What is 3rd person POV (omniscient vs limited)?
Third person omniscient is a point of view where the narrator is all-knowing and can tell the reader anything they need to know about any character or situation. The narrator is not limited to any one character’s perspective, and instead can move between characters and situations freely.
Limited point of view, on the other hand, is a point of view where the narrator is limited to only one character’s perspective. The narrator cannot move between characters and situations freely, instead having to stick to the perspective of the chosen character. The narrator is limited in their knowledge and can only tell the reader what the character knows.
Examples of 3rd person omniscient vs limited:
Omniscient POV (1):
The snowflakes were gently falling onto the street, coating the old town in a layer of white. The shopkeeper was busy inside the store, wrapping packages and ringing up sales. Across the street, the mayor was meeting with his advisors, discussing plans for the town’s upcoming holiday celebration.
Limited point of view (2):
The snowflakes were gently falling onto the street, coating the old town in a layer of white. The shopkeeper was busy inside the store, wrapping packages and ringing up sales. From his vantage point, the mayor could see the shopkeeper, but he didn’t know what was being discussed in the meeting he was having with his advisors across the street.
Omniscient POV (2):
The stars twinkled in the night sky, illuminating the forest below. John and Sarah had been walking for hours, searching in vain for a way out of the labyrinthine woods. Unbeknownst to them, a group of bandits was following close behind, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
3rd person limited point of view:
The stars twinkled in the night sky, illuminating the forest below. John and Sarah had been walking for hours, trying to find a way out. John could sense that something was following them, but he couldn’t see what it was. He didn’t know that a group of bandits was lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
3rd person omniscient (3):
The sun was setting over the horizon, casting a beautiful orange hue over the city skyline. Jane was walking home from work, her mind preoccupied with thoughts of the day. Meanwhile, her neighbor, Derek, was plotting his next crime, unaware that the police were already closing in.
Limited point of view: (3)
The sun was setting over the horizon, casting a beautiful orange hue over the city skyline. Jane was walking home from work, her mind preoccupied with thoughts of the day. She didn’t know that her neighbor, Derek, was plotting his next crime, unaware that the police were already closing in.
Which narrative POV should I use in my book?
This gets tricky… most books are written with omniscient, and most authors start that way. But then you’ll probably be “head-hopping” where you switch POVs all the time and it’s too confusing to read. We don’t need to know what each character is thinking or feeling all the time; we want to know what’s happening and how the scene looks. But looks to whom?
With 3rd person omniscient, you’ll probably have a more visible “narrator” telling readers what’s going on, and that’s exactly what you want to avoid! Because, unless the narrator is a character you introduced, then basically we’re in the room with you watching you play with puppets. You’re hard to ignore; the story is less engaging because we see the artifice and how you’re trying to tell it.
EVERY time you the narrator is telling readers something, the characters are standing around sucking their thumbs, so you want to remove yourself the narrator as much as possible; description should be encountered and described through your character’s eyes and sense of wonder and discovery, how it appeared to them – what was interesting or different about it to them.
And if we know absolutely everything about everything, then all the conflict and resolution is a foregone conclusion – it already happened – and the narrator is revealing past events, rather than sharing a tale as it unfolds (you can have an active present even if you’re writing in simple past tense, which is also the most common for fiction).
So, limited it probably better. However when I started writing, it was too hard to keep tracking of everything, and I had a much easier time switching to 1st person narrative POV, which is more like journal writing. But that was really difficult too – because a few scenes my protagonist wasn’t there for – I had to cut because they didn’t work.
20 famous books written in 3rd person omniscient POV
1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. 1984 by George Orwell
6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
8. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
11. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
13. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
15. Ulysses by James Joyce
16. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
19. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
20. The Bible
20 examples of books written in third person limited POV
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
8. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
9. Room by Emma Donoghue
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
12. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
13. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
14. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
15. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
16. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
17. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
18. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
19. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
20. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway