Thoughts on Writing – The Omniscient POV

For most of the stories I’ve written, I prefer a deep point of view. I like being right next to the character, getting their thoughts and feelings as they see it. Most of the time I choose either first person (Distant Horizon and Glitch), or close third (Magic’s Stealing and The Little One). While I might swap point of view characters between scenes, those scenes stay distinctly in one person’s head.

And then I started working on The Multiverse Chronicles.

The Multiverse Chronicles is pseudo-steampunk fantasy that consists of a series of short episodes (each around 1,000 to 2,000 words long) that will posted weekly on a blog dedicated to the series. My husband, Isaac, writes the rough draft, which I edit.

At first, editing an omniscient point of view drove me nuts. I wanted one person to follow, and I wanted to stay with that person. (This despite toying with the omniscient POV in The Little One, where one of the characters is a fourthwalling telepath). All of those rules about not head-hopping? They kept poking me while I tried to edit. But once I finished editing the first episode, I tentatively took it to the writing group we attend. To my surprise, they didn’t have a problem with the point of view.

Okay, cool. So I just need to keep up whatever we did with the first episode, right?

I started work on the next episode. I initially wrote with the expectation that I was writing from the bodyguard’s point of view, but then I realized she wouldn’t see the scene in the way we’d written it. In this particular episode, the bodyguard is grudgingly attending a ball in which the man she loves is about to be formally engaged to a snobby princess who looks down at her.

But what I’d embellished focused on the splendor of the ball… not the dark side of the festivities.

Let’s take a look at the current (rough) intro for this episode:

The grand hall of Britannia’s castle was adorned with ornate, stained-glass lanterns. Their yellow arc lights depicted the glorious reign of the Dragon Dynasty across the cream-colored wallpaper. Flickering images of gold and crimson dragons danced among pink-tinted clouds at sunrise. Further down the grand hall, these lanterns revealed the proud history of Britannia. The first Dragon Queen sent her dragons to battle an unkempt hoard of miscreants, and later, she stood with her proud chin high as she morphed into the form of a glistening dragon, uniting her subjects into an unshakable empire for the past two-and-a-half centuries.

 

Beneath the lanterns, diplomats from across the continent mingled, tipping crystal goblets at each other with brilliant smiles as they eagerly awaited the announcement from the current Dragon Queen, Queen Catherine V.

Not exactly the reaction I’d expect from a scorned bodyguard.

However, it did match the mood of the queen, who is pleased with the arrangement of her daughter to the prince.

Suddenly, it made sense. I needed to write part of this scene from the perspective of the queen. Because we’re writing this in omniscient, I could bring in her point of view, even in the same scene, allowing us to see the contrast between the two characters and sense the rising tension.

For example, compare the queen’s thoughts about the bodyguard with the bodyguard’s thoughts about the royalty:

The queen had to admit that the prince was bit relaxed, slacking on the formalities she’d worked so hard to instill into her daughter. But he would come around, just as her Ramón had.

 

Her telepaths had assured her that the prince was faithful, even if his doting bodyguard was something of a slob. She rapped her fingers on the armrest’s dragon head, exhaled in time with the methodical orchestra, and returned her attention to the guests.

Now, for the bodyguard:

“Indeed, this has been a marvelous party, fit for the First Queen, and now, for my daughter.” The queen cast a loving gaze to Princess Cassandra, who beamed with pride.

 

As if she was ever anything but prideful.

 

Alia kept her face blank, but her cheeks burned at the thought of that snooty, high-horsed princess being anywhere near Alfons.

 

Not that there was anything she could do about it.

 

“Over these past months,” the queen continued, “I have been thrilled with the courtliness of Prince Alfons, crown prince of the house of Egilhard, who has treated my daughter with the utmost respect that can be expected from a man of his station.”

 

Because anyone who isn’t raised like some prude isn’t expected to be respectful, right? Alia clenched and unclenched her fists, but Alfons was too busy fawning over his princess to notice the queen’s slight.

Neither queen nor bodyguard like each other. Since we’re in an omniscient point of view, we get to see inside the heads of both characters.

