Writing in the third person, omniscient is a powerful and dangerous way to narrate your books. If done right, it can provide a fulfilling experience for your readers; if done wrong, it can bore them to tears.
Third Person, Omniscient
a common form of third-person narration in which the teller of the tale, who often appears to speak with the voice of the author himself, assumes an omniscient (all-knowing) perspective on the story being told: diving into private thoughts, narrating secret or hidden events, and speaking through the voices of multiple characters.
The secret to writing a great third person, omniscient narration is to avoid the second phrase of that definition at all costs. Readers do not typically want to hear the author speak, they prefer to hear the story unfold through the minds and voices of the characters.
The power of the third person, omniscient narration is that, like God, you know all and therefore can share all. Using that power effectively can provide your readers with a much richer experience. However, it is a double-edged sword.
With knowing all, the temptation is to narrate as the author, giving backgrounds or insights from your perspective instead of the perspectives of your characters. Doing so will take away from the popular concept of character-driven novels and may bore your readers as they scroll through your lackluster prose that reads more as an independent accounting than a thrilling story.
So, how can you use third person, omniscient narration effectively?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Use your characters!
Instead of you telling your readers what your characters are thinking, let them tell it themselves. I will include a sample of both good and bad approaches; we’ll start with the bad.
“He couldn’t believe that she had accepted his advances and was now lying in bed beside him.”
“Beside himself with elation, Mark was amazed by his good fortune. She’s out of my league! Why would a girl like this, blessed with both beauty and intelligence, grace my bed? It boggles the mind.”
2. Share the wealth.
If you are going to use omniscience, then use it with multiple characters to create a richer experience. For example, we could expand on the above by offering the woman’s perspective:
“As Melody cuddled up beside him after a stellar performance, she questioned his intelligence. Does this guy really think I would just sleep with him out of the blue? He has no idea that I’m about to rob him blind.”
3. Use your powers sparingly.
If you are going to reveal thoughts or secrets, make sure they are relevant to your story. With omniscience, it is easy to go overboard. Resist the urge. We don’t need to know that a non-central character thinks your protagonist is handsome.
4. Limit your powers to two or three main characters.
If your book has thirty characters, we don’t need to know the thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and secrets of them all. Keep it to the select few who drive the story.
5. Keep yourself out of it!
As I said before, the golden rule is that you, as the author, should never be narrating. Find a way to show the reader that the information is coming from the minds or experiences of your characters.
If your omniscient narration is lengthy, use breaking points to re-establish the flow. For example, if my protagonist is reflecting back on her childhood while enjoying a meal at a restaurant, I will mix in some breaks between thoughts to remind the reader that she is still having dinner. Here’s a quick example:
“As Jane’s meal was delivered to her table, she reflected on her childhood. Growing up hadn’t been easy in a dysfunctional family.
Her father… Her mother… Her siblings… School…
As she forked another bite of salad into her mouth, she pondered how the events of her past had impacted the woman she was today.
Growing up unloved and unsupported, she had become an introvert….”
The point is that if you ramble on for too long without giving the reader the context of the moment, you will lose them in the details. With a little creativity, you can keep them engaged.
In summation, third person, omniscient is a great narration tool, but you must use it with care and purpose. If you enjoyed this post, please like, comment, and subscribe. Subscription includes post alerts and a copy of my monthly newsletter with exclusive content and special offers.