My writing group lately has been harrowing me to stop using 3rd Person Omniscient perspective and use 3rd Person Limited instead. Brandon Sanderson (I'm part of his writing class and will be again next semester) has said that it's gone out of favor and publishers accept fewer works that use it. His debate against using omnipotent is that it can be confusing for the reader. I'll give an example from one of my books where I can see their dilemma:

Yūjin picked up his pace, moving even faster than before. Juko could scarcely believe it. Yūjin was only taller than him by a couple of inches, but he seemed to be able to move much faster than he did. He forced legs to move faster to keep up with him.

Sōan was straggling behind. The two of them moved way faster then she could possibly even believe. It was like they weren’t human.

“C’mon… Sōan…” she huffed, “You can’t let… those boys… beat you now… can you?”

She tried to control her breathing, focusing on the two of them, with their backs continually increasing their distance between her

In this one scene, I simultaneously switch between three character's perspectives, and it's confusing who is thinking what.

As I've recognized this problem, I've started to focus on one person per chapter; however, I've run into another problem. As I write from a limited perspective, the feelings and thoughts of the other characters (who I consider main characters as well) are left in the dust. Also, scenes that I've written lose meaning and context without the thoughts/expressions/feelings of the other characters.

TL;DR

How do I write in 3rd Person Limited Perspective without losing the depth I've built into my other characters? (Note: I'm talking about writing as a whole, not just this specific scene)

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    As far as losing other characters--think of it the way Sanderson talks about world building. You know 50 times as much about your world as what you put on the page. Same is true for your characters. You know the back story for each one, their motivations, dreams and hurts. Only a sliver--the important bits--make it onto the page. You will lose some of them in the dust. But on those rare occasions when a piece of them shines through in action and dialog, it can be very poignant. Ex: Marsh was one of my favorite characters in Mistborn, but in that installment he had no PoV chapters of his own. – DPT Dec 4 at 15:52
  • @user57423, whoops, yes, that's what I meant. I'll fix that. – Joe-You-Know Dec 4 at 15:55
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    The problem you have in your writing is that it is unclear who each instance of "he" refers to. I would simply replace some of the "he"s with the person's name or some other clear indicator of who does what, and then all your problems disappear. – user57423 Dec 4 at 15:56
  • @user57423, so switching, "He forced his legs to move faster to keep up with him," to, "Juko forced his legs to move faster to keep up with him," would resolve the perspective issue? – Joe-You-Know Dec 4 at 15:57
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    Something liike: Yūjin picked up his pace, moving even faster than before. Juko could scarcely believe it. Yūjin was only taller than him by a couple of inches, but seemed to be able to move much faster. Juko forced his legs to move faster to keep up with his friend. Sōan was straggling behind. Yūjin and Juko moved way faster then she could possibly even believe. It was like they weren’t human. “C’mon… Sōan…” she huffed to herself, ... focusing on the two boys, ... Put this beside your text and compare what I changed. There are some other minor stilistic issues, but nothing fundamental. – user57423 Dec 4 at 16:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

First answer: In broad terms, I think the ANSWER is to try to appreciate the strength of story if the POV character does not know what the other characters know. It opens up possibilities that aren't available in omniscient, like the PoV character (and the reader) needing to figure things out.

For example: If a character seems shifty one minute and genuine the next, and we don't know which of these is true because we aren't in omniscient perspective, and the POV character doesn't know either, that's interesting. It creates suspense.

Second answer: From a mechanical perspective, the ANSWER is: simply change each line so that it is only what the POV character knows. (a) Use words like 'seemed' if you want to inform the reader what another character is feeling, and (b) convert some thoughts to dialog.

Example: Yujin's POV:

Yūjin picked up his pace, moving even faster than before. (you can add a reason here and gain depth, eg if they didn't make the village by midday (bad thing would happen). (That is a motivation, and an internal feeling for Yujin.) Juko seemed irritated by that, but the boy ought to be able to keep up; he had long enough legs.

Sōan was straggling behind. "Hurry up," Yujin called.

"Slow down," she called back. "It's like you aren't human."

Was she huffing now? At least she was trying.

She said to herself, but loudly enough that he could hear, “C’mon Soan… We can’t let… those boys… beat us… can we?”

Yujin shook his head, he had no time for her dawdling. The distance between them increased.

Edit: Here is a blog post link that explains advantages of 3rd omniscient vs 3rd limited.

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    Would it be appropriate to switch between perspectives if it's in a more limited way? For example, giving a character a chapter or maybe a scene in their perspective before switching to another POV while keeping the same format you have shown above? For ex: One scene for Juko, one for Yūjin, and one for Sōan? – Joe-You-Know Dec 4 at 15:42
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    @Joe-You-Know That's typically considered OK in my understanding. I'm using two perspectives myself, switching by chapter. I am doing this because there are two very different experiences of my built world that I want clearly shared in my story. And--an advantage of this is to allow the reader to know some of the secrets (from character 1, for example) that the other POV character does not yet know. – DPT Dec 4 at 15:44
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    Okay, thanks. I think I can see where I need to make adjustments then. – Joe-You-Know Dec 4 at 15:49

I would say your big problem is identified in the first paragraph. Yujin is the person who the narrator identifies in the paragraph but in the next sentence, you focus on the internal thoughts of Juko. If you absolutely have to insist on this form of writing, you should treat it like dialog... if the paragaph is about Juko, than Juko must be mentioned first. Turn Yujin's action into Juko noting Yujin's action.

Better yet, rotate the person you focus on between chapters. You don't need an order, just keep it in one character's perspective until it's time to give the next character's POV. For a good example, look at K.A. Applegate's Animorphs series, with a specific focus on the Megamorph titles. Appelegate wrote these books in 6 first person perspectives but kept each perspective distinct and seperate from the other and denoted the focus character in very distinct ways. Her main titles would rotate the narrator in order so that 4 characters got one book out of every five books, and 2 characters got one book out of ten (later was amended to a six books out of every six rotation. Initially the third book in a rotation of five was the book divided among the two.).

More to your help, The four Megamorph titles were jointly narrated by all six characters, though the narration was not ordered and changed as demanded. This change occurred every chapter, and the new narrator for that chapter would be given at the start of the chapter and the character art from the book cover/promotional art was also displayed.

For your purposes, make explicit that a character is the pov for a single chapter and who is the pov for the next chapter.

A final solution is to look at books like Harry Potter (because who hasn't read it by now.). In the books, the perspective is always on Harry and the emotions and depth of the other characters are presented with the Mantra of "Show don't Tell". If it's hard to pick out on reading, than try listening to the American Audio books, as the narrator (Jim Dale) creates a distinct voice for every character in the book (including one offs with one line of dialog). It's pretty obvious to a listener that the narrator voice and the voice of Harry are almost identical and thus, who's POV the story is in. After all, I'm reading HARRY POTTER, not Neville Longbottom and the Housemates who Left Me Paralyzed on the Common Room Floor until Professor McGonagal Saved My Not-Yet-Hot Ass whilst in Her Nightgown.

TL;DR: Ensure that the POV is consistent and only shifts at logical breaks: Paragraphs will be easiest to do, but re-writing to follow a "One POV, One Chapter" or "One POV, One Book" will help cut the confusion much better. Finally, in determining a POV in any break down, always focus on the one that is most important to the story. Yes, Ron and Hermione and... sigh Neville are important... but there is always one person who is in all the really dangerous situations.

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