1. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Contributor Contributor

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    3rd person limited vs omniscient...pros and cons

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Stormsong07, Aug 21, 2017.

    So, I've been writing in 3rd person limited but I'm toying with the idea of switching to omniscient so that I can add a few scenes from other characters POV. Not a lot of scenes, just a few here and there to mix things up and give a greater depth to the story, see the plot from more than my MC's angle.
    Thoughts? Give me some pros and cons of limited and omniscient. Which do you prefer?
     
  2. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I'm far from expert using either because I'm writing in close 3rd, but I've critiqued a few works in omni/3rd limited (though probably not very well, but that's beside the point :rolleyes:).

    From my POV, omniscent is prone to be seen as headhopping if you aren't very careful, and 3rd limited gives me a knee jerk every time because I wish the narrative distance would be closer. Take your pick.
     
  3. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Contributor Contributor

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    How would you define the difference between "close 3rd" and "3rd limited"? Just curious. I might be doing close 3rd and not realizing.
     
  4. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    • Close 3rd is close in narrative distance. You tell only what the POV character sees/hears/feels. He/she is the focal point from which you tell the story. That means words like 'now' or 'over there' or 'this side' are referring from your POV character to a place in time/space.
    • Limited 3rd is, well farther away in narrative distance. The reader is more of an observer. Inner thoughts of a POV character can be told, but they are more a benchmark of close 3rd than of limited 3rd. For me it's difficult to make a clear distinction between close and limited—and that's the reason I reflexively want to slip into close.
     
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  5. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Contributor Contributor

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    OK, so I am writing in close. Well, close-ish? I'd have to re-read the whole thing to be sure, but in recent descriptions of a new environment, I've been saying "to the left" or "to the right" meaning to my MC's left/right, so it seems to fit. The only time I've even written anything that hasn't happened within my MC sight/sound was when I wrote a conversation that was happening next to her while she was semi-conscious. So her perception of it was vague, but I wrote it clearly for the reader. I think other than that it's been close 3rd. So should I bother adding any other POV scenes?
     
  6. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I can't tell you want to do, but I'd be careful playing around with different narrative distances within the same POV. I'm not saying that it can't be done, only that it'd be hard. I'd advice to stick to one narrative distance for one specific POV. If you have more than one POV you can try how it feels to write the second POV in another narrative distance.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    You don't have to go omniscient; you can just switch POV characters while remaining in third person limited/close third person.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Hmm. This is not how I define it. To me, close third person is a form of third person limited, just as chardonnay is a form of white wine.
     
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  9. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    We can agree that both are third person ;)

    But I'd love to hear your definition. Common, give!
     
  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    What I think, though I'm totally fine with being pointed at sources to prove I'm wrong:

    Third person: Grammatical third person. Beneath it are third person limited, third person omniscient, all the third persons.

    Third person omniscient: The narrator knows all and tells what it pleases.

    Third person limited: The narrator only knows what one character knows.

    Distant third person limited: We mostly get what that person sees, hears, feels, and dry facts that they know, but we don't get a lot of their emotions and thoughts and goals and squishy feelings.

    Close third person limited: We also get the squishy stuff.​
     
  11. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I just looked at sources, and it seems like there's no consensus on if close should be named close-limited (e.g. https://terencecantarella.com/2008/03/02/third-person-confusion/)

    For me it makes sense to think of close and limited as two different forms of 3rd, rather than close being a qualifier on limited, because 'limited' itself is a qualifier on 3rd. To place a qualifier with 3rd (like limited), it would mean that 3rd can have another qualifier, different from limited (aka close).

    ETA: The qualifier 'omniscence' to 3rd doesn't make sense to me, because with 'omniscence' we are not in the head of a specific character but the narrator is a different viewpoint altogether, not one of the POV characters.

    But I don't insist on my interpretation, it's just the one that makes the most sense to me.
     
  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Except for the 'aka close', that's exactly what I'm saying.

    Third limited is a modifier on third.
    Third limited close is a modifier on third limited.
    Third limited distant is a modifier on third limited.

    Third
    -- Third limited
    ---- Third limited close
    ---- Third limited distant.
     
  13. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I don't want to split sematics forever < and I'm not great in discussion ;) > but if there is one qualifier it makes sense to have a second one. I think the important part for the thread starter is the difference in narrative distance, regardless of what it is called.

