I’m starting on a new story where I don’t really have the focus on one main character, but a variety of them. I chose third limited to get the best view of them all, but now I realize it might cause confusion for the readers to follow more than one person at a time. Should I tone it down to focus on one person and switch who I’m focusing on sometimes, or would it be fine to just watch them all objectively?
Let me know if you have seen any successful attempts at doing third limited following multiple people at once.
Third limited is like first person, just with different pronouns. If you want to do multiple perspectives, the best way is through making one chapter dedicated to each person. Unwind by Neal Shusterman had done this. It follows three main characters, but whenever he switches, he adds a different name to the chapter title to let the readers know.
The line between third limited following multiple povs at once and between third omniscient would be rather blurry, wouldn’t it. The main difference would be that in omniscient the author can write about things no character is aware of or agrees with, whereas third limited multiple povs at once wouldn’t allow for that.
Since omniscient can be done without being confusing, the same should be possible for third limited with multiple povs at once. You’d need to avoid some things that third limited switching between povs may do - like writing thoughts in italics and not specifying whose thought it is - as it is obvious with one POV character at a time.
Generally third limited switching POV or omniscient seem to be more common than third limited writing from multiple POVs at once. I also don’t see any advantage or disadvantage of third limited multiple POVs at once compared to third limited switching POV that it doesn’t share with omniscient. The only relevant difference between omniscient and third limited multiple POVs at once is that omniscient is still a bit less restricted.
I focus on one character maybe 60% of the time, and the other main character say 30%, then other side characters the remaining 10%. I also switch mid-chapter, but usually where it’s an entirely different scene or where it’s very obvious. I don’t think I’ve gotten people confused so far, because the characters I’ve given perspective to are all very different in personality and thought processes. I’ve also read books like this (reading one right now!) and not gotten confused.
So my answer is there’s probably no one right way or preferred way, it matters more what suits your style of storytelling and — if you are switching as opposed to focusing on one — whether you think you’ll be able to do it in a very clear way.
The terms are indeed called that way. Omniscient means the narrator/author/you know everything. You know the thoughts of all the characters and what they like and don’t like and can pinpoint these things whenever you want basically. (as long as it doesn’t confuse the reader too much)
Limited is more like first person view where if you write through the pov of one character then that means you only write what that specific character knows and sees. If character x meets character y for the first time ever then character x will know nothing about character y and therefore character y should still be a mystery to the reader as well. In Omniscient you would be able to throw a few details about character y if you want to, even if character x isn’t aware of them.
Personally, I write limited but there’s nothing wrong with omniscient if it’s done well. (You don’t want to reveal TOO much)
Writing in third person limited with multiple POVs is actually SUPER normal, especially in speculative fiction. Typically in books like this, you assign chapters or scenes to one character, and follow the same POV throughout. If you switch POVs within a scene, that’s called “head hopping” and is generally considered bad writing. I promise it won’t confuse readers if you have chapters/scenes assigned to one POV, but if you want to be extra clear, you can always put the POV character’s name at the top (see: Game of Thrones)
I strongly recommend against writing in third person omniscient. It’s generally considered outdated.
If you’re going to write in third person and not follow one character exclusively, then you should just write it omniscient. Omniscient gives you the most creative freedom to explore any character you deem worthy of following as long as it ties directly into the plot in some way. That means you can go as deep as you’d like with certain characters. I’ve written one story in this way where I almost appears as third limited, but is actually omniscient because I choose to hold back a lot of information for half the story.
The book I’m writing now is omniscient with a very deep dive into the main character over the other major characters.
I use multiples when I have multiple stories to tell. It makes everything more complicated. It’s a tougher job for you, the author, but it can be done.
Not one of my readers has ever complained that they didn’t know whose pov it was. I usually make it clear within the first paragraph. They can figure out the rest.
