Omniscient or Observational Narration | Another Point of View on Third-Person POV

A while back, I did a series of posts breaking down the various Point of View (POV) options a writer might use in their storytelling.

My posts on Third-Person posts focused on the Limited and Omniscient POVs. However, there are other ways at looking at this POV.

Some authors will work in their characters’ thoughts into the narration. This might be something like Harriet’s face twisted with an emotion Charles could not define or Charles wondered what Harriet thought. These narrators insert themselves in the story despite not being a character within it.

However, I tend not to go this route, and instead remain an outside narrator. With this narrative style, the story is told from an observational perspective, as though the narrator is watching the events unfold but cannot read the characters’ minds.

This is especially true for Guises to Keep. So much of the storyline is driven by how much any one person involved knows at any given moment, and that includes the reader.

I tend to consider Guises to Keep as a more complex and complicated narrative (if you recall from a previous post, I’d deem it a work of literary fiction contrast to my other genre fiction projects). The story is layered with intertwined storylines and depends heavily on limiting how much information is presented at any given point.

The stolen letter is among the biggest examples. The reader sees two characters read it, neither of whom are the intended recipient, but the letter’s text is not put on the page for the reader. Instead, the reader sees the characters’ reactions as they decide what to do with it.

This way, the reader is left to wonder what the letter contains.

Delving into the characters’ heads would make it easy to reveal too much too soon, which I think would lessen the impact of everything coming to light much later in the story.

Recently, though, I’ve been noticing many authors both within the romance genre and outside of it include their protagonists’ thoughts within the narration, and that has me wondering if I ought to work them into my writing, at least for a majority of my projects.

Since one of my intention with starting this blog was to provide an insider’s look into my writing process, I decided I would use this as an opportunity to let my readers see how my brain works and where I stand with this.

Pro – Closer to Your Characters

One thing readers and writers alike enjoy about storytelling from the first-person POV is the ability to see the world through the eyes of their protagonist. The narration is written as though the character is telling the story rather than the author, allowing for their thoughts to come alive on the page. It creates a sense of intimacy, as though the reader is also coming along for the journey and get a detailed glimpse about the way they work through the events.

This is closeness is why some readers feel distanced when reading from a third-person POV because the story is told by an outside narrator.

Con – Telling Versus Showing

It’s one of the most well-known adages out there. Show, don’t tell.

Among the main reasons I like to write from the perspective of an outsider’s perspective is because I worry that telling the reader what the character is thinking rather than showing that emotion.

For lack of a better phasing, I worry it would be dumbing things down. To me, there is more to a character simply slamming a fist on the table than there is in my outright saying they were frustrated by a circumstance. I sometimes worry that taking on this narrative style would have me in the position of flat-out telling readers what the characters are feeling rather than trusting them to draw their own conclusions.

Pro – Depth

The approach of letting your readers into your characters’ heads is a way to provide information about what is going on. This might be the relationship between love interests who haven’t seen each other since they were teenagers and exploring one another’s first impressions upon running into each other, or shed some light on the past.

This can be a great method for enriching your narrative and expanding your reader’s understanding about the story.

Con – Extraneous Information

It can be just as easy for nonessential details to slip into the narration. You might come up with a great anecdote about the incident between your protagonist and their best friend back at summer camp when they were kids, but it has nothing to do with the story other than showing that they have known each other for so long.

It’s important to make sure that the thoughts and backstory you do bring onto the page don’t stray too far from their purpose.

Pro – Passing Time

Glimpsing into a character’s head can be a way to fill in some gaps, not only in the sense of providing backstory or conveying information, but also filling in the gaps between events.

Let’s say your characters are travelling from one location to another, and it’s about a forty-minute ride between the two.

Rather than cutting from one scene to the next, this can become an opportunity to explore what your character is thinking or feeling, creating a sense of time passing.

Con – Head-Hopping

This is a term often used on a general basis when it comes to narration, but can be especially true once characters’ thoughts come alive on the page.

Head-hopping is what happens where the narrator shifts focus between characters within the same chapter, or even page.

For example, the narration might be concentrated around what’s going on in Harriet’s head but then hop over to see how things are in the mind of Charles. Flipping back and forth like this can be jarring for readers and make the story hard to follow.


In Conclusion

Sometimes, working your characters’ thoughts can pull your readers into the story, but can also potentially drag things along.

I think the trick to this is making sure it is done effectively.

While I intend to keep the observational narrator for Guises to Keep, the omniscient narrator might be the better choice for projects like Bound to the Heart.

The best advice I can offer on this subject at the moment is to do as I will be with this next round of edits and experiment to see what works best for you as and author and for your story.


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