Many classic novels were written from the omniscient third person point of view, an all-seeing God-like perspective. Jane Austin, Joseph Conrad and Leo Tolstoy all wrote this way. While it was commonly used historically, it is a less comfortable form for today’s writers. Here is an excerpt from PRIDE AND PREJUDICES that illustrates this:
“Mr. Bennett was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.”
It is Jane Austen and we love her. If anyone is entitled to a God-like point of view, it is she, but really whose opinions are these? They are not universally held as we find out later in the book, but they are the truth. We know this because the narrator tells us. Would we buy this from a modern novelist? Under what circumstances?
The omniscient narrator knows the past and the future and can dip into the head of any character in the story. From The Writers Craft Website (www.the-writers-craft.com) comes the following description of the omniscient POV:
“Think about true omniscient POV as having a camera panning throughout the room at a party scene, dipping into anyone’s head and perhaps more than one person at a time, by taking on the collective group perspective.”
Think about writing like that and how hard it would be to choose which of all the details known to your God-like self to reveal and to do so without indulging in dreaded head-hopping (see previous blog). Limitations have their uses in writing and each writer has to set her/his own before embarking on a book.
Third person omniscient is often used now to tell epic stories with large casts or multiple subplots. A modern example is BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett.