Omniscient: having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness or understanding.
In this Point of View (POV), the narrator is a God-like character. The narrator knows everything about all of the characters, places and events involved. You can put the readers inside anyone’s mind at will and the author can state facts that none of the characters are aware of. Now this may seem like “the key” to you. We could tell the story so much quicker. Why should we worry about who is able to know what—that seems so complicated, right?
But look at this example, something beginning writers often fall into: He bit his nails and thought that she did not understand him. He watched her and wondered what to say. She brushed her hair and thought that he needed therapy.
It is jarring, and can bump the reader out of reading concentration, which is absolutely not a good thing. You want the reader to identify with your main character(s) and to keep turning the pages.
This POV is considered rather antiquated (used more in 19th Century writing) and is not used as often now. I think the major reason is that reader involvement is low—you really can’t get into your main character’s emotions and feelings and let the reader get to know him/her unless you use first- or third-person POV. And if you’re switching around from one character’s head to another, that tends to confuse the reader. It also tends to “tell” rather than “show”. Many agents and publishers will reject a work that contains too much “head-hopping.” (Romance novels seem to be the exception.)
Some well-known authors use a snippet of Omniscient at the end of a scene or chapter, especially in mysteries or thrillers.
For example: Groups of workers walked steadily down the darkening road on their way toward the plant just visible in the dusk. The night shift would soon start. No one seemed to notice when they were joined by a tall one-eyed man and his limping young companion.
It’s not wrong to do this, but if you’re a purist in sticking to one POV, you might ask, if we are in a particular character’s mind and no one notices these men, how do we know they’re there?
I’m not saying never use Omnisicient POV. I’ve read books where I’m almost finished before I realize it’s been written in Omniscient. If it’s done well, with a lot of skill, it can be quite effective. But the key is skill and practice: knowing the rules so you can break them in a way the reader won’t notice.
Do you like or dislike reading this POV? Have you ever used it effectively in your own writing?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.