AND OMNISCIENT POV
In my last blog, I talked about three of the five Third Person Points of View—Limited, Objective and Alternating. In this blog I’ll discuss the remaining two—Deep Third Person and Omniscient.
The fourth one, Deep (or Close) Third Person is a valuable tool because it creates intensity and makes the scene more immediate and vivid. It also helps the reader identify with your character. I compare it to a telescope, focusing closer and closer until you’re in the scene, sensing the action as the character feels it. When asked about what motivates him to write, Stephen King said, “Striking fear into readers’ hearts isn’t really my prime motivation…What I really want is to pull the reader in and give him or her an immersive experience. Basically, I want to own the reader for the length of the story.”
The key word is “immersive.” King wants you to feel so close to the action that it seems as though you’re experiencing it along with the character. Deep Third Person puts you into the scene.
Here’s an example from Stephen King’s short story, “The Moving Finger”:
He walked back into the hall and poked his head through the bathroom door. He saw the finger at once, and that was wrong. It was impossible, because he was way over here, and the basin should have cut off his view. But it didn’t and that meant--
What are you doing, you bastard?” Howard croaked, and the finger, which had been twisting back and forth as if to test the wind, turned toward him. There was toothpaste on it, just as he had known there would be. It bent in his direction…only now it bent in three places and that was impossible, too, quite impossible because when you got to the third knuckle of any given finger, you were up to the back of the hand.
It’s getting longer, his mind gibbered. I don’t know how that can happen, but it is—if I can see it over the top of the basin from here, it must be at least three inches long…maybe more!
He closed the bathroom door gently and staggered back into the living room. His legs had once again turned into malfunctioning pogo-sticks. His mental ice-breaker was gone, flattened under a great white weight of panic and bewilderment. No iceberg this; it was a whole glacier.”
If that gets your pulse thumping, you can understand why readers eagerly await King’s next novel so they can be scared to death.
Notice the visceral immediacy, bizarre action and rich sensory details he uses. He reduces the distance between his reader and his character. The reader is so close she can feel the fear the character feels.
Use Deep Third Person judiciously. Some scenes don't deserve to be magnified because they're not active enough or important enough. Use it to heighten the drama but not on page after page. You’ll exhaust the reader. Think of it as the biggest thrill ride at the county fair. It frightens you, makes you dizzy and accelerates your heartbeat, but you know it will end and you’ll experience relief when you step from the ride.
But what if it doesn’t stop? How long can you tolerate the heightened feelings that come with a never-ending thrill ride?
Let’s talk now about the fifth POV, Omniscient. Using it, the narrator can give a panoramic view of the scene and then move quickly from one character to another, showing not only what the character is saying and how he’s behaving but also what he’s thinking.
Anne Patchett's award-winning novel, Bel Canto, is an excellent example of Omniscient Point of View. It takes place at a lavish party honoring a powerful Japanese businessman. A celebrated opera soprano is the featured attraction. No sooner has she finished her performance when armed terrorists break into the home and hold all the prominent, international guests hostage. Note how Patchett moves from the overall wide view to one character and to another and then another.
The crowd on the floor pulsed with needs. Some had to go to the bathroom again. There were murmurings about medications. People wanted to stand up, to be fed, to have a drink of water to wash the taste from their mouths. Their restlessness emboldened them, but there was this as well: nearly eighteen hours had passed and still no one was dead. The hostages had begun to believe that they might not be killed. If what a person wants is his life, he tends to be quiet about wanting anything else. Once the life begins to seem secure, one feels the freedom to complain.
Victor Fyodorov, a Muscovite, finally gave into himself and lit up a cigarette, even though all lighters and matches were to have been surrendered. He blew his smoke straight up to the ceiling. He was forty-seven years old and had been smoking regularly since he was twelve, even in hard times, even when decisions had to be made between cigarettes and food.
The General Benjamin snapped his fingers and one of the minions rushed forward to take Fyodorov’s cigarette away, but Fyodorov only inhaled. He was a big man, even lying down, even with no weapons save the cigarette itself. He looked like the one who would win the fight. “Just try,” he said to the soldier in Russian.
The boy, having no idea what had been said, was unsure of how to proceed. He tried to steady his hand when he withdrew his gun and pointed it at Fyodorov’s middle in a halfhearted way.
“This is it!” Yegor Ledbed, another Russian and a friend of Fyodorov, said, “You will shoot us for smoking?”
What a dream it was, that cigarette. How much more delightful it was to smoke when one had not smoked in a day. One could notice the flavor, the blue tint of smoke. One could relax into the pleasant light-headedness one remembered from boyhood.
A writer needs a lot of skill to manage a novel with Omniscient POV. Unless it’s done smoothly, the reader may feel disoriented. Some readers simply don’t like the head-hopping that goes along with that POV but many writers choose it because it gives them a great deal of freedom.
But, speaking of freedom, you have plenty when it comes to point of view. Try out first person, second person and the five varieties of third person and see which feels most comfortable to you. You’ll soon find you have your own favorites.