Omniscient, third-person point of view

(Meg Wolitzer, The Ten-Year Nap)

All around the country, the women were waking up. Their alarm clocks bleated one by one, making soothing sounds or grating sounds or a favorite song. There were hums and beeps and a random burst of radio. There were wind chimes and roaring surf and the electronic approximation of bird song and other gentle animal noises.… Voltage stuttered through the curls of wire, and if you put your ear to one of the complicated clocks in any of the bedrooms, you could hear the burble of industry deep inside its cavity. Something was quietly happening.

[The Top 10 Elements of a Book People Want to Read

In this opening and elsewhere, the author gives us a global overview (although it will segue throughout the novel into the heads of four different women with their respective thoughts and feelings). This approach allows her to talk about what connects the women and about feminism at a given period of time in the U.S. Only by using this all-knowing, assertive voice can she depict the “something was happening” in millions of bedrooms.

Keep in mind that each choice has pluses and minuses. Close-in perspectives can create intimacy but also claustrophobia; distance risks a loss of emotional connectivity as it allows for a focus on big ideas. Figure out what kind of distance works with your story and your aims.

Two exercises to develop your own point-of-view muscles:

  1. Take a paragraph of a story or novel you’ve written and switch points of view and narrative distance. If you wrote it in first person, try it in third. If in third, try a more omniscient narrative stance. Note what shifts in the story, the different choices you’re forced to make as a result.
  2. Find a passage in a book you admire and whose style is different than your own. Copy it out, word for word, noting the point of view and the narrative distance. When you finish continue on in the same vein into your own writing

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