Avoiding the omniscient POV

I am currently reading through the slush pile of stories for my next anthology: THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO…

And I’m noticing a commonality among some of the submissions from unpublished authors. Too many stories are told from the omniscient point of view.

That can work, of course. Dickens used it all the time, as did many authors long ago. Douglas Adams uses it in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (one of my favorite novels of all time). But you don’t see it in use hardly at all these days in fiction.

And there’s a reason.

We want to get inside our characters’ heads and we want to know what they’re thinking. A close third-person POV is usually best if you’re not doing a first person story.

But more importantly, when you use the omniscient POV, you are the character. Your voice in the narration becomes the character.

You want a good example? Read Lemony Snicket. It’s wonderful. Or William Goldman’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE. The voice of the narrator has a personality. And, of course, Adams.

Writing in the omniscient voice is very easy, which is why so many inexperienced writers use it. Writing it well is very hard, which is why so many experienced writers do not.

Too often, writers will use that POV and jump around from one characters’ head to another and let us know what they’re thinking (or worse, not let us know when we should) which can reduce tension and suspense. (Tension and suspense, in case you don’t realize, are good things in fiction.)

Part of the reason it doesn’t work as well is because that POV reminds us that we’re reading a story, especially when I get submissions like this: “The story of how these three people met is exciting…” Yeah? According to who? Or “Time Travel works this way…” No, I want a story, not a science lesson. If you have to explain how it works in the story, find a way for a character to explain it, not the narrator.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who submit these kinds of stories read stories themselves. I find that the best way to learn how to write is to read constantly. Advice books are fine, but you need to read novels and short stories to see how it’s done — and then you need to write and write and write until your work can compare.

It’s like reading a book about how basketball works and thinking that therefore you can now play as well as the professionals. No, you need to watch actual games, notice how the players use the ball and interact with each other, and then you need to get on the court and do it yourself, over and over again, until it becomes easy.

2 Responses

  1. Great post. Head hopping stories drive me nuts.
    Happy New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

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