IWSG #13 – Omniscient Point of View is Killing Me

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.



So I went wild an put two shorts together, a contemporary romance and a fantasy. The romance bookends the fantasy and it was working out okay, but I had way too many points of view. Cutting back and mixing it up caused all kinds dog-40122_1280of problems. Then I got all inspired again and decided to use omniscient point of view, thinking that I wouldn’t have to explain the contemporary world to the fantasy players and visa versa.

Great idea, just great.

I’ve rewritten the beginning three times. The omniscient point of view was supposed to simplify it but guess what. That only worked to a degree. Now when I read my work I keep thinking about the distance between the reader and characters. I’m jeopardizing the reader identifying with the characters.

So I spent more time on line looking for more answers.

To make this work my characters must be extremely likeable. Gack and ugh! I stickman-154553_1280know I’m over thinking it but I can’t seem to stop myself. All this thinking has stopped my writing in its tracks. I’ve never been this bad off before.

I’m facing failure not because I’m getting out there. Oh, no. I’m facing failure because I can’t seem to start. I really, really need your help this time round.

Anyone write using omniscient point of view? Do you have a list of rules that keep you sane? I’m begging you; please share what keeps an acceptable distance between the reader and the characters. What’s a likeable character again? I’m falling apart and its over a short for crying out loud.

85 responses to “IWSG #13 – Omniscient Point of View is Killing Me

  1. Sounds like a lot of work but ‘m sure you’ll be able to pull it all off and together. πŸ™‚
    Good luck with all of your writing adventures Anna!

  2. I’m sorry that I don’t have any advice or rules for you, but am confident that you’ll figure things out and it will be an amazing read! Can you skip the beginning for now and go back to it later?

  3. Oh no, I feel your pain… omniscient is indeed hard !!! Ok, I have a suggestion. First, you need to write the story because if you keep thinking about it you get stuck in limbo and the story doesn’t get written. So… how about you pick two major characters in the story and try and write it from one’s POV, then the other. I know, I know, that’s a lot of work because it means you’ll have to write the story twice, but then you will be writing (setting aside the omniscient scare), and then the omniscient will come back when you put the two together and nix any internal monologue.

    Ok, maybe it is a lot of work, but it could help to at least think in the different characters’ shoes and play out the scene … my two cents. πŸ™‚ Good luck !!!

  4. Yicks! Omniscient POV is very hard to pull off. Maybe read something written in 3rd-person omniscient for an example of how to do it right.

  5. Oh yuk. I’m sorry, I have no useful advice either. How attached are you to continuing with omniscient if it’s causing you this much pain? Could you pretend to be an observer of some kind instead? (That might not work either, but it might take you away from fixating on the ‘omniscient’ bit for a while).
    Good luck, and do let us know how it goes.

  6. Gosh, Anna, you poor thing! I don’t write that pov either, and the way I understand it, a very hard genre to pull off. Have you ever tried a different pov with this story? Just a thought…

    • I did it to myself when I merged two shorts together. If I leave it as it is I have four points of view and that’s way too choppy for me.

      I’m going to have to go to my fall back position which is to break it up into little pieces I can handle and try smoothing it out from there. πŸ™‚

  7. I’ve done omniscient POV before, but with a twist–it was actually told in first person, so the reader could develop a relationship with the character, but also in omniscient because the character was able to read minds/intents.

  8. Following on what was said above by EE Giorgi, my first crack at a novel was written entirely first person, using the main protagonist, and is telling her story. TMy second was written first person as the other main protagonist, telling his story. There are many parallels, of course, except that each only knows what they can see/hear, so neither is complete as such. The exciting thing is that each looks like being book one of its own series as their respective paths cross, then diverge and cross again (they have a business relationship – she ends up as CFO if his global company). The moral? Make the dilemma work for you, instead of against you.

  9. I’ve never used omniscient point of view, but it seems quite a feat to write it. I’m sure it will take more time than you’re used to–but if you put your mind to it, I’m sure you can do it. Good luck!

  10. Can you use limited omniscient? That is where we experience most of the thoughts, feelings, and action from one main character. And, I don’t think everyone needs to be likeable, but we need to be rooting for someone. Even the villain can be someone we root for because he believes in his cause so much, or you create a certain amount of empathy for him, or her. Give us something to grab onto, a perspective that we can start with. I write plays, so of course, I use many voices. Still, I need a focal point/character. What’s yours?

    • This is the problem. I dropped it down to three characters, but I’d like to strive for a balance of limited omniscient pov. I read what I’ve done through and find other issues.

      Lucky for me it’s a short or I’d give up completely.

