More on Multiple POV

by Dunn
(Nashville)

Question I am writing a Sci Fi Fantasy type novel. Most of my ideas for it are in 1st person, present and seem to really work like that. However, there are some scenes that need to take place in another part of the Universe away from my main character. I was thinking about switching to omniscient for those scenes. But I see that when you talk Multiple POV, you say it must be either third person, limited, or first person. Why not omniscient?


Answer: You're quite right. There's no rule that says you can't switch to omniscient for those moments. It's simply that omniscient has become less popular in recent decades.

We can speculate on why. Omniscient gives readers the experience of being able to understand the big picture of what's going on in the story world. It's about looking at the characters from an outside perspective, like a king or god.

Omniscient was popular for most of history when the average person, even an educated person, had a very limited understanding of the world outside their immediate community. Only rulers looked at people objectively, so they could manipulate them. Sociology, psychology, economics, and the other social sciences were fascinating fields when they emerged because they offered people new insights into the invisible forces that shaped the human world.

Today, thanks to mass media and especially the internet, it is easy for people to get bombarded with too much information--much of it contradictory, biased, and unreliable. "Personal reality" at the expense of objective truth seems to offer security to many people, no matter how inaccurate their resulting beliefs may be.

So now the subjective experience seems to be more desired in fiction. First person and third person limited have become the dominant forms of narration.

One also comes across a lot of books that offer a kind of hybrid: narration via multiple points-of-view.

Multiple POV books tell the story through a variety of subjective experiences. The reader gets to pretend to be a number of diverse characters. Sometimes each POV is intensely personal. However, the consequence of assuming so many viewpoints is that, at the end of the book, when the readers step back and consider the whole of what has been read, they are forced to take a more objective stance--as they must with omniscient narration. It's like going through a process of repeated associative-disassociative experiences, or like a series of relationship break-ups.

Now, what you're proposing is probably less jarring. If you're just doing a few scenes in omniscient, the effect may be like a having an occasional withdrawal from the subjective experience of being the main character in order to gain a wider perspective on the story or to create dramatic irony.

The interesting thing to consider is not just what information or events the reader may learn about in those moments, but what they might reveal about the main character.

It also raises the question of who your omniscient narrator is and what voice they will use. (Many readers won't care, but a few may find the switch annoying.)

You just have to trust your instincts, and possibly your critique partners.

Comments for More on Multiple POV

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Oct 16, 2014
I hear you, brother.
by: Dunn

Yeah Glen, I'm getting that the wisdom seems to be: "head hopping" is likely to be problematic and should be avoided unless the story "needs" the switch. True, my switching would be less obtrusive, but still I have to ask, is it "necessary?" Or would it really be a sign that I am not creative enough to say what needs to be said without switching POV.

What I realize is that my idea to switch POV was the 1st idea that came to mind. And we really love that first baby, don't we??? LOL Even if its a butt ugly little thing. LOL Anyway,there are a gazillion other possibilities and I am definitely creative enough to find those that totally preserves the integrity of my story.

Thanks for helping me think through this! You, sir, are an invaluable resource, a gentleman and a scholar. :-)

Oct 16, 2014
Still Researching
by: Dunn

I just found these three books that use "First Person omniscient" POV, although Her Fearful Symmetry only uses it in a few chapters:

The Lovely Bones (Bestseller)
The Book Thief (Won a bunch of awards)
Her Fearful Symmetry

I had never heard of this POV before. And it seems to be the least discussed POV on the internet. Judging from the success of the first two book, which have even been made into movies, this seems like as valid a POV as any other.

I guess the secret is establishing early on to the reader why the POV is unconventional...the main character is dead, the main character is Death, etc.

Because my book deals with reincarnation and a main character who is virtually omnipotent,looks like switching from First Person to Omniscient,i.e. using First Person Omniscient, may indeed work for me. Maybe my first baby isn't so ugly after all! LOL

Oct 17, 2014
re: first person omniscient
by: Glen

I would classify the first two examples ("The Lovely Bones" and "The Book Thief") as first person narration, not omniscient, because the reader is privy to the narrator's thoughts and feelings but looks at the other characters from an outsider's perspective. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's how they strike me.)

I realize each of these narrators are "supernatural" and therefore privy to information which a normal human being wouldn't be. Nonetheless, they don't know everything about the story, only the limited data that they perceive.

This is the problem with trying to do omniscient first person. Omniscience is at odds with a subjective voice that can refer to itself as "I" and is limited by definition. The closest is what I call the "character narrator," in which case the narrator is a minor character in the story world who knows enough about the events to describe them but doesn't play an important role.

I would, however, call "Her Fearful Symmetry" omniscient (but not first person omniscient) because the narrator jumps heads and does not refer to itself as "I."

If your main character is dead, then I wonder why you need to switch POVs? Can't a dead character simply transport himself to watch other characters? Or are you wanting the reader to find out something the main character doesn't? If so, why not briefly switch to another character's POV?

Oct 18, 2014
the books
by: Dunn

I just found out about those books last night while researching. Another blogger was giving his opinion that the books use First Person Omniscient. Other sources described the books similarly. The intimation is that these are the only three books ever written with that POV. That does seem strange so maybe the sources are mistaken about the POV. I haven't completed the books though, so I must defer about the specifics.

Just to be clear, I am not just talking about switching POV, necessarily. Back to my ugly baby again. What I keep thinking of is an Omniscient narrator who refers to itself as "I." For example if a character like "Q" on Star Trek the Next Gen" were the narrator and main character. Q might refer to himself as I (First Person)in say Chapter 1, but might know whats going on in other characters' heads. In Chapter 2, he might also know what is happening across the universe...and describe it "without" using the word I, which seems like Omniscient POV to me...thus he could be described as First Person Omniscient. The reader would see everything from narrator Q's POV, but might also see others POV...via Q's omniscient perspective.

Seems rather experimental to me though. But if literary taste/trend can go from Shakespeare to minimalism over the years, then perhaps every dog "can" have his day...potentially.

Oct 18, 2014
re: Q
by: Glen

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't believe first person omniscient is possible, and those who use the term, so far as I can tell, simply haven't thought things through.

An omniscient narrator exists outside the story world. He/she is not a character in the story world. Even if you tell a story from the perspective of a ghost or a being like Q, those characters are still part of the story world and are therefore "character narrators." Moreover, they are limited in various ways, including the fact that they cannot look at the story from an outsider's perspective and be in the story at the same time. At most, they can look at other characters from a unique perspective, but they cannot see themselves and their own role in the story from anything but a subjective perspective.

They are also usually limited in what they can perceive with their senses. Even supernatural character narrators are limited by their personal experience, attitudes, mindset, awareness, choices, etc.

If often helps to think of an omniscient narrator as the voice of the writer, who sits outside the story and knows it all (because it's coming from the writer's imagination).

The instant a narrator in a work of fiction refers to him/herself as "I," they establish themselves as a character in the story world and are therefore not an omniscient narrator.

So if you switch POVs to the perspective of a different narrator who refers to himself as "I," you have a character narrator, not an omniscient narrator, and the reader will want to know who that entity is.

Oct 19, 2014
Out of the Box
by: Dunn

I may have to think about this some more and reply later after I have more of my novel written. Omniscient first person definitely seems plausible to me. But like with most literary rule bending, I think it the particularities of the story that designates what rules can be bent or broken...what makes sense. Thanks for your opinion, though. Having a wall to bounce ideas off is invaluable. And you, Glen, have constructed a magnificent wall. :-)

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