Point of View: Omniscient

Point of View: Omniscient

Natalie Bright

“The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the gentleman in brown. His breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as he sat, with its light shining on him, waiting for the meal, he sat so still, that he might have been sitting for his portrait.

… He wore an odd little sleek crisp flaxen wig, setting very close to his head: which wig, it is to be presumed, was made of hair, but which looked far more as though it were spun from filaments of silk or glass. His linen, though not of a fineness in accordance with his stockings, was as white as the tops of the waves that broke upon the neighboring beach, or the specks of sail that glinted in the sunlight far at sea.”
The exert above, from A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens, 1946) is an example of storytelling in an omniscient viewpoint.

I’m working on a story with alternating 3rd person and first person, but wondered if I should consider rewrites in omniscient. I need to review point of view to decide, so I’m sharing the information with you as I refresh my memory. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome.

Omniscient Defined

There is no identifiable character observing the scene above and relaying the information. Instead a narrator, who is not identified, tells the tale.

This is not to be confused with head-hopping, where the reader gets into the head of one character, to another, and then back to another. Normally, when the writer changes the viewpoint, or gets into another character’s head, there is a paragraph break or double-double space into a new scene. We’ll take a closer look at head-hopping in a future blog.

With omniscient viewpoint, the narrator conveys the scene without allowing characters to know what they shouldn’t. The narrator in the above example does not let us know the gentleman’s internal thoughts or feelings. We have no idea what he is thinking, however we might have a clue based on his actions.

Here’s another example from Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities:

“”Good Day!” said Monsieur Defarge, looking down at the white head that bent low over the shoemaking. It was raised for a moment, and a very faint voice responded to the salutation, as if it were at a distance:

“Good day!”

“You are still hard at work, I see?”

After a long silence, the head was lifted for another moment, and the voice replied, “Yes—I am working.” This time, a pair of haggard eyes had looked at the questioner, before the face had dropped again.

The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful…”
As a reader, we are never told what the shoemaker is thinking, but obviously from his actions, he is weary and maybe a little aggravated at the interruption.

Have you writing in Omniscient view point? What difficulties have you encountered?

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One thought on “Point of View: Omniscient

  1. Omniscient point of view was used by almost all authors back in the day. I’m not sure it works in today’s market but it’s very lovely. It sort of takes the reader out of the story. They certainly knew how to turn a phrase back there..

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