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Some help with POV?
MB Mulhall
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 4:01 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

I almost feel silly asking this, and I can probably Google the answer, but I'd rather ask here where I can come back with other questions if need be!

Can someone really explain the difference in points of view? First person I get. It's the 3rd person, Omniscient and limited Omniscient that seem to trip me up. What's allowed with each  one? I have a problem switching POVs in my writing and I'm trying to work on correcting that.

I know it's probably asking a lot, but any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

CY Reid
Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2011 1:34 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 51

Having read your question, it was quickly apparent that I didn't have a damn clue what either of them was in terms of a narrative voice, so a quick trip to Wikipedia later and I'd wager it seems relatively straightforward. So, to paraphrase:

Omniscient narrators are those who, like anything omniscient, are all-knowing. Wikipedia uses a good example - the narrator in Lord of the Rings. They know all about Hobbits, how to translate dwarvish and can elaborate on the backstories of crucial characters. They're perfect if the book you're seeking to write needs to educate the reader on the diverse, fluff-heavy environment you're setting it in - think epic fantasy volumes and the like.

However, third person omniscient when it's "limited", is someone who may know everything about themselves, but whose knowledge of the world goes no further. Think Harry Potter. We follow him from the third person, and though we know things he doesn't (dramatic irony in some cases), the narrator cannot communicate ideas or plot developments that are outside Harry's sphere of awareness.

There's a better example and explanation here, using Sleeping Beauty:

That should give you a good idea of how each POV works within the realm of the story.

I think that just about covers it, but for all I know I'm wrong. Hope that helped to some degree, at least.
MB Mulhall
Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2011 4:30 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

Oooh that Sleeping Beauty link is awesome! Thanks! Much appreciated
Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 8:46 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 1

The omniscient and limtied omniscient POV's get me a bit puzzled also. I guess mine is something between, and not really sure how it works. If using limited omniscient, should it just be left to what the protagonist knows and that's it?

Currently I'm writing in third-person, since I get a better flow with it, but all these POV talks around the webs make me think I'd need to change to first-person limited...
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 2:59 AM
Point of view is probably the hardest thing to get straight because from childhood we’ve been telling stories, so it feels natural to do it the same way. Everything is presented from the outside in because we’re alone on stage, and by necessity, must talk about the story since we can’t play the shooter and the one being shot at the same time.

Forgive the lecturing tone, but because I can’t see your nod of understanding, I tend to give more than what was asked for.

To start, we need to understand what POV is. Take the example of two people sent to cover a labor strike at a small manufacturing company. Feelings have been strong all day and shortly after our reporters arrive a confrontation occurs, where there are punches thrown and lots of anger expressed. One man ends up with a scalp wound and is taken to the hospital where he gets a few stitches, and there are bruises on either side. But though the confrontation lasted a while, but the fight, once it began, was quickly stopped by people on both sides, and good sense prevailed. Things cooled and apologies were given and accepted.

That’s what happened, but it won’t be what’s reported.

Our first reporter is a woman—a mother—who sews and sings as a hobby. She’s a bit shy and will avoid a confrontation if possible. The other is a football coach, an ex-marine. They will each see the same thing, but notice very different things, and react according to their own perceptions and evaluation of what matters. The mother will report horrific anger, attempted murder, rivers of blood, and a man, near death, rushed to the hospital. The coach, knowing that scalp wounds bleed profusely but are rarely serious will mentioned that tempers flared. Say that “the boys mixed it up a bit,” but will probably focus on entirely different aspects of the event.

That’s POV, and it has nothing at all to do with the personal pronouns used. It has to do with providing the viewpoint character’s Unique “view” of the event, flavored by their needs, their personal biases, and the situation. Their preconceived attitudes will play a large part in how they perceive and react the events as they try to control their environment. It’s through their personality and it’s effect on their behavior that a character becomes memorable, because if the storyteller is the POV character everyone speaks with their voice and behaves as they would.

Presentation of that POV can be in first person:

I looked the dame over and decided she was worth my attention. She was studying the building directory so I said, “You look lost, honey. How can I help you get unlost?”

