I did some thorough searching for duplicates of this question, but I don't think they really cover the same spirit of the issue I'm having. (here are some examples of similar but different questions)

Third person POV
Third-person objective in action scene
Write a 1st person story with a 3rd person narrator

So here's my underlying issue:

I'm writing in third person limited omniscient perspective. The piece is finished, and I've been soliciting feedback from friends. One strategy I employed was an attempt to vary the voice of the narration based on the character being followed. The primary character is very simplistic in his world view, and the sentences are delivered in "bullet patter" and syncopated phrases: "He zipped the hooded shirt beneath his jacket. The hood flapped behind him as he walked."

The next character is an academic (a psychiatrist, in fact) who tends to be more eloquent and in most cases much more observant, so the narration style becomes much more affected by her perspective: "She turned a Rubik’s cube idly with her hand, watching a rotating desk toy that spun as it revolved, which created a variety of unique motions that alternated based on the speed of its descent."

I realize this can potentially come off as gimmicky, but as the story progresses the narration ultimately settles in a place between these two styles. My attempt was to put the reader in a headspace that resembles that of the character being followed.

Is this just muddled? Is the concept of doing this in violation of the purpose of a third person narrator? Are there examples in the wild that pull this off well that I should examine? Are my friends just not getting it, and if so is that a sign I shouldn't use it?

  • 2
    I'd say most people won't even notice it - at least consciously. Which is fine, especially if it works at subconscious level.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 6:42
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    I don't know why, but I've always disliked the term "limited omniscient". I think "3rd person limited" and "omniscient" as separate things is better. (Not criticising Nate, it's a widely used term these days.)
    – Ash
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 7:33
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    @Ash I came up against a similar issue as well, I just wasn't sure the best way to explain it. 3rd person limited omniscient in my case implies that yes, it's limited, but ultimately the narrator knows things the characters do not, but I want the reader to know. I like to think of it as the narration in comic books. But without the bombastic narrator from the Superfriends cartoon. =)
    – NateDSaint
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 15:35
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    I believe Cryptonomicon does this to an extent. Contrast sections regarding Bobby Shaftoe, a US Marine Raider, and those regarding Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a cryptographer and mathematician arguably afflicted with Asperger syndrome. I think it works as fine as long as you're actually shifting your POV (which it sounds like you are), as opposed to just focusing on a different character temporarily, but from the same POV. I think as long as the leader feels like they're looking over the character's shoulder for at least a couple pages, this can work ok. Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 18:38
  • I've read a fair number of books where every chapter specified a narrator and told the story from that narrator's perspective, and found no real issue with this. There were a few of these where there was a narrator I'd learn to skip (I think David Brin's Uplift series), but that was about not wanting to see a disturbingly vivid view into the mind of a character I detested, depicted more artfully than I was prepared to handle. I actually preferred those stories that way rather than full omniscience so that I could avoid exactly those details.
    – Ed Grimm
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 5:33

2 Answers 2


No, I love it. I think it's great. The narrator is sort of echoing the perspective of the the person being observed, and you're absolutely right that the two characters see things differently and speak differently. Having a different narrative "voice" for the two of them is a subtle way of showing the reader their worldviews before they even open their mouths.

I couldn't say why your friends aren't getting it, but I think it's a splendid idea and you should stick with it.

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    I'm with Lauren on this. It sounds brilliant.
    – Lexi
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 5:15

Wheel of time does this very well, as does the edge chronicles.

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    Heya, we're looking for complete-ish answers that stand on their own. References and examples can be super helpful, but to do that, they really need you to explain what it is your example is demonstrating - how the example pulls off the desired effect, what the writer should do, etc. Just saying "X did this" isn't very helpful just on its own.
    – Standback
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 12:35

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