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Thoughts on Omniscient Narrators

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Black Dragon, May 2, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    What are your thoughts on omniscient narrators in stories? Their use seems to have fallen out of fashion, but is that a good thing?

    Have you ever considered using an omniscient narrator in one of your stories?
     
  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    *waggles hand* I don't see anything wrong with an omniscient narrator and enjoy stories that are written with one, but for me, personally, and since we tend to write with ensemble casts instead of just one or two MC's, I prefer to use deep 3rd person POV's. I just like the challenge of changing up voices to let the characters shine, rather than my own voice as a writer being the dominant one.

    I do think it's interesting that omniscient narrators have fallen out of fashion and think it's perhaps time to see them rebound. That would create some interesting variety in storytelling.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    To kind of bounce off of what AE Lowan said, I think there's something impressive to see an author switch from one deep 3rd Person voice to another, and for those characters to be very different. I've been writing a fanfiction for the Ladybug IP (it helps with my overall writing anxiety), and I've noticed that people really respond well to the seeing how differently the characters see the world.

    That isn't to criticize anything. But I think there's a reason for the deep 3rd Person craze right now. There's a lot of fresh headspace for a writer to explore, and I think readers are looking for that right now.
     
    Black Dragon likes this.
  4. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Omg, I absolutely LOVE an omniscient narrator. Many people out there like to say that you shouldn't write in omni if you aren't good at it but how are you going to learn if you don't try? So I've written two (now three) of my books in omniscient because it's my favorite style. It's very difficult to pull off though. I think it's a lovely way to tell a story.

    Your author voice shouldn't be narrating in omniscient though. The omniscient narrator is technically not the writer but someone else. The narrator is a different character all together--it should give you that vibe anyhow. They are judgmental, opinionated, and make the reading experience a bit more entertaining. If you're doing it right, the reader is going to receive an all around view of your characters vs just what's in 3rd person. I feel that 3rd person is very restrictive. With omniscient, you can move around and give the reader more of a picture of what is happening, in some regards.

    And it is very challenging. Head hopping is not omniscient. You have to be able to smoothly transition between characters like a camera lens: in and out of their head, to the setting, to the other character(s), maybe what is happening across the street that applies, etc. It should read like someone telling you a story--and that someone is not involved IN the story, if that makes sense.
     
  5. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    I like that approach! Making the omniscient narrator a unique character with a perspective can work out great. I'm thinking of Lemony Snicket, for example.
     
  6. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I think technically that is what the omniscient narrator is...waiting for Malik to join in here.
     
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  7. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

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    I enjoy reading omniscient when it's not head hoping although I personally prefer to write Deep 3rd.
     
  8. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    I dislike the omniscient narrator on the principle that no one (except maybe God) knows what is going on in everyone's head. So I find it unrealistic and, frequently, overly simplistic in trying to explain everyone's psychology and motivations.
     
  9. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I like them too, under some circumstances. But usually I want them to not only not be a part of the story (until maybe the twist at the end!) but still somehow be connected. I usually favour the chronicler of events at some time in the future - which sort of explains the omniscience part nicely. There's a really good narrator who introduces The Core Diplomatique in all of Retief's Adventures (Keith Lamour) and how they solved each crisis - and he's always wrong! (So much for omniscience!) Because Retief is the one who saves the day, never gets the credit and never does it the way the official histories record.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  10. Yora

    Yora Sage

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    Omniscient is best. But just because the narrator could potentionally know and tell everything, that doesn't mean he should.

    The key to omniscient narration is to know what information to share.
     
  11. Well said.
     
  12. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    This. A thousand times, this.

    The narrator is its own character. As the author, you need to determine who the narrative character is, how they know all of this, and what they know and don't know. You don't ever have to tell the reader who it is, but you have to know.

    The reason for choosing a POV isn't "because it sounds good," or "because readers like it."

    POV, and more specifically the narrative perspective that you choose within the POV, determines what information the reader receives, and therefore it determines how the story unfolds. I'm writing my current series in omniscient not because I love omniscient, but because I needed a narrator character to relay key points of the story.

    Even in first person, writing in memoir perspective tells the same story differently than subjective narration, and they each tell the story differently than interior monologue, and so forth. You need to understand and recognize the narrative perspectives resident inside POV and how they affect your story. Then you need to choose one POV and narrative perspective and stick with it for the whole story, unless you're very, very good and really know your voices at ninja level. Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain (not a fantasy, I know) does this spectacularly; told in first person, it reads in subjective narration when the MC is the central character in a scene, and switches to memoir voice in scenes where the MC is a peripheral character.
     
