Friday, March 4, 2011

Omniscient POV is Unnatural

During a one-on-one critique with a fellow writer, I made the general statement that his choice of omniscient POV impacted many components of his ms, so that as he read through my five page review, he would see redundant complaints that would imply there was a lot wrong with his novel, but 80% of it circled back to his POV.

That stuck in my head, which provoked me to study my critique afterward. I was amazed at how dramatically my impression was impacted by this one literary structure. Below is the format of my critique. I changed those elements I felt was negatively impacted by his omniscient head jumping to blue font.

Dialog: omniscient direction and tags; two chars speaking in a paragraph
Tense: an unnatural jump from past to present during head jumping

Action: limited the emotion because everything was in multiple emotional view points
Believability: stretched my acceptance of a single protagonist, thus weakened his emotion
Character: weakened the protagonist, because the emotion was jumping so often
Description: felt unnatural to see every room from multiple advantages, to be told things that the POVC couldn't know
Drama/Conflict: my overall empathy was weakened by being placed into so many minds
Finish: left with the god-person's view
Opening/Hook: was immediately jumping into three chars/the protag wasn't introduced for several chapters
Plot/Storyline: the storyline was scattered, being presented from a dozen points of view
Point of View: entails every comment in this review
Setting: I only want pointed out what is important to the POVC
Stake/Obstacles: was weakened because your empathy was stretched between multiple chars
Transitions: weakened, because the reader had to wait and see why he was supposed to feel a certain way/depending upon POV

Clarity: weakened/not just one char's story
Emotion / Language: weakened/not just one char's story
Flow: weakened/not just one char's story
Pace/Sustained Interest: weakened/not just one char's story
Mood: weakened/not just one char's story
Voice: weakened/not just one char's story

If I was a POV bigot before, I am ten-fold more now. Folks: Writing has evolved. Our readers are more impatient. If you are jumping heads, you are doing your story a disservice. Omniscient narration is unnatural. Allow your reader to remain in one mind.

Write Every Day!



  1. I agree! I really dislike omniscient POV.

  2. Hi Mac,
    Hmmm, I think we can agree to disagree here. ;) Could it be that readers nowadays are just plain lazy and don't want to be more imaginative when reading a book in the omniscient POV? I don't like to read books that talk about "me, me, me" for that matter I read an autobiography. I like to read books in different POVs. :))

  3. I've always thought reading an omniscient POV was like eating through a gauze filter.

  4. Well, Claudia. Obviously you're wrong!


    To me, jumping heads indicates an author doesn't have the skill to weave a story without using ten different looms. Each union disrupts the integrity of the cloth, which ends up looking like a patchwork quilt. I prefer smooth silk.

    A really good story totally immerses a reader into a single protagonist's life.

    Just me.


  5. Albert pulled his head out from under a hood and laid his eyes on something that looked as good as a cold bottle of RC on a hot day. Her hair and summer dress nearly matched the color of the car. She was tall, taller than Hef, together they looked like Popeye and Olive Oyl standing next to one another, except Popeye had gained about a hundred pounds and, well, this girl was nothing like Olive Oyl. Albert knew a couple of things about girls and they boiled down to this: who was pretty and who was not. He was sure about what he saw.

    Albert wiped his hands on a rag and walked quickly to the vehicle, his knees rhythmically slapping his long lab coat out in front of him.


    “This here is Miss Mary Anne, Mr. Clyde’s daughter. Could you check for a rattle under the front fender here?” Hef pointed to the wheel, still holding Miss Mary Anne in his eyes.

    Albert nodded to Mary Anne, crouched and studied the wheel. He overlooked the fresh finger smudges around the hubcap. He did notice the strapped high heels planted firmly in the dust just below the bumper in front of the fender. A pair of long, smooth things shot up from the shoes. He wouldn’t guess where they went, but if he had to, “the sky” was as good as any other guess.

    Albert stood up and found where they poked through the clouds, just short of a pair of penetrating green orbs. “I’ll have to take her for a drive so I can hear what…”

    Mary Anne spun around, the dress twirling from her thighs, hurried around the front of the car and got in the passenger’s side. The act could’ve been easily mistaken as one belonging to that of a teenager. Albert guessed she was at least twenty-one.

    “Careful, son. You can taste the gasoline but not the perfume,” Hef said sternly then winked. “Don’t come back until you’ve found and fixed the problem, hear?” Hef slapped
    Albert on the back and opened the driver’s door for him.

    Albert varied the speed of the car and listened, the faster he went, the quieter the rattle got. Mary Anne watched him work, saw him fiddle with the knobs and levers on the dash, watched his hair whip about his head when he stuck it out the window to listen. He could pass for a doctor, maybe. Sure looks smart enough. Guess wearin’ a stethoscope and all could make any man look like a doctor. Well, some.

    Although Albert knew what the problem was back on the lot, he drove an extra mile or two before he found a safe place to pull over. He got out, snapped open the big blade on his pocketknife and pried loose the hubcap. A small pebble fell out and plopped in the dirt.

    Normally, he would have cupped his hand to catch it before he lifted the cap off the wheel, but he wanted to see it bounce, land and stand there in the dust, all innocent and such. He slammed the hubcap back on the wheel with three firm blows of his palm and plucked the small stone from the dirt. He stood and squeezed it in his palm until he felt each sharp corner poke another part of his flesh.
    Albert slid back behind the wheel, opened his palm to Mary Anne. The stone looked like a lil’ bitty boat in the ocean of Albert’s long hand.

    “It’s just a pebble? Why I declare…” she beamed a grand smile. Albert thought he saw an early summer’s wheat field wave in those big green eyes before she fluttered her lashes and swept away the last of his doubts. He was so distracted that he missed the first four splats of raindrops on the windshield.

    Before the fifth splat, however, Albert had seen all he needed to see. He reached up with both hands and unlatched each side of the convertible’s top.

    Mary Anne hesitated for only a split second as she felt her face flush. He is a smart boy.
    She smashed the rocker button on the dash that said “DOWN”. The power top dropped back easily as the rain came down harder.

    Albert yanked the Eldorado’s shifter into drive, floored the pedal of the big V-8 and spun the car around, heading back the way they came.