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Author Topic: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?  (Read 2461 times)

Offline NinjaRaptor

Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« on: April 28, 2016, 04:30:56 PM »
I suppose this question's answer could depend on the project, but I'm mulling over which would work better as a general approach for my writing. Most of the time, I use third person limited since that seems to be what reviewers prefer, but I have considered practicing with an omniscient perspective due to one issue that keeps bothering me.

As a writer, I like describing my characters so that the reader has some idea what they look like. I have a lot of stories with non-Western settings in which people who don't look European predominate, and I worry that omitting descriptions of racial characteristics will perpetuate the "white is default" problem. On the other hand, describing your PoV characters in a "limited" PoV is considered taboo due to the presumption that characters wouldn't think about their own appearance most of the time. Personally, I disagree with this opinion---I see third person limited more like a camera following the character rather than looking straight through their eyes, so you still get a view of the character themselves---but so many reviewers have adopted it that I'm tired of hearing it altogether. If I were to adopt a broader omniscient point of view, I would skirt the problem entirely.

On the other hand, I've read that an omniscient point of view shouldn't get too close to any of the characters and their feelings or else you risk "head-hopping"---that is, confusing the reader by switching between multiple points of view within a scene. Thing is, while I can see why switching between too many viewpoints within one scene can be confusing, I actually do think getting closer to at least one character's point of view can give the writing more emotional power.

So basically I feel like I have to choose between a point of view that (conventional wisdom maintains) is too limited for what I want to do, and a less popular point of view that is supposed to be distant from the characters. Is there an alternative option, or should I choose between these two?
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Offline Mr.J

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Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2016, 05:07:16 PM »
I am a fan of omniscient, perhaps because I've read excellent forms of writing that utilise it. It is very difficult to do though I think, so I would highly highly recommend you have a read of The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, and look at how he wrote his omniscient style, which is something to behold. He also switches perspective between several characters, so even if the Victorian story isn't your kind of thing, I hope you might find it useful to see. :)

Offline Yora

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2016, 05:09:17 PM »
Head hopping is not a result of writing omniscient. It's a result of bad writing. If you simply look out for cases of head hopping during revision, you can fix all those instances where you accidentally did it.

There's nothing that keeps you from lengthy descriptions in limited third person. Nothing except a desire to pander to pedantic critics.

Do you only describe what is there? Then it's limited. Do you voice opinions about what is there? Then it's omnisicent. I think that really is the only clear difference.
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Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2016, 05:22:58 PM »
There's nothing that keeps you from lengthy descriptions in limited third person. Nothing except a desire to pander to pedantic critics.
Good point. I guess the real problem I have here is dealing with critique partners who don't share my opinion. On the one hand, most of them are simply offering their opinion and don't necessarily pretend otherwise. On the other hand, if I decide to disregard their opinion and do what I prefer...I dunno, maybe I'm afraid they'll take offense?
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Online Peat

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2016, 05:34:29 PM »
I'm a fan of Omniscient. Done right, it's magical - and there's no reason a good writer can't switch between Omniscient and Third Person when needed.

Offline Yora

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2016, 06:00:59 PM »
Don't let your critique readers write your story. If they don't like it, they can stop reading it. You have to decide what is right for the story.

And I think worst case scenario, you get someone saying "Well, this isn't completely accurate limited". Then it just isn't. It doesn't have to be strictly limited by the book or strictly omniscient by the book. It only has to work.
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Offline zmunkz

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2016, 10:06:16 PM »
Personally I would not consider an entirely omniscient narrative JUST so you can describe your characters.  If anything, break POV briefly at the top of a chapter (which is not unusual) to get that done, then keep it limited thereafter.

Omniscient is very difficult to do well, and should only be done if you have a good reason to do it and a good understanding of what challenges it will create (with plans to address those challenges).  I'm not saying you don't have those tools and that understanding--I wouldn't know--but it seems like a weighty task to consider just to describe characters.

My 2 cents anyway, but as others said, write the way you want to write and to hell with everyone else, me included :)
"People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." --Isaac Asimov

Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2016, 05:11:02 AM »
Try both, and other styles besides, until you find what you are most comfortable with. If that's a mix of styles, or something completely out of the norm, like second person or multiple PoV first person, who cares as long as you enjoy it? Rewriting for clarity can always be done in the editing stages.

Offline zmunkz

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2016, 05:13:06 AM »
...who cares as long as you enjoy it?