I only switch pov between scenes. I don’t head-hop from paragraph to paragraph and I dislike it when I see that done in books. Even some big authors do it but it doesn’t make it ok. When I’m deep in someone’s mind, I want to finish the scene in that person’s mind. I don’t care what the other character is thinking at that time. It spoils the reading experience for me.
For a shorter story, one POV should be enough.
Also, don’t just add it because you want to add more characters. There needs to be a reason for that POV. That character has to have a story to tell - a full story with beginning, middle and end. A character can be important to the story but not have POV.
Yes, omniscient is what we’d find in classics, but I wouldn’t say it’s completely outdated. There is still a place for it.
I don’t remember the proper term for this, but 3rd person limited can be done in many ways. It’s like a sliding scale of how deep into the person’s mind you go into. The deepest being, the most direct thoughts. The shallowest is essentially omni - the narrator watching the character from a distance. You should use the depth that the scene calls for.
I’ve found a great use for omni when mixed seamlessly into 3rd limited scenes. I don’t do it often, but those few times I did, it allowed me to do things I couldn’t otherwise.
For example, a scene where I wanted to show what happened after the MC walked away. Or another one where instead of taking one of the twins’ pov, I wanted to show them both because they were embarking on a journey together. It’s a temporary omni or a long-distance 3rd person, however you want to call it. It’s a useful literary device.
There was a good article about this. I’ll try to dig it up. It had great examples.
@Spider-Hawk The best way to avoid confusing your readers is to give each POV character a different voice. Write them in a different way, so that the readers can tell who’s who and differentiate between them all. Make it so that the only thought we see, is the one coming from the MC in their respective chapter.
I don’t like to use the term “head-hopping”, but I guess we’ve all fallen victim to it at one point or another. Stick to the one-thought rule and you’ll be fine. If it makes you feel any better, I have four POV characters in my first book and six of them in the sequel. Who knows how many I’ll have in the third.
It can be done without causing confusion, so don’t worry about it too much and go for it.
Changing the narrative distance in the middle of the scene can be very difficult to pull off without accidentally head-hopping or startling the reader out of the narrative. I can see where becoming a more distant narrator can have some literary value, but on a whole I would recommend that authors pick a narrative distance and stick with it.
True and I think, a good storyteller can pull off an 3rd person omni/limited and weave through it seamlessly:)
Don’t underestimate the cognitive processes of a reader like me readers can discern good and bad writing …You can have as many as 20 main characters and Do a GRRMartin … proper execution … it won’t be a problem for your readers … although I am still waiting for GRRMartin After 5 books to introduce the sorcerer Lord of the House Mertyn… I saw it’s Sigil flying around since book 1 …
So yeah, make sure you write your characters with a distinctive voice and the readers will pick it up
Definitely have not gotten complaints about this with my current work while I weave between the brother and sister to show both sides of their story. Although I stay mostly in the brother’s head since he’s the main character.
Many writers use a modern blend of omni/limited and call it Third Universal. You just have to keep head-hopping at a minimum so you don’t confuse readers. You can get into all your characters heads but have to do it wisely. A good example of this is Little Fires Everywhere, a huge recent bestseller and bookclub book now coming out in a movie. It reads smoothly, and the reader does not get confused with the character head switches. A writer can do what she wants, as long as the reader is considered. I have read some that are way too confusing but Watty is full of Third Universal stories that work very well. Modern usage omni/third limited are on the bestseller lists and in the nation’s libraries. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
And that is exactly the issue. If done well, it can work. Well means, the reader finds the transition natural and has no problem flitting from head A to B etc. Well also means not changing in every other sentence. I see it like a camera swoop. Camera takes an overview, zooms in, zooms out and svivels across. However, most variations on the theme I have come a across are just plain ole headhopping.
The shift is NOT deliberate, is not managed. It just happens because somebody doesn’t know better. For a budding writer, the danger of getting it wrong is larger for omniscient than it is for close first for example (Close first poses other challenges. It is not the easy option some writers seem to take it for).