Third person narrative: Limited, Omniscient, Objective
Third person limited, with a little modification.
According to Wikipedia (that most unassailable source), third-person limited is:
Third person limited is when the narrator is an outsider who sees into the mind of one character…In third person limited the narrator is outside of the story and tells the story from only one character’s view.
However, some authors use an even narrower and more subjective perspective, as though the viewpoint character were narrating the story; this is dramatically very similar to the first person, allowing in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but uses third-person grammar.
In my time writing novels, being in critique groups, chomped on by the creative writing professors at UMKC, this has been pounded into me as being The Correct Way To Do Things. Well, either that or first person, which has a literary cachet that is only beginning to gain ground in genre fiction.
Then there’s third person objective, which I will admit I have been confusing with third person omniscient as recently two minutes ago:
…which tells a story without detailing any characters’ thoughts and instead gives an objective point of view. This point of view can be described as “a fly on the wall” and is preferred in newspaper articles.
Then there’s third person omniscient.
Historically, the “third person omniscient” perspective was more common. This is the tale told from the point of view of the storyteller who knows all the facts. An example of this would be “little did he know” when told by that third person, such as a narrator. The primary advantage is that it injected the narrator’s own perspective and reputation into the story, creating a greater sense of objectivity for the story. The disadvantage of this mode is that it creates more distance between the reader and the story.
And the salient point to the above paragraph is this: “Currently this style is out of favor.”
Oh, ya think?
We who have been pummeled call it “head hopping.” I hate it. I really do. But my problem is that I don’t know if I hate this style of storytelling natively or if I’ve been conditioned to spot it and, thus, hate it. Why am I agonizing over this now?
Because of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander.
The short backstory is this: The book was self-published and picked up by a NY house when it started catching buzz around Blogland. I did not buy the self-published version; I bought the Harper version. I don’t know how heavily edited the second one was, but it appears it underwent some serious whipping-into-shape. Obviously I can’t make comparisons between the two (sorry, not getting the other one), but this is significant to today’s agonization.
This book is told in so many points of view I can’t count them all. The servants have a POV, for cryin’ out loud! And while I don’t mind that in some authors, it makes me mad in others (no, I’m not naming names). So beware, head-hopper haters, this book might drive you up a wucking fall.
I didn’t mind it at all in this book, which is what surprised me, but that was also because there was no “meanwhile back at the ranch” transitioning (and if there was, I didn’t notice it), which is what annoys my inner storyteller. Why and when did this style of storytelling fall out of favor? If I weren’t a writer who’d had the propensity beat out of her with the sharp end of a red pen, I would A) not notice and B) not care.
Obviously, whoever read this book (then blogged it and started the buzz) enjoyed it enough for a bunch of other people to pick it up. That snowballed into Harper picking it up. They edited it, but they apparently didn’t follow the current trend of limiting the number of one’s POV characters and, furthermore, not head hopping.
My question is this: Does it even matter to the reader, all this technical flim-flammery, if the story’s engaging? Apparently not.
On the other hand, are you going to be able to send your deliciously wonderful head-hopping novel to an agent and expect something other than a rejection letter? Erm, no. Remember the story I just told you about this novel’s path to publication.
Are we writers just so conditioned by now to spot and eliminate (or the gods of writing will come take our pen nibs away from us) all head hopping and unauthorized POV switches that we automatically think “bad writing” when we come across it? I mean, yes, it can get in the way of the story (and I ran across that even when I was a child glomming every book in the small library by my house), but is it necessarily to be eliminated at all costs?
I’m now intrigued by this and will probably end up reading everything through this filter for a while. I know myself well enough to know I won’t ever be comfortable writing this way and even if I were, a lot of someones would come along and say, “You can’t do that.”