#493…sci, relig, ETC: “The Narrative Interloper in Limited and Omniscient POV”


   Please excuse the title. This simply about a fiction-writing device that you’ve never heard about before. (It’s a special for writers.)



[From a platform just behind the top of an 8 ft-high wall surrounding a high mountain fortress 300 feet above the mountain floor, the Prince Galen–the teenage and untested survivor from a tiny kingdom miles away that has recently been destroyed–now alongside 9 defenders, attempts to stop 1000 enemy solders from leaving the fortress area they surround and moving North, giving the caravan of recent fleeing villagers from below a chance to get farther away from harm until the Emperor can reorganize his terrible circumstances and return…]


   For a sample of actual text that shows how the interloping narrator works, use the DOOR.





   Galen [terrified of heights] waited on the platform. Then came Mira [a maid posing as the Emperor’s daughter who, unknown to the enemy, has already been killed]. With the confidence of a queen, she approached the steps [to the top of the wall]….

   Mira was doing her part. Galen prayed that in the next few minutes he could overcome the fear he never discussed, and do just as well.

   Maid Mira stood on the platform. Prince Galen took her hand. Together they [stepped to the top and] peered over the wall [and down]. In minutes the sun would begin to fall from view. BAAAHHHNNNGG BAAAHHHNNNGG BAAAHHHNNNGG. Maleg’s brass gong echoed off the stone. [Galen then yells down his demand that they leave and return to their homes, which they obviously won’t do. Why? Evil King Stulk has promised his men that whoever captures her can “have her first.” The enemy is furious and wild. But getting up the mountain and over [or under and through] the wall will take time and effort].

   From their second day in the mountain fortress the haunting sound would signal…a daily appearance of the Emperor’s daughter atop the wall.

   The gong would also call everyone to…dinner and morning prayers, so at times it was a weapon, at times a schoolmaster, and at the first hint of daylight a tool, chipping away at what would soon become the “frosty dawn.” But the sound [also]meant there was some sense of order; and that was reassuring, even though the metallic ring, soon to become a part of everyone’s blood and bones, eventually would toll out the deaths of several defenders.


–From chs. 12 & 13 of “The Secret of Zareba,” a novella in Earth Is Not Alone (see right)


   Some comment about the technique here (numbered, of course):

   (1)  All that’s in color (blue or green) is actually in the text. The “boldface,” however, is not.

   (2)  A comment about fiction content. All fragment of fiction fall into one of 3 categories: (1) narration (the author gives all kinds of descriptive details); (2) dialogue (what the characters say to each other–whether accurate or imperfect, true or false); and (3) thoughts (through the magic of the author we can climb into characters’ heads and know what the characters are actually thinking or how they feel or what they wonder about. If this happens to two or more characters, we call this omniscient POV or point of view. If we’re allowed into only one head in a story, we call this limited-omniscient POV.

  (3)  One more bit of (what many would call) fiddle-faddle. Most of the time (98%?) Stories–that is, good acceptable ones–are written from either the 3rd person POV or the 1st person POV. Let’s just consider the 3rd per. limited-omnis (ignoring the omnis.) and the 1st per. limited-omnis. POVs. They can quickly be identified and explained by example. Look at line 3 of the text. “Galen prayed…” (silently, it seems) that he could overcome his fear of heights. We know that. Other characters in the story probably weren’t aware of that. That’s the 3rd person technique the author has chosen. He could have said, “I prayed…” and let the read know directly that Galen is telling this story about what happened to him. Authors chose one way or the other without mixing them up.

   (4) One other thing that you can’t tell here is whether or not you can “climb into anybody else’s head” in this story. If you read several pages of most stories, however, you can. So you’ll have to take it from me that in “The Secret of Zareba” you see into one head only–Galen’s. It simply the choice the author makes when he sits down to his keyboard. A reader can figure this out by carefully examining any piece of fiction. You learn about characters in a story by one of three ways or by combinations of these: (a) by what they do, (b) or by what they say out loud (which may be accurate or not, true or false), or (c) by what they think. Which way is best? All 3 ways are employed by good writers, and each way presents its advantages and disadvantages. I almost always use the 3rd person limited-omniscient POV. Why? Although most fairy tales use the 3rd person omniscient POV, I don’t. For me the limited-omniscient technique (as I’ve defined it) is the most realistic way to look at life. On Earth, at least, a person never gets in more than one head–his own. One intriguing challenge and joy of life is discovering how close we can get to another’s total “person.” But we never completely get there, and we have to settle for a an approximation of, say, the person we love. We, of course, accept that God totally knows us–a bit scary, perhaps, but let’s not go there here…

   (5) Now–at last–the main point I’m trying to illustrate. If you look closely, my writing does not faithfully follow the 3rd limited-omnis. POV. In my sci-fo writing in places an interloper suddenly intrudes, only to quickly disappear. Why? Because that’s the way the story goes. (Writers can get artsy and cop out.) Look at the part that’s in bold-face green. There is the prophetic announcement that the “deaths of several defenders” would occur. There’s no way fearful Galen would have known such detail! The only caveat we can offer for this and 3 or 4 other similar interruptions is that Galen–this is Galen’s story–is putting things down this way in his “record” after he (obviously) survived and in recounting his experience he’s offering prophetic cliffhangers to keep his listeners’, or readers’, interests from flagging.

   Okay, we’re pushing things too far.

   But this story in no way has an omniscient POV. I believe if you work hard you can use your “eyes and ears” to learn enough about the characters to care about them.

   Just like you do with real people in real life.

   So you’ve made it to the end of our explaining interloping 3rd pers. limited-omnis. POV. And you heard it here first at adozenseconds.com.

Author: John Knapp