16 March 2013

We Know All and See All

Continuing on my series regarding point of view, it’s time to focus on the other third person option available to writers - third person omniscient.

Let me first define the POV.  Third Person Omniscient is characterized as an overarching narrator that can dip into any character and see what they see, hear their thoughts.  Poorly done this is the “head hopping” POV.  Note I said poorly done.  Multiple books exist that have done this wonderfully.

What’s the advantage of using this POV?

Sometimes, you just need to know all that’s going on.  Looking down from Mount Olympus and observe the world.  This POV allows just that.  You have almost no limits to what you tell the reader when.  If you know it, and it fits the present story situation, tell it!  Okay, not really, but it does offer a more open story telling style.  It allows examination of all the characters in a scene, simply by switching who’s head you’re sitting in at the time. 

I’ve heard some writers say this is one of the most difficult POV to use, because the balance of narrator information and thoughts has to develop just right.

So where’s my disadvantage?

I started to address this in the last section, but let me be more specific here.  Balance is definitely the key here.  If you spend too much time going from character to character, readers will declare a “bad case of head hopping” and drop the story.  I’ve seen people use this POV and say the story was too cold, too impersonal, just because they felt no connection to the characters. 

So when should I use third person omniscient POV?
I can’t state for a fact that this story always makes a good third person omniscient POV or that the story is horrible as one.  Most times, I suggest looking at the scope of the story.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

- How focused does the story need to be?
- Do actions outside the narrator’s view factor into the story that maybe you’ll need to reveal before the narrator knows? 
- Will the story revolve around more than the narrator and/or the main character? 

Think about these questions as you begin to write, allow yourself to dissect the story’s needs, then pick the proper POV for that story.

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