A Matter of Perspective

Pool with hills beyondThe third person omniscient mode is an excellent choice for writers who want to show us the perspective of more than one character. This can help us build suspense, create a mystery, or give us insight into characters who are not what they seem to be. However, the third person omniscient mode can also confuse readers and tie your story into knots. The trick to using the third person omniscient voice is learning when and how to switch perspectives.

Typically, you want to switch perspectives when you end one discrete section of a narrative and begin another. This can be a chapter, a segment marked with a line break or a page break, or a scene. Paragraph breaks, although they do divide your narrative into small sections, are not a good place to switch between perspectives; rather, they should be used to divide one character’s ideas from one another. When you switch perspectives, make it clear within one or two sentences that a new character is speaking. Generally, you should name the character when you do this. Your reader will appreciate the heads-up, and you can proceed with the confidence that everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Although most writers choose to use different perspectives to describe different moments in time, there are occasions when you want to describe the same moment from two different characters’ perspectives. It’s perfectly acceptable to describe the same action twice, so long as you begin at a point that the reader can readily identify and make it clear that a new character is speaking. Also, you’ll want to be sure that the reader gets something genuinely new and interesting, rather than just a recap of a scene they’ve already read.

Many successful writers use the third person omniscient mode to narrate complex stories and help the reader get to know a number of characters. As long as you take care to give your reader strong cues as to which character is speaking, your writing can also benefit from this narrative mode.