanks for the tip about psychic distance. I looked it up and found some really helpful information. What I've read regards it as a spectrum that allows for a little bit of freedom to move around within the spectrum, and that's what I was hoping to do. I'm glad you also mentioned the camera lens. If I'm more conscious about picturing it that way, it might help me because then I'll be less likely to jump from a far "shot" to a close-up and vice versa. Truth be told, I probably would've made the blunder of jumping between close/far too quickly had I not come here and gotten all this advice from everyone. I think that achieving what I want might be possible by using a range of physic distances and being careful to take small steps when shifting distances.

    Kelson- I'm sorry, I'm a little confused :meh: What POV are you referring to that you used in one of your stories? My idea is to have the narrator follow the protagonist in third person.
     
  12. hippocampus
    Offline

    hippocampus Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2012
    Messages:
    136
    Likes Received:
    5
    This is one reason why I've chosen to write in third person limited but with multiple POVs (one for each main character) - rather in the way that George R.R. Martin does. I like being able to get into the heads of more than just my MC and have them not only reveal things I want readers to know, but also hide things from other characters.

    To me, this provides the intimacy I want with the characters which I can't get with omniscient. And I can use other character's POVs to describe things that the omniscient narrator would otherwise have to work into the story.

    My POVs change with the chapters.

    The only problem I've had is trying to maintain a consistent POV voice. I worry about popping into omniscient without realizing I've done so.
     
  13. Richard Tijerina
    Offline

    Richard Tijerina Member

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2013
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Helena, Montana, United States
    I like Orson Scott Card's "Characters & Viewpoints" take on this. I recommend you read it. I think everyone has issues with this, but that book helps clarify a good many things
     

Share This Page