She gave me a look that said she was interested, so I…

Second person:

You look the dame over and decide she’s worth your attention. She’s studying the building directory so you say, “You look lost, honey. How can I help you get unlost?”

She gives you a look that said she’s interested, so you…

Third person:

Carson looked the woman over, deciding that she was something special to look at. But she was frowning at building’s directory, which gave him an opening, so he said, “You look lost, honey. How can I help you get unlost?”

The woman turned her attention from the directory to Carson, polite curiosity showing on her face, so he…

Fly on the wall:

Carson studied the woman for a moment, a small smile growing as he watched her frown at the building’s directory. “You look lost, honey,” he said, in a tone that said he’d be glad to help resolve her problems. “How can I help you get unlost?”

The woman turned, polite interest showing on her face. Apparently she was willing to listen to what he had to say, so…


Carson looked the woman over, deciding that she was something special to look at. But she was frowning at building’s directory, which gave him an opening, so he said, “You look lost, honey. How can I help you get unlost?”

Susan turned from the directory, suppressing a smile. The sucker had taken the bait. This was going to be easy. She allowed polite interest to show on her face as she…
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Each of them has its purpose, it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. Omniscient isn’t great for a romance because if we know he wants her and that she wants him, why wait till they catch on? On the other hand, if you’re going to have the characters working at cross purposes, and it’s that aspect that’s the focus of the story… There would be a very different feel to the events of he story told in omniscient as I presented it, than with the others. In many ways it’s like watching a chess game.

In first person we can know only what the character knows because first usually means the protagonist is the center of every scene (but not always). On the other hand we have a more relaxed feel that’s useful for showing tics of personality, like the hard-boiled PI or the smart-ass. It’s often used in comedy. Third allows us to show scenes in which the hero doesn’t appear, and to have the character with the most emotional investment to be ta given scene’s protagonist.

Second person is probably the least used. In the example I showed it in present tense because past, at least to me, seems silly because it’s talking about things the reader has done but can’t seem to remember.

Fly on the wall is useful if you don’t want the reader to be privy to the character’s internal landscape. If it’s necessary to show a scene with an implacable enemy, and you don’t want the reader to get to know the character too well—to keep the reader from liking them, for example—fly on the wall can help.

Omnescient works well when a story is plot heavy and it’s necessary to switch viewpoint often. Its drawback is that we’re less emotionally involved with any one character.

There are variations to them all, of course, and I’m certain I’ve left out someone’s favorite.
- - - - - - - -
Bear in mind that what I say above is my own interpretation only. They work for me, but on the other hand my name isn’t exactly a household word. There are plenty of books on the subject that explain it far better then do I. A quick search of the net will bring lots of hits on the subject.

Jay Greenstein

Foreign Embassy
Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2011 2:01 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18

Bravo to Jay for giving such a great response and examples.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 8:17 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

The other point of view that is very useful is third-person limited, wherein we are given one character's (and only one) introspection. To continue off of Jay's example:

"Carson looked the woman over. She's something special to look at, he thought. She was frowning at building’s directory, which gave him an opening, so he said, “You look lost, honey. How can I help you get unlost?”

The woman turned from the directory, suppressing a smile. Curious or shifty, Carson thought as he gave her the once-over."

Unlike omniscient, which has the tendency to be distant -- as Jay pointed out -- limited has the capacity to give the reader a slightly more intimate view of the story. Narratively, though, the story *must* only ever stick with one character, otherwise you'll lose your readers.

Two things to consider when looking at point of view, too, are perspective and narrative voice. Both of these are crucial in how the point of view operates. But I suppose that's a discussion for another thread.
Lora Belle
Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 5:17 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 3

I like the line from Pirates of the
Caribbean, “The Pirate Code is more of a guideline.” Same with PoV. Connolly in his Black
Angel mixes all kinds of PoVs: first person, omniscient, third person, etc.
Very complex book. The result is a great read. In the age of Big Screen people
learned to follow “mental cameras,” as long as you’re making it clear. 

 I agree with Jay Greenstein that
PoV should follow the purpose of the story.

Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2016 6:19 AM
Joined: 9/29/2016
Posts: 1

Frankly speaking, I always mixed them. I also know only the 1st person well.

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