The question I pondered, then, was how to make sure the transition was smooth. The danger of omniscience is head-hopping, a disorienting feeling of being thrown from one person’s point of view to another.

In order to avoid that problem, I decided to make sure that whenever a transition occurs, that transition must be clear. Our focus subtly shifts to the new character with a few cues, such as naming the character and quickly getting into their thoughts with a thought that is clearly not the thought of the former character.

As I considered the topic, I realized we could model this concept after movies and TV shows. Different camera shots let us see what different characters are up to, even in the same scene. (Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Agents of SHIELD and Once Upon A Time). Without leaving the scene, the camera subtly pans to a character with an ulterior motive. We see their reaction, whether it be a malicious smile or a sad lowering of the eyes. We don’t hop heads, but we do switch point of view.

Let’s take a look at the current draft of The Multiverse Chronicles, in which the point of view switches from the queen to the bodyguard.

The queen’s telepaths had assured her that the prince was faithful, even if his doting bodyguard was something of a slob. She rapped her fingers on the armrest’s dragon head, exhaled in time with the methodical orchestra, and returned her attention to the guests.

 

Amongst the rigid guards and the pristine diplomats, amongst the proper dukes and the swirling, bejeweled duchesses who danced at their side, stood a lone, blue-uniformed soldier.

 

Alia Behringer, the prince’s favorite bodyguard. She was tall, especially among this crowd, with wheat blond hair and a lean, muscled body.

 

Alia cast a furtive glance toward the Dragon Queen, caught her glower, and looked away. She remained stoic as the redcoats, but unlike her counterparts, her blue-eyed gaze returned to the prince.

 

He was her charge, and she would defend him with her life.

 

She avoided the queen’s heavy gaze and gave her attention to the prince. Months ago he would have been joking at her side, not perched on miss high-and-mighty’s ‘graceful, endearing, and oh-so-lovely’ arm.

This scene could still use some tightening in terms of point of view, but we can see the switch from the queen to the bodyguard. The queen focuses on the bodyguard, we get a bit of information about her, and then we start seeing her thoughts, things she would know but the queen wouldn’t. Calling the guards redcoats, for example, or noting that she would defend the prince with her life, or how she calls the princess ‘high-and-mighty.’

The queen would not think in these terms.

The Multiverse Chronicles is still very much a work in progress. But the beginnings of the omniscient point of view is there, slowly unraveling itself and making itself useful.

I’ve tried taking cues from other books that feature an omniscient point of view (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, for example) but I’ll admit, I haven’t read many stories with an omniscient POV that I remember, though I know I’ve read them.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you had much experience in reading or writing omniscient points of view? 🙂

Further reading I found on the subject:

http://io9.com/5924661/how-to-write-an-omniscient-narrator-if-youre-not-actually-omniscient-yourself (A really nice explanation of omniscient narration, and how to make it work)

http://www.scribophile.com/academy/using-third-person-omniscient-pov (Explains the difference between subjective and objective narrators, and potential pitfalls with an omniscient point of view)

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4 Comments

Filed under Writing

4 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – The Omniscient POV

  1. Very nice! I haven’t attempted it much as a writer, but as a reader I love the fairytale mood of omniscient POV that’s done well.

    • Thanks. 🙂

      I agree that the omniscient point of view often comes with a fairy tale mood. Maybe it’s the feeling of having a story narrated. In fairy tales, which often come with some kind of moral or lesson, there’s the feeling that the narrator knows where they wish to lead the reader, whereas in limited points of view, the character doesn’t know where the story is going to end.

      Just a theory, anyway. Not sure if The Multiverse Chronicles will have that feel or not, but I think I’ll keep an eye out for it, now that you’ve mentioned it. Thanks for bringing that up. 🙂

  2. schillingklaus

    Omniscient is my one true way to write in, and I refuse to read anything in deep pov.

    • Personally, I prefer to read deep points of view, but I have definitely found enjoyable books that leaned toward the omniscient narrative.

      As for writing styles, I prefer not to limit myself one way or the other, since I’ve found that each story has different needs that make it function at its best. 🙂

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