The omniscient POV (point-of-view) is making a comeback! The thing is, I don’t think it’s intentional. And most of the time, it’s not very good. When it comes to genre fiction, especially character-driven fiction, third person is a better option because it strengthens the reader-character connection.
I edit a lot of character-driven fiction (romance and women’s fiction specifically), so I see a lot of authors who think they’re writing third person POV, but they’re actually writing a bad version of the omniscient POV (or a bad version of third person, however you want to crack that nut). There are three main indicators that you’re writing in bad omniscient/third person. First, let’s take a look at the differences, then we’ll look at the problem.
Sometimes called the “narrator,” this is an all-seeing POV, knowing the inner workings of all the characters and able to tell what’s happening in different places at the same time. This POV lets the reader see everything but from a distance.
Most of the classical literature you read in high school and college was written in omniscient, but today’s audiences want deeper connections with the main characters. You can’t get that with omniscient because it’s a shallow, superficial look at everything. For most of today’s genre fiction, the preferred POV is third.
Third Person Point-of-View
This POV lets the author show the story from the viewpoint of one or more characters. Third-person gets into the head of each scene’s POV character, showing everything as they experience it. The reader doesn’t get to see anyone else’s thoughts or emotions until there’s a scene break and the book switches to a different character’s POV.
Because third person POV gets into the head of the scene’s POV character—showing what that person sees, hears, thinks, fears, etc.—the reader can connect with the characters because she experiences the story at the same time and in the same way as the POV character.
Bad Omniscient/Bad Third Person POV
These are the three most common mistakes I see with third-person POV. Some authors try to recover by calling it omniscient, but that still doesn’t work. Let’s pretend like we’re editing a romance novel. The genre standard (and expectation) is third person POV with two POV characters: the hero and the heroine. Here’s what usually happens:
- Head hopping. Instead of staying in the hero or heroines POV, the author show’s everyone’s reactions in one scene. We see how the friend, neighbors, and parents think and feel about the situation. That’s called head hopping—instead of staying in one character’s POV, you hop into the head of every character.
- Same voice. Regardless of which character dominates the scene, all of the descriptions sound the same. When the barista, poet, mechanic, and insurance adjuster all marvel at the mountain’s majesty and use similar phrases and words to describe life and their setting, then the narrator’s voice has taken over and is imposing her own thoughts onto the characters.
On their own, #1 and #2 could be omniscient, but not when you add #3.
- Focusing on specific characters. When 90% of the book focuses on the hero’s and heroine’s current story with only 10% of it hopping into the heads of other minor characters, then the book isn’t really in omniscient. It’s third-person with some errors.
Most authors I speak with or work with are actually trying for third person, but when they hop heads or create vivid descriptions that they don’t want to cut, they often think that maybe they’re writing in omniscient instead. They aren’t. They’re simply writing third person with some POV issues. Instead of trying to hide third-person POV mistakes behind a veil of bad omniscient POV, you’re better off fixing the mistakes and writing your story in strong third person (unless, of course, you really want to write in omniscient—then make sure you’re not slipping into third person).
Not sure which POV to use? Most genre fiction (romance, mystery, suspense, etc.) uses either third-person or first-person point-of-view. My recommendation: leave omniscient for literary or general fiction.
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