  11. Ack! I don’t usually use omniscient pov so I’m not sure what to tell you about that. Hang in there, though. You’ll figure it out. You will!

  12. I’ve actually never heard of this point of view until you mentioned it. I think it’s a great idea to change things up in your short stories. You probably still need multiple points of views. One omniscient point of view and the main character so you don’t have that distance with your audience. Just my opinion. Good luck!

  13. ok so I had to research what it means, having done that now… it sure sounds very interesting πŸ˜€ hope it works!!!

  14. Ick! Omniscient point of view scares the crap out of me! Good for you for tackling such a hard POV! I’m sure you’ll get it, and I think the advice above about just writing the story sounds like really good advice. Good luck!

  15. As a reader I can say it does put distance between me and the characters. I think it works better in a plot driven novel.

  16. I’m probably never use the omniscient POV. Not that I don’t like reading it, but I already have enough trouble with telling and distancing the reader as it is with third person limited POV. If I wrote in omni, I’d probably go crazy from the constant worry that I was doing too much telling. Sigh…

  17. I have no input for omnipresent POV. I know for a long story this can be hard to write. I am not sure I would be up for trying it. I know reading similar books helps me sometimes to get my mind around an idea/technique. I googled that thought and found this list of books with ominpresent POV on Goodreads This book series has been highly recommended for me to read by several people as Steampunk, but I did not realize it had that POV. It is on my list to read. It is on the Goodreads list for that POV–Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1) by Gail Carriger

    Likeable characters, I came across this, when I was asking myself the same question at one point. I found #3 most helpful.

    There is a technique I learned from reading Save The Cat, which is to create a scene in the beginning with a “save the cat” moment allowing the reader to see the character as sympathetic e.g. puts others before himself, an act of kindness, literally saves the cat from death showing caring for animals or smaller things, or does right no matter the cost.

    For instance, in Aladdin he steals a loaf of bread right in the beginning of the movie, but instead of eating it, he gives it to a hungry child, which creates sympathy for the thief. I think there are a few more of these moments throughout the movie, but can’t remember right off the top of my head right now. There can be several of these types of scenes throughout the MS, which makes the character sympathetic, even if not totally likable depending on what you are shooting for in type of character creation.

    Sorry my response is so long, you got me to thinking, lol. Maybe you will find it somewhat helpful. I think you should just write it and don’t over think it too much that can come in revision and you will be able to see the problems clear if there are any.
    Juneta at Writer’s Gambit

  18. Diane Burton

    You are so right about omniscient POV distancing the reader. I want to be in the character’s head–seeing what she’s seeing, listening to her thoughts, feeling what she’s feeling. In one story I had 11 points of view. Eleven! Yikes. My editor suggested toning it down. Hard but I got it down to 4–hero, heroine, and 2 major players. That made the story so much better.

    Best wishes,
    Diane, IWSG #108

  19. I always avoid omniscient POV because it doesn’t seem personal enough for me. When writers in my critique group use it, I feel removed from their characters, like I can’t get involved in their traumas/dramas. I’m eagerly reading the advice your readers are offering, to see why this happens and how it might be fixed.

  20. Omniscient does seem like it would be a challenge but I don’t have any direct experience writing it. Thinking back it seems like most of the books I used to read were written from that POV. I like having the scope of the viewpoint as a reader, but I can see if not done right it could be very confusing.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  21. I’ve never done omniscient–haven’t read much of it either. I can see how it can be distancing; sometimes I wonder if my third-person POVs are distancing, too.

  22. I was going to say take a break from writing and read some omniscient and then try again. Whenever I’m stuck reading seems to inspire me. Good Luck!!

  23. The very first novel I ever wrote was in the omniscient point of view. One can have a lot of fun with it. But, alas, my other stories were all first person POVs after I fell in love with that style. I’m not sure I could write omniscient without a lot of work now. (I’m no help!)

  24. Hi, Emaginette! Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier…. Truly this is a difficult POV to write. I wrote my first novel in this and lots of “head hopping” went on.

    I learned so much from the QUEEN of this POV… JK Rowling. Reread the HP books as a WRITER… She is brilliant at this.

    • Head hopping is something I’m trying to avoid, using a narrator’s voice and at the same time adding direct thoughts and dialogue to keep the reader in touch with the characters. It’s a fine line to keep a balance and its stressing me out big time.

      I do love Rowling, she’s a master. πŸ™‚

  25. I read a great book called Digital Ink that really jazzed me up for writing. It talked about a little of everything…POV, as well as characterization but it sure cleared up some things I had problems with. I think it’s the best how-to I’ve read–no fluff! It’s called Writing Killer Fiction by Hill and Poe. Best of luck to you … And thanks for visiting my blog.

