The Beauty of Omniscient Viewpoint

A telescope and compass sitting on an old-fashioned map.
Omniscient viewpoint is like the person with the telescope, seeing everything.

Ever since I’ve been writing

I’ve read over and over that omniscient viewpoint is old-fashioned, no longer used, that publishers won’t take it, too distant, etc.

It’s not true.

I found that out when I took on viewpoint. At the time, I felt like the viewpoint for Miasma was not right (it was in third), and I couldn’t pin down why. The instructors of the class went into all the viewpoints, but even they didn’t really understand how it worked.

The concept of the all-seeing narrator is difficult to understand, especially when trying to frame it from the perspective of third person. So I went out and hunted down books in omniscient.

What I discovered was quite unexpected

My favorite re-read books were in omniscient.

Every single one of them.

Omniscient viewpoint has this wonderful and warm storytelling quality, like you’re sitting in front of the fire being told a story by a storyteller. In fact, when it’s done well, most readers probably have no idea they’re reading omniscient viewpoint, and writers (and even agents who should know better) have mistaken it for third person.
It’s a beautiful viewpoint to read and work with.

This week’s post was for a prompt from the WANA folks (though I conveniently had a topic that fit right in):

Second Time Around –ย Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored โ€” what is it that speaks to you? ~ Ellen Gregory

Check out everyone else’s:

  • Will post these for you as they become available.

And don’t forget to drop in some of my other posts on omniscient viewpoint.

16 thoughts on “The Beauty of Omniscient Viewpoint

  1. Ellen Gregory May 24, 2013 / 6:59 am

    But… Linda, what are the books?! That’s a bit like a joke without a punchline. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Omniscient viewpoint is an interesting thing to discuss. Personally I prefer third person intimate or first person — I find it easier to get into the heads, hearts and souls of the characters and I’m much more likely to have an emotional experience.

    But not always. When I’ve revisited books I love from 20 years ago, many of them are in omniscient! It was certainly a lot more common — and yes, accepted — a couple of decades ago. Many of those books are still wonderful.

    Having said that, on revisiting The Hobbit recently, I discovered a strong narrative voice, which I didn’t like at all. I suspect I differ from you in that. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Janice Heck May 24, 2013 / 7:55 am

    Linda, what are a few of your favorite books in omniscient point of view?


    • Linda Adams May 24, 2013 / 9:43 am

      There’s one — a series that’s out of print — called Sing the Light. The author is supposed to be rewriting it in close third for a new release. If you want to compare, read these, and read her fourth book, which is in close third. There is a difference in the narrative quality.

      Tamora Pierce’s Lady Knight series is also very good. She stays close to one character for most of the book. Her Circle of Light is also in omni, but I don’t think she handles the switching between multiple characters as well. Still excellent books.

      The Harry Potter series is in omni, and again, also follows one character very closely.

      Also Clive Cussler’s books — earlier ones, though. The newer ones feel like tired retreads of what he’s already done. His books often have huge casts and six plots, where omni is really a plus in juggling all that. He’s the one I looked at when I was learning how to write omni.


  3. Janice Heck May 24, 2013 / 7:58 am

    Linda, I read your others posts cited and found a few books mentioned. I will look at those.


  4. corajramos May 24, 2013 / 10:48 am

    I was going to ask what Linda asked, book names, but you already answered that. Interesting the way you found out that you like certain books because of the viewpoint they are written in. I never thought about liking a book for the POV it was written in. I’ll have to look through my favorites and check that out.


  5. Tami Clayton May 24, 2013 / 1:04 pm

    I’m now curious to see how many of my favorites (re-reads or not) are in omniscient POV. I’m glad you listed your faves in the comments because I, too, was left wondering what they were at the end of your post. ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. rabiagale May 26, 2013 / 10:21 pm

    A lot of older books–including much of the children’s literature I read aloud–is in omniscient viewpoint. It’s not an easy viewpoint to write nowadays, so thanks for the links to your earlier posts about it.


    • Linda Adams May 28, 2013 / 9:10 am

      It is very common in children’s literature because of the storytelling aspects. It’s also common in books by British writers. For some reason, here in the US, writers have gotten a really negative view of it. Maybe it was all those 80s thrillers written in omni, and not always well.


  7. Margaret May 28, 2013 / 10:31 pm

    So are we going to have a revival? I’m thinking that my rereads are probably all omniscient as well – I like your description of them being “warm”. Much to think about here, Linda, thanks.


    • Linda Adams May 30, 2013 / 12:40 pm

      I hope so. Given all the shift to first person, it seems almost inevitable that people would eventually get tired of an in-your-face viewpoint.


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