A Study in Omniscient POV, Part 1

Billy CoffeyBilly did something in his new release that isn’t done much these days: he used the omniscient point of view. I haven’t seen it in modern works in so long that I had to study it again to find out what marks it as different from head hopping. I came to the conclusion that the only difference is intent.

Tom Clancy was the king of head hoppers, but since he was also the king of international/political suspense and intrigue, he could get away with it. Omniscient POV was once common in this genre, but latter authors, like Vince Flynn and Brad Meltzer, opted for distant third person instead. They tended to stay in one head throughout the scene/story, but focus remained more on actions than thought/emotion/intention, though they could reveal their POV character’s internal processes. Clancy revealed all the characters’ thoughts, emotions, or intentions within the same scene–sometimes the same paragraph.

Francine Rivers used a head-hopping technique in Redeeming Love, in the scene where she illustrated–explained to the reader–what was going on in the minds of both of her characters at the same time. I have a sneaking suspicion that one scene bothered writers more than readers, but it was a surprise to see, especially from such an experienced author. For her, the purpose was expedience–she wanted to show her characters’ reactions to the same event quickly and simultaneously, and she apparently didn’t want to leave the reactions open to reader interpretation.

These days, omniscient is usually reserved for literary works, like Billy’s In the Heart of the Dark Wood. There are different kinds of omniscient: (1) when the viewpoint is presented through a first- or third-person character, giving the impression that the story teller witnessed and is recounting events that already occurred, and (2) the author himself is the omniscient story teller and, through direct interaction with the reader, personally guides her through his woven tale.

This second definition is what Ursula K. Le Guin terms “involved author.” She says this is the voice of a narrator who “knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters” (Steering the Craft, p. 87). This POV is used when the author is “after the kind of insight that comes from contemplating events rather than participating in them” (Characters, Emotions, & Viewpoint, Nancy Kress, p. 207).

This is a valid POV, flexible, complex, and difficult to write. It involves carefully crafted head-hopping and also editorializing. The purpose isn’t to allow the reader to live vicariously through the character, but to make the reader think–which is generally the goal of literary fiction.

Billy chose the second form of omniscient POV because he needed to guide us through the events of the book and reveal how they affected each character. The story is a psychological/spiritual study of the effects of a singular traumatic event on everyone involved, directly or tangentially. He employed all the techniques of the POV: head-hopping, editorializing, providing hints of events to come.

For genre readers accustomed to deep third person POV, the perspective is a surprise and takes some getting used to. But is it worth it? And did Billy do it well?

I’ll let you know Friday.


Related Posts:

A Study in Omniscient POV, Part 2
Review of In the Heart of the Dark Wood
Interview with Author Billy Coffey
Review of “What I Learned Today,” the Billy Coffey Blog

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A Study in Omniscient POV, Part 1

  1. Gay Ingram says:

    I learned something new from today’s post – “to make the reader think–which is generally the goal of literary fiction.” Never before heard that as a definition of literary fiction – makes sense.


    • The point of literary fiction is usually to make people reassess their beliefs. Of course, sometimes, it’s just to be lofty and elitist and shocking, but usually it’s to broaden horizons. Most literary fiction–primarily the mainstream mess parading as literary–just makes me confirm my beliefs. But in the Christian literary genre, it can be an intense and unwavering affirmation of just who God is.


  2. Good post! I’ve been putting off writing about omniscient POVs for a while now. Now I can just point people to your post. :p


  3. Reblogged this on Odd Sock Proofreading & Copyediting and commented:
    From my friend Linda Yezak


  4. I have been really looking at POV’s recently. I am reblogging your post here on my blog so people can read what you have to say. Thanks!


  5. Pingback: A Review: Night Side of Dark | 777 Peppermint Place

  6. Joseph Elliott says:

    Very informative article. Gives new in-site on developing POV characters and how they think.


  7. Pingback: Whatcha Readin’? | 777 Peppermint Place

  8. Pingback: A Study in Omniscient POV, Part 1 | Linda W. Yezak | Odd Sock Proofreading & Copyediting

  9. Pingback: The Heart Mender, a Review | Linda W. Yezak

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