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Narrators are the backbone of every story, controlling which details are revealed to or withheld from the audience and how the sequence of events is relayed. Sometimes the narrator is an active player in the plot, and other times, the story might be told by a third person omniscient narrator.
But what is third person omniscient point of view, exactly? And what is third person limited omniscient, its close relative?
When a story is told by an observer, by someone who is not an identifiable character in the plot, that is known as a third person omniscient narrator. The plot—and all of its action, drama, and humor—and the characters—and all of their dialogue and inner thoughts and feelings—are dictated to the audience by the third person omniscient narrator. This point of view knows no bounds. The third person omniscient point of view allows the writer to fully and limitlessly create an entire world of developed and dynamic characters.
What About Limited Third Person Omniscient?
While the third person omniscient point of view has full access to the thoughts and feelings of all characters, limited third person omniscient is restricted to a single character. The third person limited narrator allows the writer to explore the plot through the thoughts and feelings of that specific character.
While first person point of view uses personal pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” and “we,” the limited third person point of view is still told by an outside observer of the plot, who happens to have intimate knowledge of a single character’s inner workings.
Third Person Omniscient
When you read “As the campers settled into their tents, Zara hoped her eyes did not betray her fear, and Lisa silently wished for the night to quickly end”—that’s an example of third person omniscient narration. Multiple characters’ emotions and inner thoughts are available to the reader.
Here are a couple of famous examples:
- “Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty: he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
- “His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” – William Golding, The Lord of the Flies
Limited Third Person Omniscient
An example of limited third person omniscient narration is: “Marcus warily took one more glance at his mom, unable to read the look on her face, before heading to school.” The narrator is experiencing the action through the experience of one character, whose thoughts and feelings are closely held.
Some famous examples of this point of view include:
- “Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Fawkes the phoenix let out a low, soft, musical cry. To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knee.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- “Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
Knowing which perspective to use while telling a story is one of the strongest tools in a writer’s belt. Choosing the narrator’s voice can make or break a story. If you’d like to delve deep within multiple characters—perhaps switching perspectives or simply showing the dynamic growth of different players—then third person omniscient might be the best point of view. Or, if you’d prefer the intimacy of first-person narration but would like a little more freedom, then limited third person omniscient is the way to go!
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