  13. Vaporo

    Vaporo Sage

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    Call me an uncultured swine, but I'm going to express an unpopular opinion here: I'm not a big fan of omniscient narrators. Personally, I find it harder to relate to characters when they are described by an omniscient narrator, since omniscient tends to hop in and out of the characters' head so much. It doesn't feel as "close" to the characters. I actually like the current trend towards third-limited. I like to linger on a character for a chapter or two, get to know them and learn what's going through their heads, and then move on to the next character for a little while. It's clean, easy to follow, and provides a better excuse for why the omniscient narrator (who is sometimes an actual character in the story recounting events) doesn't just tell us the most important details outright.

    Of course, that's not to say that I dislike omniscient. When it's done well it can work great. But, if given a choice, I'd generally rather read and write with a limited narrator.
     
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    There are different types of omniscient narrator, and not all of them fit this description.

    The storyteller narrator fits, and it's a common form of omniscient POV. This could be either in third person or first. (Yes, some first person is written in an omniscient style.) If it's third person, the narrator is typically someone—a type of character—who is outside, above, beyond the set of characters actually living through the events in the story. If it's in first person, the narrator is typically someone telling of a past event who already knows all the details and is now relating them from a future position. (Hindsight is 20/20.)

    There is another sort, the style used by Frank Herbert in Dune for instance, in which the narrator doesn't come across as a separate character, at least not as clearly and obviously as the storyteller variety. This is typically the "head-hopping" omniscient. Basically, it's like a quick-cycling third limited but with switches in perspective happening within a scene, maybe even from paragraph to paragraph, instead of using scene breaks or chapter breaks to switch POVs. Storyteller can do this also; but some narrators, like Herbert's, lack the sort of obvious personality common to storyteller varieties. It's a more objective, less subjective sort of narration.

    As a side note, I've always considered first person and third omniscient to be the most natural sorts of narration. By this I mean that we humans tend to tell stories to one another in these two ways.

    First person is obvious—your friend begins his tale, "I went to the club the other night and you'll never guess what happened!"

    Third person omniscient is fairly obvious to me but might not be to others. "Dave couldn't help getting angry. He always gets angry. His father was an alcoholic; and ever since, Dave's likely to go into a rage if someone at the club says the wrong thing after too many shots. That's also why Dave only drinks sparkling water." I.e., in normal, real life, people have a tendency to believe they know more than they do and are very free in expressing their "expert" knowledge of how and why other people act the way they do. Of course, in a complete tale this is more likely to slip back into first person than remain in the third person: "Honestly, I don't know why Dave even goes to the club!"

    The sort of third person limited now popular in genre fiction is utterly unnatural, heh. I think this might explain why some newer writers have trouble with third limited until they get the hang of it.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I always seem to have the problem Malik sorta, kinda described. The omniscient narrator knows all, but the information given to the reader needs to be whittled down and timed just right. This causes me all sorts of problems. Third limited is much easier in this respect because I have an imposed limitation that can focus my writing.
     
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  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Yeah, one of the main reasons I don’t use omniscient is because I don’t want all the information out there. My approach to the story would entirely different. Someday I’ll find a novel I want in Om, and it will be good fun developing the narrative voice.
     
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  17. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    It's a matter of personal preference. The pov you choose for your story depends on how you want to tell it.

    Yet Frodo and the other characters in the LOTR have been loved for decades.

    I think there is a lack of understanding regarding the power and potency of an omniscient narrator. How many books have you read in that pov? The execution IS smooth, IS easy to follow, and tells what it needs to tell. It has just as much power to entrance and immerse readers as any other pov.

    Not picking on you but I see this said all the time here. "If it's done well!"
    Okay, pizza is great when done well but it can also be done wrong (like when the toppings fall off). First person and third povs can be done well and done wrong. Driving a car can be done wrong. Movies can be done wrong. See where I'm going here?

    Maybe it's the fact that it's different, outside the norms of our day, that omniscient causes a bit of a stir. I personally love it because of the freedom it allows. I think that you are able to get a deeper perspective into the characters because a narrator is showing you how they are on the outside, yet you can also get into the heads of the characters and their thoughts. It's a good deal of fun to write in this pov and I wish people had more respect for it.
     
  18. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    But it can be argued that the author knows all in third limited as well and chooses to opt out of some things/not give all the information either.
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I agree! But for me at least, I have a better direction when deciding what info is too much or extraneous when using third limited, a guide.
     
  20. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

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    I prefer to write 3rd limited for the opposite reason to you Chessie2, you like the freedom of omniscient and I like the restriction of 3rd limited, lol! Although, I prefer to write this, I enjoy a well-told story in any POV.
     
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