From Nathan Bransford:
If a writing fairy popped out of an old typewriter and granted me the ability to fix one craft problem in all the unpublished manuscripts across the realm I would probably terrify it by how quickly I’d shout, “PERSPECTIVES! For the love of Melville fix the broken perspectives!!”
You probably know there are three main perspectives to choose from in a novel: first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.
. . . .
Here’s the thing: If you’ve chosen one of the third person perspectives, you may not realize that you’re going about it all wrong.
That’s because people often confuse an omniscient perspective with the very common and extremely wicked gremlin of writing craft: awkward head jumping.
In this post I’m going to show you how to spot the difference between third person omniscient, third person limited, and head jumping, and give you tips on writing with a cohesive perspective instead of completely disorienting the reader.
. . . .
What is third person omniscient?
A third person omniscient perspective is often compared to a god’s-eye view because the narrative voice is able to show anything it wants the reader to see. An omniscient voice knows what’s happening in all places and can divine what every single character is thinking.
There are no limits to what can be shown by an omniscient narrator. We can zoom around to various locales and we can dip into characters’ heads as needed.
But while an omniscient perspective can see all thoughts, it is typically a consistent, unified voice, almost as if there’s an unnamed character (or sometimes even a named one) who is narrating the action and guiding the reader through the scene.
What is third person limited?
As the name implies, third person limited is more, well, limited. It’s typically tied to one character at a time. Even though it’s written in third person, there’s an anchoring character and we only see the events through their perspective.
This means that we only know what the anchoring character is thinking and only see what the anchoring character is seeing. Any other character’s thoughts have to be inferred through actions, gestures, or dialogue.
There can be multiple third person limited perspectives in a novel, but typically these are wholly contained within a chapter or section before the perspective shifts in a new chapter or section.
What is head jumping in a novel?
Here’s where the problems start. Sometimes people try to create an omniscient perspective through an assemblage of third person limited perspectives.
We see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking. The reader is bopped around the scene willy-nilly as we bounce from character to character.
Often writers will even shift the perspective within the same paragraph or even the same sentence. There isn’t a unified single voice, but rather more like a cacaphony of voices.
Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford