Easy reading is damn hard writing.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne
The omniscient point of view is sometimes called the “God point of view” because it is the point of view that is see all, hear all and know all. Here, besides various characters’ POV you get the narrator jumping in. The narrator or “God” can do things like give background of a setting or other information that none of the characters would know. The omniscient POV also lets the author step back a little from getting too close to his or her characters, although the latter isn’t obligatory. The author may get close to his protagonist and antagonist.
Just to muddy the omniscient waters more, the rule of one character’s POV per scene (or per chapter if chapters aren’t divided into scenes) still applies, although some proponents of the omniscient POV disagree and say you can be in all characters’ heads at once. “God” maybe is able to be everywhere at once, but your reader can’t with one exception – that narrator or “God” can work in those setting details – you know the type where one character drives into a town he has never visited and more than just what he can see and know is narrated (town’s history, for example).
When to Use Omniscient POV
You can best get your message across and further your plot by revealing many characters’ thoughts, and feelings.
When your story can’t be told from one person’s point of view because of actions occurring in the plot.
When your story needs information that none of the characters would have knowledge of.
In novels that cover several time periods and that have several characters.
In a nutshell, the author knows all/sees all understands all of what each character thinks, imagines, knows, feels.
What Isn’t Omniscient POV
First let’s cover what isn’t omniscient POV, but uses a technique not too common – mixing up first person and third person. Mystery writer Bill Pronzini does this in his “Nameless” detective novels. His earlier novels were told from the first person only and Nameless was just that. In later novels, Pronzini has three POV characters – Nameless (who has a first name now) and two other private investigators in the agency. Nameless is told from the first POV and the other two are in the third person. He sticks to the one character’s POV per chapter and puts the name of the third person POV at the beginning of the chapter. Nameless chapters don’t get this subheading because readers should be able to tell from the first person usage who the character is. Pronzini does this very well.
Omniscient POV in Short Stories
Omniscient, per se, isn’t usually used in short stories, although a variation of it can be used. You can have your narrator come in at the beginning with information about the story, the characters, the setting, etc. but at some point you have to focus on one character’s point of view. Because short stories are supposed to be well, short, you probably shouldn’t use more than two points of view, but no jumping heads – one character’s POV per scene. Otherwise you have the inside of the reader’s head jerking back and forth and getting confused. You do not want your reader to be confused – confused readers give up reading a story (or a novel).
Omniscient POV in Novels.
I use a variation of omniscient POV in my prequel mystery novel which I am writing now. I say “variation” because I put one character, Dana Bowman, in the first person and other main characters’ POV in the third person. I name the POV character at the beginning of the chapter or scene, but unlike Bill Pronzini I do put “Dana” for the first person POV character. However, for obvious reasons, I put nothing at the beginning of chapters with the POV of a maybe suspect.
Dana is put in the first person because she is the character I want the reader to get closest to. She always wears her emotions on her sleeve. Her fraternal twin Bast Overture is in third person for two reasons. He is not so forthcoming in his feelings, even in his own mind, and I want to show the reader this. The other main characters I get close to in varying degrees, but none as close as Dana.
As for the narrator jumping in to do the scene descriptions, etc. I’m still working on that or if I want it strictly from specific characters point of view. I’m leaning towards the latter and there is a technique in that which I’ll cover in a future post.
Meantime, read the beginning of my short story “No Breaks,” and see if you can figure out the Point of View and why? Is it third person limited or is it omniscient?
It’s a scummy Saturday morning and Highway 11 resembles fast food parking hell. If you’re making your last ditch scramble for your reserved spot in the Muskokas, try an alternate route.”
“Yeah, what alternate? Highway 400 is worse.” Millie Browne yells back at the radio announcer. She clicks off the radio.
Most of these Saturday drivers probably have air-conditioned cars. Millie isn’t blessed with air-conditioning. She isn’t blessed. She can’t even remember whether she was baptized as an infant, but today she’s going to remedy that.
Today, on this heat-infested highway, Millie desires only one thing: an even break in life. To obtain this end she plans to jump in the lake. She’s not sure which Muskoka lake but she doesn’t care. It won’t be Baptism by fire, but Millie figures the cold water will clear her head and bring some control back into her life.
Control is Millie’s keyword. She’s organized her life every day from senior year in high school. Her diaries (the truth) speak in contrast to her calendar (the plan).
Not so Jessica Myers, age 30, sitting beside Millie and thumbing on her BlackBerry… (excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press)
Sharon A. Crawford