If I’m in 3rd person limited omniscient, I was told that I can switch the 3rd person LO, but I can’t do it within the same scene. I understand that. However, my question is whether I can switch to objective omniscient (“fly on the wall”) for a scene provided that I do not break the rule of writing within the view of any one person? I did that, and I got negative feedback from the beta reader because I switched to omniscient POV for a scene that didn’t include my protagonist or any other 3rd person LO. But in my mind, it’s not true omniscient since I didn’t write from any one perspective necessarily; it was all dialogue, actions, and gestures. What do you all think?
(I’m a little confused because I believe limited and omniscient are opposites – I think I get the gist, but I might say something here that doesn’t make sense)
It is generally considered bad taste to switch POVs, so it doesn’t surprise me that your beta reader flagged it. However, there ARE exceptions where it can be done well if done intentionally. My first suggestion would be to make sure you’re shifting POV for a good reason – something that adds to the theme or the reader experience, not just because it may be easier to write.
If you are confident in the purpose of your POV shift, the negative feedback from your beta reader does not automatically mean you have to cut it. However, it does mean you might not be “pulling it off” yet. Are there edits you can make to reinforce the point of the shift and clue the reader in that its intentional?
Finally, it’s good to get multiple opinions. See if other beta readers flag the change, too. If you do edits and people still aren’t getting it, it may be best after all to find a way to write the scene in the prevailing POV style. It’s just easier to keep readers on board.
Hey Thomas. Great question. It’s a little bit of a confusing question, which I think also points to the answer. 🙂
Just to review for everyone’s benefit, there are three basic narrative “omnisciences”.
Limited – The narrator is a fly on the wall and can only describe what’s observable. The narrator doesn’t know anyone’s thoughts, feelings, or motivations.
Semi-omniscient (also sometimes called “Limited Omniscient”) – The narrator only has access to one character’s head or heart (or sometimes a limited number of characters, but not everybody). Aside from that one character, the narrator can’t say how any one feels, he can only observe.
Omniscient – The narrator knows what everyone is thinking and feeling, all the time, everywhere.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “objective omniscient.” But to answer your question more generally, you need to pick exactly one narrative omniscience and then apply that consistently and universally throughout the book.
If you chose semi-omniscient, then you have access to one character, and if that character isn’t present, then the narrator defaults to a limited perspective.
There is sometimes an exception in which an author will have omniscience to only one character per scene. (The scenes or chapters usually alternate between POV characters.) This is challenging to pull off well. While it’s a bit of a trend, it’s usually done very poorly and I don’t recommend doing so for a variety of reasons. One reason being, what’s the rule when the POV characters meet? Whose POV trumps?
Based on the confusion in your question, I would wager that yes, you are very likely confusing your readers with your POV schema. Choose one rule and every chapter/scene should follow it.
This is the kind of thing that a lot of readers couldn’t explain the rule, but they know it intuitively. Violating these rules will leave most readers unable to explain exactly why but just feeling confused, disconnected, or uninvested.
I hope that helps!