Omniscient: encompassing or head-hopping?

The all-seeing, all-knowing point of view.

Omniscient used to be the standard. It’s also known as eye of God, because the reader gets to see inside everyone’s heads and emotions. It also allows for a lot of description and detail. Back in the 1800s, it meant pages and pages of setting and description, but these days they’d be considered info dumps. It is tempting to load ominiscient POV with every single thing, but you need to choose carefully what will best serve your story.

You also have to avoid head-hopping. Once you establish you are in a character’s head, leaping around can be disorienting. If you find you are sticking mostly to one character, you may need to reconsider third person intimate.

Here are our characters in omniscient:

George tipped his wine onto the white tablecloth. As he’d thought, the red stain looked nothing like blood. Jane had already run to the kitchen for a cloth, but Phillip leaned back in his chair, a sneer on his face. He was getting sick of George’s games. “That wasn’t very clever of you, George,” he said.

I think you’re the idiot, actually, George thought, but he kept a polite smile on his face and helped Jane mop up the wine.

Jane glanced at the two men nervously. Were they going to come to blows over this?

Advantages – the story widens out and can encompass everything and everyone. You can provide a world view, and play with things like discrepancies between characters’ thoughts and actions.

Disadvantages – the reader can end up feeling as though there is no focus, or that you have no control over your own story. This can cause confusion, or a lack of engagement with the story and characters overall. You can also lapse into info dumps, and the temptation to tell rather than show can be a trap.

Challenges – our preference these days for “involvement” (e.g. reality TV, gossip magazines, investigative personal journalism, etc) means that many readers will automatically prefer a closer POV and you will have to work hard to make the story engaging. You can do this through an exciting plot or fascinating characters, or just excellent writing.

Writing hint: continually ask yourself “What is interesting/intriguing/exciting about this scene? How can I write this so that the reader feels the same way I do?” You can also imagine your story as a movie, and turn your omniscient eye into a magic camera that goes everywhere and reads thoughts as well!

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