1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Why third person omniscient isn't common

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Oct 3, 2009.

    It seems like most novels are written from a third person limited perspective. I wonder why third person omniscient isn't popular? Some people say that it's less engaging than following one character at a time. That's understandable. However, in movies, we don't explore any one character's thoughts. Instead, the camera watches over everyone. So, I wonder why it's different with novels?

    Thanks. I'd love to hear what your opinions are.
     
  2. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    I did a lot of research on 3p omni just this morning, and this particular website is the best description I could find, that explained a lot for me.

    http://www.novel-writing-help.com/omniscient-point-of-view.html
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Third person omniscient means the narrator can see everything that is going on in everyone's head. What happens is the writer usually hops from person to person. So, in one paragraph, the reader is given the thoughts of character A, and in the next of character B. This switching back and forth between characters' thoughts can be jarring if not handled correctly. That's why it might be better to use limited POV.
     
  4. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    I think you've already answered it. The biggest thing that we get in books that we do not get in movies is access to the characters' inner thoughts, which is hard to pull off in third person omni. (Not impossible, just more difficult and not as natural as, say, third person limited or first person.) I can't speak for every author, nor say "this is why third person omni isn't as popular as...." but in my own experience I prefer to be closer to my characters, which usually means using third person limited or first person. Some stories can benefit from TPO though, especially if there are a lot of characters to follow and you need to move that imaginary camera around a lot, or if you just want the characters' thoughts to be "veiled" by the more detached viewpoint. :)
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Even movies usually follow selected characters rather than adopting an omniscient perspective. However, books can reveal thoughts more unobtrusively than movies can (voiceover thoughts are generally annoying). Also, exposition is handled very differently in a fully visual medium than in a linear text medium.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You hit it right on the head, Cogito. You cannot compare books and movies because of that fact. I once read a book about writing movies, and it made a very clear distinction. Novels are told with words, movies are told with pictures.
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Have you ever seen a movie where you hear a voice over of more than one character's thoughts? I haven't. I take that back. I have in Japanese Anime. The MC's thoughts were shared, but the MC was really the group.

    It is rare that a movie will give equal screen time to more than one MC.

    Limited third person, can have more than one POV and often does. The points of view are usually switched between chapters or scenes. Ender's Game has a few points of view, some of which don't appear until almost the end of the novel.

    Here's what I think happened. People wrote in omniscient POV. It was a natural way to "tell" stories. Then the first person stories became popular because they are more personal. Writers thought, hey I can give that personal experience while still writing in third person, thus limited third person developed.

    It's more flexable than first person, so it became the norm.
     
  8. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    I think that's the crux of it. ;)
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Actually, first person came first, at least as far as the novel is concerned. Omniscient followed, although there has never (to my knowledge) been a novel with a truly omniscient narrator, simply one that is very mobile and insightful. Limited seems to have developed out of that, though the distinction isn't as strong as you might think. As I said, I'm unconviced that there can be a truly omniscient narrator (quite literally, only God could fulfil this criteria) so there is only limited and less limited. Third person omniscient is not used because, I contend, it does not exist. If it did, it would be able to do anything third person limited can do, as well as extend far beyond limited's limitations. Most authors do seem to extend their narratives beyond the immediacy of the main character's experience; so while the focalisation renders the narrative 'limited', the author is well within their powers to shift the focalisation away (whether it be a millimetre or a millenium), so in that way they are what is popularly called 'omniscient', although the narrative is always limited to itself, therefore I feel all third person narrative is, perhaps by definition, limited.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    There are clear distinctions between omniscient (Dune) and limited (Lightning, Dean Koontz).

    The reason we use these phrases, despite their literal meanings, is to label the differences between how Dune is written and how Lightning is written. They are useful phrases, so we use them.

    I'm not fond of omniscient. Though I love Dune, but I don't give a rats ear about LOTR. I bet I would have loved Dune that much more if it was written in multiple third person.

    Stephen King will often break into omniscient when setting up the scene. I actually like this.
     
  11. MumblingSage
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    MumblingSage Contributing Member

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    I loved 3rd person omni as practiced by writers in the early half on the 20th century--Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Ayn Rand. But for some reason, readers nowadays can't seem to handle 'head-hopping'. I admit you sometimes need to think a little harder to make sense of parts in 3rd omni, but really, the amount of aversion to that style nowadays is irritating to me.
     

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