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I am writing a book that's supposed to be third person omniscient, but I find myself sometimes writing third person limited a lot of the time. That is, I'll often frame scenes in a way that's affected and limited by certain characters' perspectives. I do this for dramatic effect, and because of its informational value. Instead of blandly explaining that "x" character entered the room menacingly, I'll describe the menacing entrance of a "stranger". To the omniscient narrator, no-one is a stranger. Writing the man instead of John Smith kind of detracts from the omniscience, I feel. Yet for this story, I just need the freedom of having an omniscient narrator unbound by any one perspective. Perhaps my question is based on a false premise? Is perspective-hopping in-line with third person omniscient, and is it okay in an of itself?

What I'm afraid of is that this'll just confuse the heck out of people, and break their immersion. So, how do I balance this?

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    An omniscient narrator doesn't need to tell his audience all he/she knows. But perspective hopping is also fine (especially if you switch only between chapters).
    – user54131
    Dec 16, 2022 at 20:40
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    @towr I don't switch between chapters, but I do switch between scenes (new paragraphs at the start of some setting-change).
    – user110391
    Dec 16, 2022 at 21:18
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    Look up FREE INDIRECT SPEECH. Your question is about 'narrative voice', and your confusion is whether the narrator is another character in the book with a unique POV (an omniscient character's POV), or if the narrative voice is a literary device that adapts as needed for the storytelling.
    – wetcircuit
    Dec 17, 2022 at 3:45
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    The idea of segues between limited and omniscient might be useful. Imagine limited third, in Genevieve's viewpoint. "Genevieve's grief raked like a claw." Now imagine omniscient. "All across Boston, people understood the world had shifted." Now imagine segue narrative between the two. "Genevieve's grief raked like a claw. She thought she might never smile again. Everyone in the chapel felt that way, that night, and moreover, all across Boston people understood the world had shifted." The intermediate bit of narration eases the reader toward omniscience.
    – SFWriter
    Dec 19, 2022 at 20:43

2 Answers 2

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While it's possible to slip between different POV styles (see "narrative distance") it's unusual to move between Omni and limited. In fact, it's unusual to read Omni at all in most modern mainstream books.

It's not just a matter of information or head hopping - 3rd person limited is supposed to give the reader a flavour of the character they're "attached" to.

Omni is not swapping characters between scenes or chapters (that's multiple POVs) - it's being able to know things the pov character doesn't know, to swap from head to head during a conversation. It's one of the most difficult writing styles to master.

(E.g. see Frank Herbert's Dune. It allows considerable density in a scene, but also asks more of the reader)

Try to be clear in your own mind what style you're using, and stick with it. Or the likelihood is you'll write a confusing mess. Readers might not be able to put their finger on it, but they'll find it difficult to read.

If you want to keep things simple, use 3rd person limited and keep the head hopping and number of characters to a reasonable limit.

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Instead of directly stating a character's name, try to describe the character's appearance or impression. Once they've appeared, have one of the other characters say their name in a sentence or write what one of the characters is thinking.

His eyes burned with fire, and the room's attention was drawn to him as his face darkened. As he approached, his usual fixed and gentle appearance was now contorted into a mixture of rage and disgust.

"Uh, are you okay, Finley?" Asked the girl. "Finley seems to be a bit off the hook."

We can assume that since we already have a character description of the person, we can already tell what the person's impression is just by their description alone, unless, of course, the scene is at the beginning.

This still gives off that omniscient POV but makes the POV closer to the girl's perspective, or everyone who isn't the man gives off the dramatic effect of some tension and maybe intrigue of why he's so peeved or menacing in what you asked in your question.

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