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Tapping Into Your Omniscient Narrator

How Writing in the Third-Person Helps You Step Out of Your Story

Creative Commons CCO Public Domain
Source: Creative Commons CCO Public Domain

In the movie Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick is a robotic IRS agent who begins to question his mundane existence when he hears a mysterious voice narrating his life and foreshadowing his untimely death. When he discovers that he is not the master of his own destiny, but rather a fictional character dreamed up by an eccentric female author, whose voice he has been hearing, Crick tracks down his creator and convinces her to rewrite the ending of his story.

While both strange and fictional, Crick’s journey speaks to our capacity to reclaim our personal narratives when we tap into the voice of our inner omniscient narrator, which like the author in Crick’s narrative, has an elevated perspective on our life story. The omniscient narrator is the quiet still voice that expresses the higher self and whispers our truths. Meditators call it the observing mind.

Sensing the bigger picture, the omniscient narrator has the uncanny ability to sift through all the competing voices—the internalized scripts that reflect what we imagine our parents, spouse, boss, child, and others would say or think based on previous interactions with them—to find our most expansive and authentic voice.

According to behavioral psychology, we begin to assimilate scripts as young children, when we are most susceptible to messages from parents, siblings, peers, teachers, the media, and other powerful influences in our communities. If we were computers, scripts would be our software. If you’ve ever heard the voice of your mother, your boss, or your therapist in your head, then you understand how powerful they can be.

Although adolescence is a time when children typically begin to question the powers that be, many of us still continue to be influenced throughout our lifetimes by incompatible scripts without questioning whether they make sense, or who’s really writing them. Much as we long to flip our scripts, many of us continue to cling to the same, familiar, self-defeating internal monologues that we learned from our parents, peers, teachers, and other characters who were instrumental in shaping our story. Out of habit, fear, or a lack of imagination, we unknowingly cast ourselves in the same roles—the unrequited lover, the unappreciated spouse, the prodigal son, the exploited employee—with the same old lines: “I’m not good enough.” “You don’t care about me.” “You don’t appreciate me.” These kinds of scripts strain our ability to cope and can take on a life of their own by perpetuating negativity and pessimism.

Tapping into the voice of the omniscient narrator, however, allows us to view our lives through a wider lens. It helps us mine the narratives buried in our subconscious that are more expansive than our baser, egocentric childlike self or any of the internalized critical scripts that don’t really belong to us. And because it is omniscient, it can access the narratives that reflect this expanded perspective to both challenge and understand our undermining voices so, even if we can still hear them, they no longer rule us.

Stepping Out of Your Story

While there are several ways to access the omniscient narrator, including prayer and meditation, in my new book, Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life (New World Library I help people attain a fresh perspective on their life story by writing almost exclusively in the third person narrative. Third-person narrative uses the pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they,” and it is used when the narrator describes someone else’s story, often from a neutral or all-knowing perspective. Psychological studies suggest that reflecting on your life, both in the past and present, as a third-person observer can help you see yourself and the things you’ve overcome through fresher and more compassionate eyes. The psychologically distant vantage point of the third-person voice enables people to reconstruct an understanding of their experiences and gain new insights without feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

This makes sense when we consider how much our identity is deeply intertwined with our first-person narrative—the big “I,” otherwise known as the ego. A good, healthy “I” is necessary for establishing relationships, launching enterprises, and navigating life’s ups and downs.

And yet, sometimes we invest so much in our “I” that this perspective gets in the way of adopting a helpful bird’s eye view of our story. When we begin a sentence in the first person with “I am this” or “I think that,” we become automatically attached to the descriptors that follow. This can be potentially problematic. Statements like “I am a rich, successful stockbroker” or “I am a professional athlete” may evoke powerful emotional attachments that, if challenged by external circumstances like the market crashing or getting permanently injured, can trigger an identity crisis.

Tricking Your Ego

The genius of writing in the third person is that it sneaks us past our negating narrators, who think that we are describing someone else’s life. After all, you’re not writing about yourself (wink, wink), you’re describing the character of your first, second, or third novel!

Writing about yourself in the third person creates an opening to be more curious about the direction of your own unfolding story. For example, instead of fearing the unknown, you might wonder what this protagonist will do next—will she accept the marriage proposal or join the Peace Corps and go to Africa? Such a viewpoint can increase your sense of satisfaction and compassion toward yourself, or alternatively, it can serve as a wake-up call if the character you are playing doesn’t fit the picture of who you imagine yourself to be.

From the perch of the third-person narrative, we can step out of our stories, check out the landscape, and determine whether to stay on the road we’re taking or reroute. From there, who knows what we’ll discover?