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Deciding Point of View part 3

Which Point of View Should You Use in a Novel? (Part 3)

How to Write a Novel to the End: Which Point of View Should You Use in a Novel?

I had no idea when I started that point of view in a story would take so much telling, but here we are on the third installment on the topic, with more in the offing. If you missed Point of View, Part 1 or Point of View, Part 2, I suggest that you read those first. to recap, briefly:

  • In part one, we defined point of view, discussed how many characters to have in a novel, and looked into possibilities for viewpoint characters.
  • In part two, we examined types of point of view in some detail.

Which Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel Part 3 via @JanalynVoigt for Live Write Breathe

Today we’ll discuss the omniscient point of view. To jog our memories, here’s my thumbnail definition, again:

Point of view is a window looking into a scene or story from the mindset of a character. 

Omniscient Point of View

An omniscient point of view is written in third person, from the perspective of a god-like observer, with characters referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she.’ This allows the narrating character to convey information the protagonist might not know, thus sidestepping a limitation of other types of point of view.  There’s a trade-off, though, because the distance that allows this gives the narrative an aloof tone. Consider adopting an omniscient point of view only If this type of feel would enhance your story.

Be aware that an omniscient point of view is difficult to carry off well, and the shift from one focal character to another may confuse readers. In my duties as a literary judge and book reviewer, I’ve read many debut novels with a botched omniscient viewpoint. I would go so far as to say that this seems to be a hallmark of amateurish novels. If I’ve noticed this, I’m certain editors and agents have, as well.

Most writers struggle with creating a connection between the protagonist and reader. Why make this harder by using a point of view that automatically distances this hoped-for alliance? Head-hopping, a breathtaking writing faux pas, is far too easy to commit when using the omniscient viewpoint.  For these reasons, I suggest that most writers should lean away from using omniscient point of view. Depending on the story, its benefits probably don’t outweigh its pitfalls.

The Difference Between Omniscient Point of View and Head-Hopping

Using the omniscient point of view should never serve as a license to flit in and out of your characters’ thoughts like a bee to so many flowers. Head-hopping in such a manner will only unsettle and confuse your readers. Remember that an omniscient point of view is written from a central god-like narrator who knows each character’s thoughts, not from no one’s or everyone’s perspective.

Limited Omniscient Point of View

If you want the advantages of an all-knowing perspective but prefer to limit what your disembodied narrator knows to just one or some of the characters, write your story from a limited omniscient point of view.  Who to include and who to leave out of the narrator’s viewpoint depends on what you want to accomplish.

Examples

In my examples of the omniscient point of view, notice that including Jack and leaving him out have very different effects.

Just writing the head hopping example made me dizzy. Hopefully, you can see how pogo-sticking back-and-forth between the characters lends itself to reader confusion.

Omniscient Point of View

She should have stayed home, but why should she when Jack was gone forever? He was just turning into her driveway, ready to beg her to take him back, as she put bald tires on a highway with rain streaming across the lanes–not her most brilliant idea, but she’d make the best of it. Just ahead, the driver of a semi was drumming his fingers against a papercup in time to the rhythmic sweep of the windshield wipers. Hot coffee sloshed across his hand, pulling his attention from the road.

Limited Omniscient Point of View

She should have stayed home, but why should she when Jack was gone forever? She put bald tires on a highway with rain streaming across the lanes–not her most brilliant idea, but she’d make the best of it. Just ahead, the driver of a semi was drumming his fingers against a paper cup in time to the rhythmic sweep of the windshield wipers. Hot coffee sloshed across his hand, pulling his attention from the road.

Head Hopping

She should have stayed home, but why should she when Jack was gone forever? ‘Nothing could be farther from the truth,’ he argued with her silently as he turned into her driveway. Even if he came crawling back to her, it was too late, she decided as she put bald tires on a highway with rain streaming across the lanes–not her most brilliant idea, but she’d make the best of it. Just ahead, the driver of a semi was drumming his fingers against a paper cup in time to the rhythmic sweep of the windshield wipers. Only fifteen more miles to go and he’d be home. Hot coffee sloshed across his cup, pulling his attention from the road. Why was that truck swerving?

Some Well-Known Novels Written in Omniscient Point of View*

Tweetables

  • Want to know the difference between head-hopping and omniscient point of view? Click to Tweet.
  • When and when not to use an omniscient point of view. Click to Tweet.
  • Need to know what point of view to use in your story? Click to Tweet.
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©2014 by Janalyn Voigt

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Written by Janalyn Voigt

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I’m Janalyn Voigt, an author, speaker, and former social media mentor. DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, released with Pelican Book Group and will be followed by at least two more installments. I’m also working on a romantic suspense novel set in an Irish castle, but then historical fiction has a grip on me too. Being unabashedly multi-genre makes me into what some might term a reluctant rebel, but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller.

7 thoughts on “Which Point of View Should You Use in a Novel? (Part 3)”

  1. Nice post!

    This was the exact same problem I had when I wrote my novel, because as I never cared to choose a PoV and just wrote how I wanted to, I ended up with a mix of omniscient and third-limited. I finally settled with third-limited because it allowed me to enrich my writing by allowing me to show how my characters acted their emotions instead of just telling they think this and that, certainly the feeling of disconection from my potential readers was another fact I considered towards my decision.

  2. “Today we’ll discuss the omniscient and objective point of views and wind everything up with a glimpse into grammatical positioning.”

    The blog post stopped at Head Hopping. What is grammatical positioning?

    1. Hi, Heidi. I was a little too ambitious on what I could cover in a post. I meant to edit the line you mention but forgot. I didn’t even make it all the way through omniscient POV. There are more variations, which I’ll cover next week and hopefully get to objective POV. A story’s grammatical positioning determines how it is placed in time. This is known as narrative time.

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