  26. jenniferbielman

    Omniscient is out of my league.

  27. Omniscient point of view can be tricky. I thought I knew how to do it but found out I was only head-hopping. Yikes! I had to fix a whole unpublished series because of that.

  28. A girl in my writing group is struggling with this same issue. I’d just suggest re-reading books you know of written in that tense and seeing what works. Or rewrite in different tenses to experiment. Good luck!

  29. Stephanie Scott

    Thanks for visiting my blog! I read through this post and the comments yesterday and must not have commented. Very interesting discussion. I think Libba Bray’s The Diviners was omniscient POV, though it would switch to a closer third person perspective among several characters. It was different, especially for YA, but the story is historical fantasy and the “zoomed out” viewpoint was fitting for some of the fantasy elements, and set a cool tone for the reader to see things that the characters could not, and would have lost out on without that viewpoint.

    No easy answer! I think if you absolutely need to tell the story in a sense like that, where there are elements you want the reader to know and see that the characters themselves cannot know, then that omniscient, distant narrator can work. Maybe that view point is only used for short vignettes or a chapter intro scene, and then after a scene break, the story continues with third person narrative. Clear distinctions like that make it easier for the reader.

    Good luck πŸ™‚

  30. I’ve never written omniscient, but I don’t think there is a right answer to the distance question. It all depends on how close you want the reader to get to the characters, and what you believe is the best way to tell your story. Don’t be too concerned with the rules or emulating other authors. There will always be readers who wish the POV was closer, and conversely, those who wish for more distance. Just the nature of the game.

    Keep moving through the rewrite. Then give yourself some distance once it’s complete. You can always move the lens closer or further away, and you can always add flaws to the most likable of characters (or likable attributes to the most despicable). Character development in short stories is nearly always minimal, so no self-sabotaging. Get that draft down!

    Sorry, I sound like a drill sergeant.

    VR Barkowski

  31. I wish I had some advice to give, but I’m more of a third person limited or first person limited girl. I like to get into a character’s head because I feel more connected to the character(s) that way. Best of luck!

  32. Omniscient POV can be difficult to pull off. Have you considered a likeable narrator instead? Sometimes that can work, if the impartial observer has a strong personality and interesting things to say.

    I tend to be a first-person kind of girl, myself. Good luck with your story!

  33. spunkonastick

    I’m sorry, I’ve never used omniscient POV before because it’s difficult to pull off. Hopefully you had some good suggestions in the replies.

  34. I used it in my latest novel. There is an excerpt on my blog if you’d like to check it out and see if it helps? Sometimes seeing how someone else did it helps… ? Lisa, co-host #IWSG May, @ http://www.lisabuiecollard.com

  35. Sorry! I forgot to tell you which novel! The Seventh Man is the one I used omniscient in… Evangeline’s Miracle is first person.

  36. Hope it helps and good luck!

  37. Omniscient is hard to pull off. The only think I can suggest is to read books that are omniscient POV. Good luck!

  38. I believe every character can be likeable, even when flawed. If you can only find one personality trait or interest that the reader can identify with, you’re good.

    I used an omniscient point of view for my first novel. It was difficult to write, but it worked pretty well.

  39. I can’t help you because I never use omniscient, sorry. To publish traditionally this is the worst POV one can choose, for some of the reasons you stated. Don’t know about anthologies. I do, however, wish you the best of luck!

  40. I did something like that. I started to look at my actual timeline and realized it was all f’ed up.. Then I tried to fix it, and now I’ve moved things around and lost track of the storyline. Can’t seem to get back into it 😦
    Good luck! Hopefully next month’s IWSG will be a story of your triumph over the omnicience! πŸ˜‰

  41. Omniscient is my favorite POV. I also thought it was hard to write until I discovered two things;

    First, there are no multiple points of view in omniscient. There is only one, and that is the narrator’s POV. Everything, and I mean everything, is filtered through the mind of the narrator, who is not in the story as a character.

    Second, the narrator is not me, but he is an idealized version of me, who is not making up the story but knows the story and is telling it. However, there is more to the story than he tells, but by giving his opinion, by deciding what goes in and what stays out, and by overall voice, he gives his own unique spin on the story. The narrator ( and also I the writer) must know all the details to the entire story even if it is not included in the told story. When I sit down to write, I become the narrator until I stop writing, and I must think like the narrator.

  42. Omniscient narration has become my one way to go. I religiously detest and deprecate empathising with characters; and writing omniscient appears to be the most consequent way to avoid empathy, and to concentrate on the abstract ideas expressed in the story.

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