    - Omniscence
    - Third
    -- Third limited (aka distant)
    -- Third close
    - Second
    - First
     
  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you for that clear, concise definition. I don't know if it's 'correct' in the "we can't argue with it" sense, but that describes perfectly what I do. I deliberately use Limited Third for one of my two main characters, because I want this slight distance between us and him. He isn't telling everything he knows, although we're seeing certain portions of the story through his eyes. My other main character is written in Close Third, because she IS telling everything she knows. I want the reader to identify with her, and I want the reader to understand how she feels about the other character. However, the reader also knows things about him that she doesn't, and he's still hiding a few things from the reader as well.

    It's a tricky dance, and it's given me a bit of bother, because the Limited Third character is more difficult to empathise with. His motivations for what he does aren't totally clear (even to himself, which is one of the reasons I'm giving him this distance) and I'm having to tweak the story in places so the readers don't get the wrong idea about him. I know exactly what's going on, but telling it has been more difficult that I originally expected. How much to give away? And when? I'm still trying to get that absolutely right.
     
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  15. A.S.Ford

    A.S.Ford Active Member

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    In my experience, if third person omniscient is done well then it works (and if it isn't done well then it can cause confusion and headaches). I am currently writing in third person limited for my novel (which a part of is being used for my masters dissertation) and have received comments/suggested improvements to make my use of it stronger as sometimes third person limited can become quite restricting from the reader's point of view since they then don't get to experience the world from any other character's viewpoint but I was told that this could be fixed through incorporating more observations and internal monologue from my main character, as well as more description and information about the world around them. So, I think really, both can be used as good and interesting ways to tell a story just as long as they are done well and you remain attentive to how the reader would receive your work using either third person omniscient or third person limited. The best way to do that would be to find a reader you can trust to be honest with you, get them to read it, and then ask them for their opinion on the perspective. That way you will know if it is working or not from a reader's point of view. I hope this helps you :)
     
  16. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Omniscient is still third person. If you're writing "he said", "she felt", "they went", then it's third person. Omniscience speaks only to the extend of knowledge of the narrator.

    You could also have omniscient first or second, but I think it would probably work even less well than omniscient third.
     
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  17. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    As a reader, I have a very strong preference for limited, close third. Books for me are all about my connection with the main character/s: I want to be immersed in their world, watching the story unfold through their eyes and in their head. Omniscient POV (or distant limited) pushes me out of their head, putting a barrier between us.

    Distant POV often reads to me more like a screenplay than a novel. A screenplay includes dialogue, some action, and some setting description, but it'll be up to the actors to bring in the emotional connection later on. That's what distant novels read like to me - a chronological sequence of events with no flavour or feeling. Novels need to give me what the actors give to a screenplay, and that's done most effectively through close POV.
     
  18. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I totally get what you're saying, but limited third, done well, can also be easy to emphasize with. Look at the link I provided: there's an example for limited third I'd be hard pressed NOT to emphasize with.

    ETA: Sorry, the previous link was to the wrong site. Here is the correct one to the example I mentioned: https://www.writingforums.com/threads/158495-Third-Person-Characterization-Distant-vs-Close

    Yeah, still. I know you're right from a purely technical viewpoint, but it doesn't feel right to call omni 3rd :oops:
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
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  19. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I guess I meant it's more difficult to empathise with a Third Person Limited because you don't know everything about them. You see their portions of the story through their perspective, but you don't know everything that drives their perspective. To some extent, what they do is puzzling for the reader. (This is done deliberately in my case.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
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  20. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Could it be that omniscient first and second is to rare that it doesn't seem necessary to qualify it as third? I just typed out some example sentences in omniscient first, second and third. They all work, and all show the omniscience. Interestingly, the closer you get to the character (i.e. first person), the more it sounds like an assumption on their part, whereas the most distant (third person) feels like the narrator does actually know. In that respect I would argue that first person omniscient actually works best. I would rather read somebody making assumptions about other people (even if they are wrong) than some narrator who knows everything.

    I walked through the crowd with the screwdriver hidden in my pocket. But everyone knew what I had done.
    You walked through the crowd with the screwdriver hidden in your pocket. But everyone knew what you had done.
    He walked through the crowd with the screwdriver hidden in his pocket. But everyone knew what he had done.
     
