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.

Which Narrative Mode Is Best for Your Story?

Pair of pearsEvery story has a storyteller. The narrative mode you choose for your story has a significant effect on the way your story will be perceived by the reader. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the most common narrative modes in contemporary fiction. This is by no means a comprehensive listing of all the narrative options available to the writer, but these voices are the ones you’ll use most frequently in fiction and non-fiction alike.

  • First person narratives are a sound choice for writers who want to create an intimate emotional connection between the reader and the narrator. Many beginning writers are advised to avoid first-person narratives because of the difficulty of showing the story to the reader rather than merely describing it when using this voice. However, with thorough editing and careful attention to the balance between the story’s action and a character’s inner thoughts, a first-person narrative can be a powerful and emotionally moving story.
  • Third person limited narratives make it easier to use strong imagery, to show your protagonist’s reactions rather than tell the reader about the emotions within, and to handle dialogue. Because your disembodied narrator knows and sees only what the single character it’s following knows and sees, the third person limited mode can be a tough choice for conveying a complex world that needs to be explained to the reader. However, it creates an elegant and streamlined narrative that gives the reader an intimate experience comparable to a first-person narrative.
  • Third person omniscient narratives allow you to use multiple characters’ perspectives to lead the reader through the story. Although it takes practice and careful editing to jump between perspectives at the right time, this narrative mode allows you to give the reader a complex look at the world of your story. It’s particularly handy if you want your readers to know things about your characters that they don’t know about each other.

Every stylistic choice we make has an impact on the works we write. Narrative mode has a particularly significant impact, because it largely determines what kind of information the reader will be getting throughout the story. By choosing a narrative mode that closely fits your storytelling goals, you can ease your storytelling and help your readers understand the meaning of your work.