Why omniscient POV is not recommended

One of the most common errors we see in amateur manuscripts is POV slips, which occur when a writer who means to be writing in character POV includes something the POV character can’t know.

For example, if you’re writing from the POV of a starship captain, you ought not put a line like this:

The captain had no way of knowing a massive asteroid was hurtling toward his ship.

If he has no way of knowing, you can’t tell me.

Photo by Gabriella Fabbri http://www.sxc.hu/profile/duchesssa
Photo by Gabriella Fabbri

I think there are two reasons this kind of slip happens. First, there’s just bad teaching. Some of the old writing books say you can do this as long as you’re writing in third person instead of first person. Baloney. It doesn’t matter what person you’re using. If you are in the character’s POV you may only reveal information known to the character.

Second, we make these kind of slips because we’re steeped in the novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which were written in omniscient POV and therefore did this kind of thing all the time.

The reason omniscient POV is out of fashion is that readers don’t want to see the coming trouble telegraphed. They want to be in the moment with the captain.

“I never did finish Moby Dick,” the captain said, “because—”

A mighty rumble like thunder cut him off. The entire vessel shuddered. Lights flickered, and the blare of klaxons filled the bridge.

The navigation officer gripped the arms of her chair. “What was that?”

The captain spun toward his chief engineer. “Status report!”

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  1. […] also want to avoid POV slips, which I discussed when explaining why omniscient POV is not recommended. POV slips often occur when you slip out of deep POV and into a narrator mode. They can also occur […]

  2. Joy K. Massenburge says:

    I loved that several examples are used. POV was introduced to me in Sept. 2015 and its hard to get the concept. I still struggle. Everyone says don’t head hop but I can’t see it when I do it. The more examples I’ve been consuming the more I see it when it pops up in my work.

    1. Joy, you are not alone. The biggest problem is that omniscient POV and deep character POV can both be written in third person, so unless you know what to look for, they are hard to tell apart. I have a paper on viewpoint that I can send you. It goes into more detail and gives more examples.

  3. […] I’ve said before, omniscient POV is Not Recommended. Readers want a closer relationship to the characters. Besides, as soon as you introduce an […]

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