True, with the caveat that if you intend to do traditional publishing, be aware of the marketability of some of these unusual POVs.
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Offline Mr.J

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Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2016, 01:01:29 PM »
...who cares as long as you enjoy it?

True, with the caveat that if you intend to do traditional publishing, be aware of the marketability of some of these unusual POVs.
It's true, look at Snakewood by Adrian Selby, it's got very patchy reviews, esp on Goodreads where its avg. score is a 2.99. I'm still intrigued about reading that one though.

Offline Yora

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2016, 02:28:40 PM »
But it's not universally rated low. Also got a load of very high reviews.

It certainly stands out for being unique. It may not be popular with everyone, but standing out is something not be undervalued.
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Offline Lu Kudzoza

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2016, 07:00:30 PM »
Quote
Head hopping is not a result of writing omniscient. It's a result of bad writing.

Correct, but head hopping happens more often in omniscient because the author is looking at the scene from outside and is tempted to show what everyone is doing, thinking, and feeling in a linear time line.
 

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2016, 04:35:45 AM »
Quote
Head hopping is not a result of writing omniscient. It's a result of bad writing.

Correct, but head hopping happens more often in omniscient because the author is looking at the scene from outside and is tempted to show what everyone is doing, thinking, and feeling in a linear time line.

I'd suggest "head hopping" happens most commonly in badly managed third limited with multiple POV characters.

I wouldn't argue if you said it's a matter of semantics.

Omniscient is as easy to write as third limited, if you have a clue. The styles vary greatly. Mostly, contemporary third omniscient (outside of humor) tends to be toward the objective end of the objective-subjective spectrum, and tends to go inside the head of few characters, when it does.

JK Rowling used third omni in H.P.
She also used it in Casual Vacancy, but in a completely different style, and a style which is NOT what I describe, above - - she'll go from head to head in successive paragraphs without any cues that she's doing it.

I've written using every type of narration, and I don't think I have any rule for my choice, although I've only used first with a single POV character, and I tend to use third omniscient when I'm following an ensemble rather than a single character, or if I want to include some value statements or humor.


Offline Lu Kudzoza

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #13 on: May 01, 2016, 07:24:55 PM »
Quote
I'd suggest "head hopping" happens most commonly in badly managed third limited with multiple POV characters.

I wouldn't argue if you said it's a matter of semantics.

Omniscient is as easy to write as third limited, if you have a clue. The styles vary greatly. Mostly, contemporary third omniscient (outside of humor) tends to be toward the objective end of the objective-subjective spectrum, and tends to go inside the head of few characters, when it does.

I think "badly managed" is the operative phrase we can all agree on. You hit on what I was implying. When writing third omniscient the author is tempted to go to the subjective end (or inside the head) of every character. Then they add a linear timeline that creates the head hopping.

With third limited it's easier to break up the timeline via POVs and scene/chapter breaks. It doesn't make a lot of sense for an omniscient narrator to show a scene out of time just to get another perspective so it can lead to head hopping.

What it really comes down to is picking the style that best fits what you're trying to accomplish. For example, a story that focuses mostly on scenes and action (objective) is well suited to third omniscient. A story that focuses on what different people think about the same situation is better suited to multiple POVs in third limited.

So back to the OP's original question, think about your story and how it's best told. Do you care more about the scenes, action, and what the characters do? Or would your story benefit from first person limited to delve deep into one character's experience. Or does multiple POVs in third limited give the story a well rounded feel by going beyond how the characters act into how several people think and feel? I could go on with the scope of the story, location(s) of the story, factions, etc., but I'll leave that to the OP to research. ;)

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Omniscient vs third person limited: which should I choose?
« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2016, 02:52:07 AM »

I think "badly managed" is the operative phrase we can all agree on. You hit on what I was implying. When writing third omniscient the author is tempted to go to the subjective end (or inside the head) of every character. Then they add a linear timeline that creates the head hopping.

That's ONLY true for people who don't know how to write omniscient.
I think the only thing we can agree on is: "don't write badly."

With third limited it's easier to break up the timeline via POVs and scene/chapter breaks. It doesn't make a lot of sense for an omniscient narrator to show a scene out of time just to get another perspective so it can lead to head hopping.

Every one of those things can be done in omniscient, and have been done regularly. Everything a writer does in third limited  is also used in  third omniscient.