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The know-it-all writer: Editor's Notes #131
October 15, 2012

The main advantage of the omniscient approach
is that it's the easiest to handle.
That's the major reason so many writers select it.

--Arthur Herzog

In this issue:

1. The know-it all writer uses third person omniscient point of view
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web site

1. The know-it all writer uses third person omniscient point of view
Third person point of view is the most common and most diverse narrative point of view. For that reason, I'll write about it in a series of issues.

Third person POV allows an author to speak with an authoritative voice at a distance from the reader.

Today, I'm beginning with the most common POV, and therefore, the one you are probably most familiar with: third person omniscient POV.

Omniscient means all-knowing, in the sense that God sees and knows everything.

As in all third person stories, the narrator speaks of the characters as he, she, they, them, and it.

You probably know third person omniscient POV best as the narrative style of many fairy tales. You know what the hero and heroine think and do, and you also know what the weaker and the evil characters think and do.

This POV is also suited to epic stories that span generations.

Strengths of third person omniscient POV
  • The author can range far and near. Nothing is hidden from the reader.
  • A whole host of characters lie open to scrutiny.
  • It is possible to explore relationships from all sides.
  • The author's voice is the voice of the story. No matter who or what is being described or reported, the author's voice is the one in the reader's head.
  • The author can tell the reader things no character in the story knows.
  • The author can explain or interpret the story.

Weaknesses of third person omniscient POV
  • The distance between the narrator and reader may make it harder for the reader to identify with characters.
  • Having unlimited scope presents problems to many writers. How does one know what to include and what to leave out?
  • Some writers have trouble switching back and forth between the internal lives of a variety of characters and do not always make the switches clear to readers.
  • There is a temptation to tell the reader what to think. "So, little children, we see that disobeying our parents leads to serious trouble, so always do what you are told."

Examples of third person omniscient point of view in literature
  • Anna Kerenina (Leo Tolstoy)
  • Middlemarch (George Elliot)
  • Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)

Your challenge over the next weeks is to notice which point of view an author is using in the material you read. If it is third person, is it omniscient third person? If not, how would you describe what it is?


2.Tickled my funnybone
Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.


3. Interesting Web site
Here's a site that gives 60-second reviews and outlines of classical and modern literature. The short video clips sound like good synopses, so if you are about to write a synopsis, check out the videos on this site.

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