Objective POV

By Xoic · May 5, 2022 · Updated May 6, 2022 ·
In which I break down that little-known POV called objective, so similar to omniscient and yet so very different.
  1. I've written about this several times out on the board, but I thought it was time to copy/paste it in here and add it to my POV series for easy finding. So here it is:

    Objective is a (seemingly forgotten but very popular not long ago) POV that's sort of like omniscient, only you don't need to present inner thoughts or feelings or keep switching into different characters' heads. Often when people ask about writing in omniscient what they're really looking for is objective, but they aren't aware of it.

    It's also called the fly-on-the-wall perspective, because it can be anywhere, even in a sealed tomb, and there doesn't need to be an eyewitness character (as there does in limited). It's motivated by what the reader needs to know. 40 or 50 years ago it was extremely common—doubtless the most popular POV for detective stories and mysteries, for instance a scene where you want the readers to witness something no character could see.

    I've been able to find precious little about objective on the internet—knowledge of it seems to have disappeared into the vaults of history. But I think it's extremely good to know about and deserves to be resurrected. It actually does get used a lot (because it's kind of hard to write without it in certain situations), but people mistakenly call it omniscient. It's sort of like one aspect of omniscient, but without the difficult parts (the all-knowing narration and the need to keep switching POV constantly).

    Objective POV links:
    It's great to know about objective, especially when you need to show something nobody in the story could see, and you don't want to write the whole thing in omniscient. Remember how I said you can shift into different POVs when needed, back in the Switching between close and distant third entry? And that it's common to start a scene in an external pov, similar to what would be called an establishing shot in a movie, showing the whole landscape before 'zooming in' to your close limited pov? Well, in the same way you can cut to an objective scene when needed, whatever your main pov might be. Even if you're writing in close third, if you need the readers to 'see' something in a sealed room or halfway around the planet or whatever, just switch into objective for that scene.

    I haven't thought deeply into it, but I believe the same rules apply as with any other form of switching pov—it's best to either do it at a chapter break or a big scene break, maybe with a * * * or a line to show this is a harder break than usual, or else use a transition and do it right in the middle of the scene.

    Something like this:

    Jake stared in bewildered astonishment at the three of them, unable to process what they had just told him, while unknown to any of them, just beyond the outskirts of town in a small nearly unknown lake with no name, something rose to the surface.
    Damn, look at that! I just did it inside a single sentence! I wasn't planning on that, but as I worked it became clear I could do it that way. Note I used a pretty strong transition, by saying While unknown to any of them/just beyond the outskirts of town/in a small nearly unknown lake with no name. That's a three-stage transition. Unknown to any of them begins to set it up—there's mysterious info incoming. Beyond the outskirts of town—it's far away, whatever it is. In a small nearly unknown lake—we're zooming in closer to it now.

    Keep in mind, there'll always be people who tell you you can't do that, and they'll throw dogmatic rules in your face. They'll say objective isn't a real pov because they've never heard of it, or that when you're in limited third you can't use anything else. Don't listen to them, unless of course it's your editor or your publisher. In that case listen.

    Actually, you know what? I can't say I know for a fact it's ok to switch in a single sentence like that. That part is my own conjecture, though I do know objective is a real pov and that you can transition between POVs. Whether it's ok to do it in a single sentence is up for grabs, though it seems fine to me. But then I like to be fairly adventurous.
    Not the Territory likes this.


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice