How many of you have tried omniscient point of view? That’s when the author can write how any of the characters are feeling, and what they are observing. Unlike first person POV, where the narration stems from one person, or third person limited, where the “I” becomes “he” or “she”, but is still limited to one POV, omniscient can wander, from one person’s POV to another, but also in camera scope, from an extreme close up to a cinematic long shot, which describes the action from a distance.
The omniscient POV, or OPV, was out of favor for a very long time, especially in young adult literature, which favored extremely close first person POV, in the style of Catcher in the Rye’s stream of consciousness rants. OPV is hard to write well, because in fiction for kids and teens you still have to make sure you are telling a story with a main character, who will remain the focus. Thus, you have to have a strong editorial sense of when to go into another character’s head—it must be crucial to the forward action, not simply because you want to “head-jump” as some editors derisively call OPV.
So, why use OPV at all if it’s so tricky? Will it ever shake its bad reputation? Or, on the other hand, is it coming back in favor? More and more YA books seem to be in OPV. Ursula K. Le Guin, a well-known fantasy writer defends the OPV when she says, “the voice of the narrator who knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters. It cannot be dismissed as old-fashioned or uncool.” Why then, has it been so discouraged in writing workshops, and even in MFA creative writing programs? Perhaps, because it is so easy to do badly! The downside is that we limit our options from our automatic negativity and fear of it. As Gwenda Bond says in her excellent Vermont College MFA thesis, “By rejecting the storyteller's (OPV) voice, we lose far more than we gain… The omniscient narrator is no more intrinsically artificial than a first-person narrator telling the tale, or of a third person limited perspective that comes from a vaporous invisible teller.”
Some authors swear by the OPV when writing multilayered fantasy, or where it adds to the story to have a scene, let’s say, in a wizard’s den where one has access to his plotting and planning, independent of the hero being there. Again, think of it as using three or four cameras in various locations, instead of being limited to one camera angle—the eye of the hero or heroine. OPV is also a way to delve deeply and quickly into the characters’ motivations, and bring out historic information.
More and more authors are using OPV, to great effect! A favorite of mine is Nancy Werlin’s Impossible. She exhibits masterful control over when and where she switches viewpoint, doing so only when it is crucial to the plot. Other examples are Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy and Marcus Zusaks’ The Book Thief.
For more information on this subject, check out Gwenda Bond’s thesis, Eye for a God’s Eye: The Bold Choice of the Omniscient Point of View in Fiction for Young Adults:
For another good post on OPV visit Justine Larbalestier’s blog: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2006/11/16/theyre-just-techniques-people/
Or this helpful post from Five Editors & You:
Have you ever tried to write in OPV? Do you see evidence that it’s coming back in fashion? Any OPV novels you would recommend? What's your favorite POV to write in?