Hello guys! I hope you’re all doing well. 🙂
Today is the third installment of writing styles featuring Third Person Omniscient. In the post that started this endeavor, I mentioned some of the reasons Third Person Omniscient is avoided or ignored, but today I wanted to talk more about how to write using it.
First off, it’s important to note that Omniscient switches between Points of View (POV within a scene without the benefits of scene or chapter breaks to separate the POVs. One of the misconceptions is that it’s using multiple POVs, and to a point that’s correct, but in truth, there is only one: The Narrator.
The Narrator is the one relaying the story to us whether through telling us the story (Distant or Objective Omniscient. Think campfire stories) or allowing us to walk among our characters and experience what each of them do as they move the story forward (Close or Subjective Omniscient).
One of the tells we’re using Objective Omniscient is when we use tags like he/she thought when dealing with thoughts. While this isn’t absolute, it can be a helpful tool. The best way to tell if we’re using Objective Omniscient is if the Narrator talks directly to us (Breaking the third wall).
Here’s an example of Objective Omniscient:
Now, don’t let those others tell you different. Henry always tried to be a good boy. He couldn’t know Patty was setting him up for a fall, but we’ll get to that later.
“Really, Henry, why don’t you trust me?” Patty crossed her arms and smiled at him. It was a look he knew all too well.
“I don’t know. It’s just… I don’t know,” Henry whispered the last part as he sought a reason to justify it to himself. Maybe I’m losing my mind, he thought.
In this example, we’re the focus of the Narrator’s story. We get the feeling of a favorite aunt, uncle, or grandparent telling us a story by a campfire, in a comfortable chair, or as a bedtime story.
This style is extremely rare as it’s the toughest of the two to write. It’ll have a natural flow that most other stories don’t, but it’s easy to lose that voice if we’re not careful.
Subjective Omniscient is the prevalent style used over the last twenty years by many starting out, and even noted authors Stephen King (The Dark Half) and Joe Hill (NOS4A2). While the latter two only used small snippets of Omniscient here and there, it was still cool to see it sprinkled in at certain spots.
In Subjective, we’re told the story as though we’re walking with the characters. With this style, the Narrator doesn’t break the third wall and remains strictly in the story (Nothing is absolute, so be prepared. lol) and the thoughts are usually in italics. Sometimes, even with dialogue tags.
Here’s an example of Subjective Omniscient:
No matter how hard he tried to be good, Henry still had a reputation.
“Really, Henry, why don’t you trust me?” Patty smiled at him and crossed her arms. She knew it was a look he enjoyed.
Henry shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s just… I don’t know,” he whispered the last part as he sought a reason to justify it to himself. Maybe I’m losing my mind.
Notice the subtle shift between the focus being on both, then Patty, and then Henry? Instead of one voice relating the story, we experienced all three and Henry’s thoughts were in italics. We feel as though we’re a ghost walking among them, able to enter their heads at any moment. The trick is to work out how often to do this, and that is where the confusion about switching POVs comes into play for many. The confusion could be for many reasons. Personally, I believe it’s a combination of not being used to it and/or having been told who has what POV for years. These are the two most prevalent I’ve heard, but I’m sure there are many more. As always, it’s important to keep an open mind and not be afraid of accepting a critique when discussing this. We could always hear something that makes us think and tweak our style.
Subjective Omniscient leads us into the first of what I consider to be the two rules of writing Omniscient.
The first is showing who’s, if any character’s, POV we’re using. Believe it or not, that’s easy enough to do.
The keys of a POV shift involve the character’s head movements and/or the mention of their name. Notice how Patty smiled, drawing attention to her face, while Henry shook his head? Yep. It’s that simple. Surprised?
The second rule is to limit the usage of POVs. What I mean by that isn’t limiting how many characters you focus on (You’ll find the rule of thumb is no more than three to four per book, but do what feels right for your story. Not everyone will have the same feel for it), but whether or not the POV moves the story forward. It’s hard, but we need to ask ourselves if having a butler’s story about his wife’s cousin is really needed. A good way to tell if a POV is needed is if we can transplant it and have some portion of it move the story forward for another character. While we want our characters to be individuals and different, if a segment can work for others, it’s a good indication it moves the story forward. If it brings the story to a halt and doesn’t fit into their plot line or slows their progress, then it probably doesn’t work. Does that make sense?
The purpose of Omniscient is to let the story flow smooth and freely. I like to think of it as walking along a museum’s corridor and looking from side to side to take in the sights. Is it more fulfilling and enjoyable? It depends on what our preferences are. Remember, we have to do what we feel works best for us and our story. As long as we do our best and are happy with it, we did our job.
Each of us tell different stories in different ways, so it’s ultimately up to us to stay true to our vision and nurture it into a full grown story. Be mindful that a helpful opinion can be anywhere and from anyone. Incorporate what you feel works best and discard the rest. Not everyone will agree with your decision, and that’s fine. This is art, so indulge a little. You never know what’ll work best for you.
That’s it for this week. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, or suggestions. There’s always room for more information. 🙂
See you all next week when we discuss First Person. Until then, let your imaginations fly! 🙂