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  21. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    I feel like 2nd person omni works best, because there's absolutely no confusion in whose head the reader is. 'You' means implicitly that the narrator is neither the reader, nor one of the characters, and that, in my perception, meshes well with the godlike knowledge. And it's an intimate relationship, from a distance. 'You' implies a connection between the narrator and the character, but the narrator cannot be seen in the story, yet he/she watches everything.

    The example from omni 1st reads like a delusional psychopath who believes himself to be a godlike being :D I can see the story unfolding, him interpreting everyone's reactions with him as the center.

    And the example from omni 3rd reads nearer to the characters of the story than 2nd person, maybe because we are so used to reading about other people. It's the way humanity told stories around the campfire for thousands of years.

    But I don't know if my reaction is due to this specific example, or if these traits are inherent in omni 1/2/3 :)
     
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  22. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Hmm, I have a slightly different interpretation of that. "Everyone knew what you had done" sounds, to me, like the character ("you") is being told that everyone knew, and therefore comes across to me either as omniscient (the narrator knows that everyone knew), or an arrogant assertion, almost in a threatening way.

    Alternatively, it could be an assumption based on paranoia and guilt. The character has done something terrible, and can feel the eyes of strangers boring into him/her, and senses that somehow somebody knows what he/she has done. I would agree with you 100% if it was worded in a proud or boastful manner: "I walked down the street, the screwdriver dripping blood, a smile creeping across my lips. Everyone knew what I'd done."

    Or both ;) The examples are too short to tell to be fair.
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    @mashers
    Actually I think that's it, in a nutshell. You've shown how a writer can use these different perspectives to different ends.

    For example, an 'unreliable narrator' is nearly always written in first person. The reader will be aware that this person isn't necessarily telling the truth. People who tell you personal stories directly often lie, or slant their stories. So when it's revealed that the narrator left out a lot, or twisted the events to suit his purposes, you might be surprised because you believed him up to that point, but you won't get annoyed.

    However, if you created an unreliable POV character in Third Person—either Close or Limited—I think you risk the reader feeling cheated. A reader assumes the narrator in Third is the author himself, so if the author is lying to you, you'll be annoyed. An author who deliberately screws with your head in Third person will probably not be popular.

    Imagine an Agatha Christie mystery with Miss Marple, when, at the end, at the Big Reveal, Agatha says, 'oh, by the way, the vicar WASN'T at the scene of the crime and Miss Marple didn't really see him there at all, even though I said she did, just to throw you off the track. In fact she wasn't anywhere near that location at all. Not ever. Ha ha, fooled you.' :wtf:
     
  24. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    (note that this is based on nothing but my own observations)

    3rd omniscient -- the multiple 3rd person POVs with devil may care head-hopping and atmospheric pullbacks--books like Dune or anything by James Clavell where the POV might switch six times in one paragraph. Strangely enough, the POVs for those examples are often super-duper close before they pull back. Elastic POV? I like the sound of that.

    classic omniscient -- the actual god in the sky narrator who is an independent character that exists extemporaneously to the "real characters" on the page. More of a 19th Century gag, like with Dickens and Tolstoy (Tolstoy will stop a story for 10 pages to address the reader directly). Hardcore omniscient has a "come sit on Uncle Homer's lap so he can tell you a story" vibe to it, while the more modern 3rd omniscient just head-hops when it feels like it, though we rarely get the sense that there's a divorced narrator following the characters from afar.

    My terms might be a bit screwy here, but I see those as two very different writing styles.
     
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  25. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    And don't forget objective POV, which is almost the inverse of omniscient. In objective, we're in nobody's head. Ever. It's almost like a watching a movie where it's physically impossible to ever know what a character is thinking or feeling directly. We have to infer everything through beats and dialogue. Cormac McCarthy does this like a champ. The Road is a bit of an exception. Cormac will occasionally lit us dip our toes in the head of The Man, but it usually only amounts to a handful of lines or emotions. For the majority of the novel, the POV kind of hovers like a camera. We can see everything but none of what we see is ever directly confirmed through a specific POV. It's kind of like distant 3rd but not really. The terms close and distant are irrelevant in objective because it's, well, objective.

    Objective is pretty obscure and certainly not for amateurs... or even brown belts. I wish I had more examples.
     

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