Omniscient Point of View

omniscient POVOmniscient POV gives the power to see and know all. It was used much more frequently in the 18th century than it is now, though many beginning writers use it without realizing it.

Writing in omniscient point of view allows you to pop into the mind of any character you choose when you choose… once, or repeatedly. As the author, you may also include your own observations or opinions on the action, even to the point of addressing the reader directly.

Some books written in omniscient POV include The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles and Howards End by E. M. Forster.

Cynthia scowled. “You don’t know anything about it,” she said, trying to hide her true feelings on the subject.

“Says you,” her cousin retorted hotly, hoping to read between the lines. He scanned her face for clues, then plopped on the grass next to her in defeat. “Tell me, then.”

In the example, we’re sent to both Cynthia’s mind, who’s trying to control her true feelings, and her cousin’s, who is hoping to read between the lines, then plops next to her in defeat.

Some readers don’t like omniscient and will accuse the reader of head hopping. Others say it creates distance. Beginning writers may write like this unintentionally because they want to include descriptions of how everyone is feeling in a scene, not realizing they’re actually popping into everyone’s heads to do that. So it must be easy, right? Nope. Writing omniscient well is far from easy. While it’s true that one of the strengths of this POV is that it allows these things to be revealed, there are some problems with this POV as well, such as:

  • Omniscient POV loses the willing suspension of disbelief that we cultivate in a work of fiction.
  • It destroys the sense of reality we try to create in our new world because the author can insert their own opinions.
  • It creates more distance between the reader and the characters.

So, if the drawbacks are so bad, what are the strengths of omniscient POV?

  • Reminding the reader that this is a work of fiction can be a terrific device by highlighting the artificial nature of the story.
  • By increasing the distance between reader and character, the reader gets an entire panorama of reality itself.
  • The author has more control in steering the story and its meaning where s/he wants it to go.


4 thoughts on “Omniscient Point of View”

  1. I’m a beginner when it comes to fiction writing. Having done copy writing for many years, I find this a totally new thing. I struggle with adding attitude. I somehow found that it was easier for me to add opinions in the third person than in the first person, so I’m now rewriting what I have written.
    But now I’m totally confused. If you write in the third person limited, past tense, does the POV character then know what will happen later on in the story? Can he say… “as it turned out..”? Or will that be omniscent? I don’t want to pop in other people’s heads (I think). And I read that omniscent is very difficult for beginning writers.
    When I originally wrote in first person, the POV character was telling the story to someone else, and clearly knew what would happen next and could hint at it. Can she do this in third person as well?
    Thanks for explaining. POV is far more difficult than I thought.

    1. Your question is anticipating my next few posts that dig further into aspects of each POV. :) In third person limited, you can pull away from the character and include exposition easier than first person, but you need to approach it carefully. If you think about it as a film camera, when you get into your POV character’s head in third person limited, you’re going in for a close up. Try not to jump back and forth between those exterior shots and close ups too much or you’ll get dizzy. Pan around first, then go in for the close shot, if you get my drift. He can’t really know the future… he’s still limited only to what he knows at the moment. He can look back and say “As it turned out…” We all can with hindsight. Did that help? Tomorrow’s post will talk about the lesser known POVs, then Monday I’ll talk about the deeper aspects of first person, and next Friday will be the deeper aspects of third person.

  2. Thank you. When I read your answer it seems so simple, but when I’m writing I lose track.
    And thanks for pointing out that the omniscent POV highlights the artificial nature of the story. That’s it exactly. I didn’t realize that. I like surreal stories written in omniscent POV, but realize now that it would not be right for my story.

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