The Rayne Tour
Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her 19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Visit her blog at Forensics and Faith, and her website at Brandilyn to read the first chapters of all her books.

Third Person POV, Part II

Last month we began our discussion of the three types of third person POV—as I label them: close, removed, and omniscient. We looked at the first two, close and removed, with an example of each. If you missed that article, I suggest you read it first here.

Remember that close third puts us completely in the character’s head, while removed third places some psychic distance between the reader and the action. In omniscient we’ll see that distance stretched even further.

3. Omniscient third person. This POV pulls the narrative voice way back, inserting the greatest amount of psychic distance between the reader and the action. This is the old classics modus operandi, a la Dickens and the like. Readers don’t feel that they’re in the characters’ heads at all. It feels more like hovering near the ceiling, looking down to watch the action. As a result, the author’s narrative voice has full control, all the time. In the classics age, this POV also resulted in a very formal, stiff-sounding use of words.

Today, true omniscient POV is very hard to pull off. The novelist must have a very strong narrative voice—one that can carry the entire book—for everything that happens is told in this voice. This voice can see everything happening at once (hence the term omniscient). Like God, this voice knows the actions of people in separate places and knows the thoughts of every character at any given time. The voice may segue from one character’s thoughts to another in the same scene, perhaps even the same paragraph. But that emotional distance remains constant.

The biggest pitfall with omniscient these days, since we’re not used to seeing it much, is that a novelist will try to write in this POV but end up writing poorly done close third person. In other words, the novelist will burrow into the characters’ heads (a la close third), but then “head-hop” from one character’s thoughts to another. Head-hopping does not make omniscient POV. Head-hopping makes headaches, as the reader is pulled from one close encounter to the next. Again, what makes true omniscient POV is the emotional distance, not moving from one character’s thoughts to another’s.


Ann Patchett is a contemporary author who writes in stunning omniscient. Here is the opening to her award-winning novel, Bel Canto. You’ll immediately hear the author’s strong narrative voice and feel the complete removal from the characters, as the author’s narrative—not the characters’ voices—tells you the story.

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss. They did not see a kiss, that would have been impossible. The darkness that came on them was startling and complete. Not only was everyone there certain of a kiss, they claimed they could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her by surprise. They were all looking right at her when the lights went out. They were still applauding, each on his or her feet, still in the fullest throes of hands slapping together, elbows up. Not one person had come anywhere close to tiring. The Italians and the French were yelling, “Brava! Brava!” and the Japanese turned away from them. Would

he have kissed her like that had the room been lit? Was his mind so full of her that in the very instant of darkness he reached for her, did he think so quickly? Or was it that they wanted her too, all of the men and women in the room, and so they imagined it collectively. They were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in. Maybe music could be transferred, devoured, owned. What would it mean to kiss the lips that had held such a sound?

Some of them had loved her for years. They had every recording she had ever made. They kept a notebook and wrote down every place they had seen her, listing the music, the names of the cast, the conductor. There were others there that night who had not heard her name, who would have said, if asked, that opera was a collection of nonsensical cat screechings, that they would much rather pass three hours in a dentist’s chair. These were the ones who wept openly now, the ones who had been so mistaken.

The best way to study these various kinds of third person POV is to read, read, read. Pay attention to how the author handles each character. The POV, if done well, should be apparent on the very first page of the novel. Then watch yourself as you write. Are you writing close third? Be sure each character’s scenes are told in that character’s voice. And be careful not to head-hop (segue from one character’s mind to another in the same scene). Are you trying to write removed third, or even true omniscient? Make sure your author’s voice is strong enough to carry it off.

When I was learning how to write fiction, I read novels extensively, with pen in hand. I’d mark up the book, noting such things as foreshadow, subtexting, symbolism—and particularly point of view. Learning correct POV was one of my first major steps. And I learned it—that is, truly began to absorb the details of each POV—through reading.


Excerpted from Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins.