A great story will sweep you away into the world of its characters—from the struggles they endure, to their thought processes and reactions to everything that happens.
The point of view (POV) that a writer chooses will affect how readers experience the story. If they write in the first or second person, you’ll feel as though you are the main character. When the author writes in the third person, they may offer you a bit more distance from the main characters.
Advantages of Using Third Person Omniscient
Unlike the third person limited point of view, which shares the perspective of only one character, with third person omniscient the narrator sees and tells the reader everything that everyone in the scene, chapter, or book feels and thinks.
Telling a story from a bird’s eye view—or more accurately, a God’s eye view—has several benefits:
You as the author become the authoritative voice.
When you write in third person omniscient, you can use your own voice and not have to worry about speaking in any character’s voice. And because you as the narrator see everything that’s going on, you serve as the tour guide for your readers.
One real pleasure of reading a book written in the third person omniscient is being able to connect with the author’s voice. The narrator feels as present and as real as the characters they’re talking about, helping the reader identify with a given author.
You get to explore parts of the story that may not be visible to the characters.
When you describe a scene, sometimes contextual details will help your readers understand things better; but attributing these descriptions to the characters, as in the case of a third person limited POV, may sound stilted, at best.
But with the third person omniscient POV, you can seamlessly insert these contextual hints and help your reader along without them missing a beat.
You can explore perspectives of several major characters.
When your story explores the relationships between several characters, having an omniscient narrator lets readers see inside each character’s heart and thoughts. This gives them a more insightful look at the story.
You can give the reader full knowledge and no bias of the situation.
Because the third person omniscient point of view can see everything, the reader themself will also know everything they need to know about the situation.
Challenges of Third Person Omniscient
Although the third person omniscient is one of the oldest ways of telling a story, mastering this perspective isn’t always easy. The following are some pitfalls to avoid:
“Head hopping” can get confusing.
Although the third person omniscient is meant to give readers insight into different characters’ thoughts, when you jump too often from one character to another, it can confuse your readers. You must be able to discern when such insight is beneficial to the story, and when it’s not really necessary.
All that info may overwhelm a beginning writer.
If you are an amateur writer, trying to describe everyone’s thoughts and feelings may be too burdensome. The key is to remember to write only what is relevant to the story.
How to Write in Third Person Omniscient
Writing in the third person omniscient may be challenging at first, but these tips should help you get started:
1. Be consistent.
If you choose to write in the third person omniscient, stay in that mode throughout the whole book. Sometimes you may forget and limit your description to the thoughts of one character; correct your stance and include insights into the other people in the scene, as relevant to your story.
2. Write as objectively as possible.
Because you will be telling the story as an omniscient narrator, avoid any biases favoring one character over another.
If you are not used to writing from multiple perspectives, as you write, practice adding comments on what the other characters are feeling. It will also even broaden your own view of the story you’re telling.
3. Clearly state which character’s thoughts you are describing.
This may seem intuitive, but sometimes, when you use pronouns, it can be misleading. Make sure that you refer to the character by name, or that when you use the third person pronouns like he, she, or it, it’s clear which character you’re referring to.
4. Avoid using too many “he thought” or “she thought” tags.
Although using tags like “he thought” makes it clear which character is thinking what, you should avoid overusing them. For example, you can insert the character’s thoughts as a statement in between descriptions of that character, making it clear that it’s their perspective. Compare the following lines:
Marco gave a nonchalant shrug, intentionally ignoring Anna’s question. I have a right to my own decisions, don’t I? he thought. Anna shouldn’t have to question everything I do. I’ve had just about enough of her meddling.
Marco gave a nonchalant shrug, intentionally ignoring Anna’s question. He had a right to his own decisions, hadn’t he? She shouldn’t have to question everything he did. He’d had just about enough of her meddling.
From the first example, we see Marco’s thoughts explicitly stated, and in the second, they are implied but also still clearly from his perspective. But reducing the tags makes for a more fluid read, especially as you write more and more paragraphs with people’s thoughts.
Examples of Third Person Omniscient
Classic literature is rife with examples of third person omniscient.
Example #1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.
From this excerpt, we can see the author, Louisa May Alcott, giving the reader a glimpse into what each girl thinks by adding “but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.”
Example #2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
At his arrival in the marketplace, and some time before she saw him, the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was carelessly, at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and import, unless they bear relation to something within his mind. Very soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight. His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, its expression might have passed for calmness. After a brief space, the convulsion grew almost imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips.
Then, touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood next to him, he addressed him, in a formal and courteous manner.
“I pray you, good Sir,” said he, “who is this woman?—and wherefore is she here set up to public shame?
“You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend,” answered the townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and his savage companion, “else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne, and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale’s church.”
The omniscient perspective of the narrator gives the reader insight into what the “stranger” is feeling and thinking, but also into the curiosity which the townsman feels towards his question.
Example #3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane’s pleasure. Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood; and Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time; and on the present occasion he had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife’s views on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soon found out that he had a different story to hear.
In this single paragraph, Jane Austen has shown the readers what each of the major characters thought and felt. This gives us the feeling of looking over the event with Godlike eyes, and helps us understand how the events affect each member of the family.
What Is the Difference Between Third Person Limited and Third Person Omniscient?
The third person limited, as the name implies, restricts the author to telling about how one of the characters responds to the events that happen in the story.
Omniscient comes from the root words omni- meaning all, and -scient meaning knowing. The term means all-knowing, and the third person omniscient POV is when the author or narrator knows everything about everyone in the scene or story.
Many writers consider the third person omniscient point of view the most flexible and open POV for writers. It is also one of the most widely used devices in storytelling.
Using the Third Person Omniscient POV
Writing in the third person omniscient POV is a powerful tool for you to bring your readers into the world of your story. Practice as much as possible, and you will find yourself writing a seamless transition between different character’s thoughts, while becoming the authority on telling the story that your readers can trust.
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