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I'm stuck on a POV question in a short story I'm writing. The entire story is written in 3rd Person, but not omniscient - I guess it's either "distant limited" or "deep" (I'm not sure exactly the difference and where my story lands, maybe someone can help). That said there are only 2-3 parts where I'm wondering if I need to cut for consistency, or is it ok? If it's ok, does that put it in "omniscient" or "occasional omniscient" if there is such a thing?

Examples:

  1. There is a main character (but not the POV) who at one point says something like: "...some people called him a jerk, others called him an idiot; still others called stupid..." But the POV character wouldn't have heard that himself or have a way of knowing that. But I feel it's important to explain (and I can't show it because those events would never be in front of the POV character to observe it) - would I need to take that out to keep consistent? Or is it justified somehow and what would the POV then be?

  2. The main POV character is approaching a truck with two men in it. The windows are rolled up so the main character couldn't actually hear them. I had a couple of lines of dialogue for the men in the truck. Something like, "Who's that kid?" and the other replying "How would I know?" Again, since the POV character can't actually hear them, do I need to take that out, or if I leave it in, how is it justified? What kind of POV do I have then?

  3. In one scene, the parents of a boy are arguing in the kitchen. To keep within the POV, would only the conversation that the boy could actually hear be written? Currently, that's how I did it, but what if I wanted to include a scene here or there where maybe the parents say something out of earshot?

I think in the whole story these are the only 2-3 places that may break from what the POV character can see and know. But can one sprinkle the odd POV position throughout a story or does that smack of amateurish writing? Thanks in advance for any clarification.

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    Take a look at The Couple Next Door which is a quick read, successful, and head hops effectively. Some of your hiccups can be addressed differently, though--like your MC narrator can think, he always had the feeling that some people thought him a jerk, although he'd never heard said outright. – DPT May 16 at 14:19
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    thanks for that. I'll find that story. unfortunately in my case I cant do what you suggest. – romebot May 16 at 14:49
  • Welcome to Writing.SE romebot. Thanks for jumping right in with a question. Please check out our tour and help center to get a feel for the place. – Cyn says make Monica whole May 16 at 17:42
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You cannot randomly change POV in the middle of a paragraph just to get in that one critical snipe at your main character.

You can have a scene break (usually two returns, to create white space) and move to the POV of other characters, like the men in the truck or two other characters discussing your main character. It's actually better if you do this more than once so it doesn't look like a mistake.

  • Thanks... If I do this, then what kind of POV is the story? Does that make it "omniscient"? – romebot May 16 at 10:21
  • I added a 3rd example, not sure if that adds to what how you might answer. What if I do this often vs. just an occasional thing? – romebot May 16 at 10:27
  • For your third example, which POV you choose will depend on what you want to say about the characters — is the boy's reaction more important, or the parents'? — and you can switch partway into the argument if you like. Whether it works or not is only something your readers can tell you. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 16 at 19:19
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If you want a limited 3rd person narrator, then you need to accept the limitations that come with it.

Either find a way to convey (or let go of) the information in your examples, or change the type of narration.

In some cases, you might want chapters with alternate POV characters narrating. This can happen in chapter headings too. It's probably overkill for your story though, especially since it's a short story and won't even have chapters.

In your first example, either your character needs to accidentally overhear it (which can be done without the speaker knowing) or needs to hear it second or even third hand. Or drop it.

The second example is easy. Your main character can see the speakers. It's easy for anyone to figure out "Who's that boy?" "I don't know" from body language.

For your third example, yes, only what the boy can hear is fair game. But remember, kids have better hearing than adults (something my teen just shocked my spouse and I with...she heard us speak softly 2 rooms away behind a closed door, and understood what we said). It's entirely possible the adults could be sure it was out of earshot but it wasn't.

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Your first example is not a straight-forward, out of the book example of breaking a POV. Your character may as well suspect that other people have a bad opinion on him. He might have overheard something, he might have deducted it from how people behave around him.

Of course, if it's an important plot point, it would be better to show people treating him like a jerk.

Jenn had the habit to slightly sneer each time he talked to her.

He entered the breakroom, joining a small group of colleagues. As he approached them, their voices lowered down and vanished. "What's up?" he said. An uneasy silence fell on the group, as they struggled to aknowledge his presence.

The same could be done if you need to convey the idea that other people think the POV character is stupid. You could have secondary characters treating him mockingly, joking about it and so on.

The second example is indeed a breach of a POV. If the viewpoint character can't possibly hear what the people in the truck are saying, the narrator shouldn't hear them too.

So, in my opinion, the real question is: why would you want to break consistency without a really good reason?

You can play with the PoV and add be unconsistent, but as a general rule is better to avoid that. Short PoV-breaking sentences are to be avoided, unless they are clearly separated from the main text. For example you could have short intros to each chapter written in another PoV. Or you could write entire chapters in another PoV and style, showing events that the "main" narrator wouldn't possibly know.

But whatever device you choose to use, make sure it's justified. Pov switches are tricky and shouldn't be used as shorthands. Consider improving your existing narrator before switching to a new one.

  • Thanks so much... for the 2nd example, I see your point and I have deleted the dialogue of the men in the truck. For the 1st, there is no possible way for the POV character to witness it, or to show it in another way.. It's kind of a backstory and I can't think of any other way but to say it. I'm really stuck on this problem. – romebot May 16 at 10:25
  • I added a 3rd scenario which may be like the 2nd, but to your point, if I do it often, then simply does that make my story "omniscient" and then I can freely do it when I feel it's necessary? I'm a bit lost on a strategy here. – romebot May 16 at 10:26
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    @romebot Yes, if you're consistently struggling to keep consistent with a third person limited narrator, you could switch to ominiscent. An omniscent narrator could still focus on your main character while providing insights on other character too (kind of like of what happens in Dune, if you have read it). But it's up to you to decide if it's worth the hassle. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica May 16 at 10:44

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