I’ve never thought of myself as being confused by the differences between third person limited and third person omniscient. But I got involved with a writing group last year that left me wondering if I had misunderstood third person omniscient, or if that point of view had radically changed. While the writers represented various levels of experience, there was this pervasive thought throughout the group that third person omniscient was sheer evil, and anyone caught utilizing it (regardless of whether or not they were using it correctly) was shamed for it.
Basically, here’s the metaphor I’ve always used to keep third person limited and third person omniscient straight. In the first, the camera follows one character with a telepathic recorder stuck on that one character. In the second, the camera follows the most interesting person in the room with a telepathic recorder stuck on that character. When the camera changes people, the telepathic recorder goes with it. Yes, there are rules that govern those camera changes, but they’re not overly complicated.
Granted, I don’t write a whole lot in third person omniscient because I tend to prefer first person or third person limited. But I’m pretty sure I know the difference.
I think why the camera metaphor has always worked for me is because it’s easier to think about who the point of view character is and where I want the action to be seen from. First person is like strapping a video camera onto the person. Third person limited is having the camera follow a specific person. Third person omniscient follows the action. It just makes sense to me.