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About Writing Right: The Blog


When a newbie writer asked online the other day about changing points of view from third person omniscient, he received several reasonably accurate responses and one horrendous resply from our good friend, Queenie. Knowing that even a notoriously incorrect responder such as she can due severe damage to a writer's development, I set about correcting the misinformation.

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Wow. I know the Queen of Wrong mucks up nearly everything to which she responds, but this one is a Lulu. Instead of buying into the fallacy that third person omniscient is like a camera viewing a scene objectively without any possibility of understanding what your characters are thinking, realize that just the opposite is true. In third person omniscient, the narrator has access to every piece of information in the book, including what's going on in all of his or her characters' minds. This is what sets third person POV apart from first and second or limited POV. Not only that, but also, if you like multiple choices when you visit your favorite ice-cream shop, you'll love third person POV because it comes in two flavors. Voila:


In third person omniscient POV, the narrator knows all the thoughts and feelings of every character—the exact opposite of what Queenie advised. Knowing the narrator (that is, you) can reveal everything about the story and the characters at any given time he (again, you) chooses gives the narrator unlimited power. How you use it is up to you. This is where the flexibility of an author writing in omniscient POV comes into play. How much will you reveal, and when? How much will you hold back, and why?


Think of 3-P POV the way you'd think about things as God. You know it all. You see it all. Therefore, you control it all. If Queenie had bothered to look up the definition of the word instead of shooting from the lip, she could have saved herself a lot of embarrassment—once again. The word "omniscient" means "all knowing." As in the narrator's perspective is unlimited.


Another form of third person POV is less Godlike. Called third person limited, this POV is opposite of omniscient, as the word implies. In third person limited POV, the narrator's knowledge is limited (thus the name: clever, huh?) to one person at most. And often to no character at all—in which case only the actions and dialogue convey the feelings of the characters.


Now, with that cleared up, your real question (are you paying attention, Queenie?) is this: Can you switch from third person omniscient to another POV? And, the answer is an unmitigated yes. There is no law, written or implied, that says you can't. There is, however, a dictum that prescribes that, if you as the author choose to do so, you should proceed with caution. If you're not careful, you could end up writing an unintelligible mishmash of points of view, making the book's resulting confusion intolerable to the reader. So, if you want to swap POVs once you begin in third person omniscient, have a good reason for doing so; understand what that reason is, and be capable of conveying the change of POVs to the reader so that he's ready for the swap-out and doesn't get confused.


Clear? Yeah, I know. Clear as mud. But, like most things having to do with writing, once you dive into the water, you find the task of swimming a lot easier than reading about it in an instruction guide.


Hope this helps clarify a gross misrepresentation of your question and a blatantly incorrect, irresponsible, and potentially harmful response.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack - Start a paid newsletter (http://substack.com/).

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