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Exercise: I see all

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: October 22, 2002
Reposted on: October 24, 2004

Omniscient point of view (POV) is not often used by authors today, though it used to be common.

How does an author narrate in omniscient POV, given that the modern reader will assume limited POV unless strongly clued in otherwise? Using one POV per divided sections of a story, careful transitions, and avoiding head-hopping will help an author write omniscient POV for a reader today.

Let us start out by defining omniscient POV.

The omniscient narrator knows everything about the story including all characters, action, places, and events. Because of this all-knowing and all-seeing, the author can enter every character's thoughts. It is as if we are observing through a surveillance camera. We step back and see the whole picture, guided by the author. Omniscient POV is a non-participant POV where the narrator keeps distance from the story and explains, but does not participate in the story (see definition of non-participant in the list below).

(By contrast, in limited POV, the narrator - be it first or third person - only has access to the thoughts or emotions of a single character; other characters are seen only through what that one character can see or hear of them. Going even further, in the objective point of view, narration is limited to what can be seen externally, without insight into any character.)

Once this omniscient authorial presence is established, individual characters' POVs may be explored in the story. The narrator can also provide information not know to any of the characters. At the extreme, the omniscient narrator can speak directly to the reader, commenting on the action; this is known as authorial intrusion, and when well used can provide information or amusement. When used poorly, it can dispel the reader's suspension of disbelief, breaking the mood of the story.

Omniscient POV can lead to confusion if not carefully written. The author has to seamlessly transition from one POV to another. The author may decide to use the omniscient POV without jumping inside characters' minds, but he must still orchestrate his narrative voice to avoid a tangle of information.

A common error in using omniscient POV is to start out with a long scene in the POV of a single character; the reader then assumes limited third-person narration, so the transition to another character can pull the reader out of the story.

Total omniscience becomes clear in a story through various devices. Total omniscience is clear when many or all of the characters' POVs are shown within the story. Each character's thoughts are revealed while in their unique POV. The author uses careful transitions to provide information to the reader without confusion.

Often an author will write one characters' POV per chapter or scene to keep the POV clear to the reader. Action adds to the each character's POV and facilitates this easy transition between the characters' POVs. The narrator's omniscient comments are a tool to provide seamless transitions between characters' thoughts. When these devices are used carefully, the reader always knows whose POV is expressed. There is no confusion or head-hopping.

The following example shows total omniscient POV using two characters. The action provides opportunities to carefully change from one character's POV (Robert's) to the other character's POV (Audrey's). The comments by the narrator clarify the POV. We know easily if we are in Robert or Audrey's POV.


   Robert thought it odd that his supervisor was waiting in
   his office. He bent over his secretary's desk, "Audrey, run the
   mail down right now, please." Robert was always one for covering
   bases, and sending his secretary out on an errand would ensure she
   could not hear what was about to take place.

   Audrey lifted the single letter from her desk and turned to Robert,
   she was tired of being sent away from her desk so frequently. "Sure
   Robert, I just took the mail two hours ago, though." She left the
   office walking slowly. She stopped to talk to her friend Amy before
   taking the elevator to the mail room. "You won't believe the latest
   Amy, the boss is talking to Robert right now. He sent me to the mail
   room, like I don't know what is going on - he's the only one who
   doesn't know he's getting canned. I'll call you after I get back
   and let you know how he took it."

Note how in this example, the focus is shifted from Robert to Audrey through the use of intermediate action involving her.

To develop your understanding of omniscient POV study these definitions and examples on the Internet.

definitions of POV:



definition and examples:



definition of participant and non-participant aspects of POV:

head-jumping explained in third person POV:

For more helpful POV information look at Lani Kraus and Rhéal Nadeau's exercises on POV at the Internet Writing Workshop website at http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/topics.shtml#pov


In 400 words or less, use two or three characters to create a story written in the total omniscient POV. Shift the POV from one character to another, then again to a third (or back to the first). Make clear to the reader when you have switched and which character is now in view. Make your transitions/switches between characters as seamless as possible by using the devices of dialogue, action and the omniscient narrator's POV. Be sure to use omniscient POV, not limited omniscient. Stay away from just summarizing by using action. Omniscient POV is tricky, so give extra attention to verb tenses and pronouns and study the examples at the sites given above.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: November 4, 2002

Hello Practice-W members,

OPOV is tricky, and thanks to everyone who attempted it!

Here are some observations from the week as noted by the members:

  • Some members were afraid to crit, but made great critiques nonetheless. I found it tricky to critique as well.
  • Practice and critiquing OPOV increase writing skills.
  • OPOV is flexible. That is part of why it is tricky to write and critique and to recognize.
  • To make transitions from one person's POV to another person's, use a physical, tangible object. It passes the POV between characters with ease. This use of a tangible object usually includes action, which is another great transition tool.
  • Sticking to just three transitions within the submission made the stories much easier to follow. OPOV is easier to follow with smooth, less frequent changes in character's POVs.
  • Limit the amount of internal dialogue used in a character. It can become confusing, and is easy to fall into limited OPOV with this technique.
  • Third person makes OPOV more recognizable. First person is more often found in Limited POV than in omniscient.
  • Adding some information that none of the characters could possibly know is a firm indication of OPOV. Such authorial comments give the story distance. Distance may or may not be desirable as a technique an author wishes to use.
  • Dialogue as a tool to transition between character's POVs can be disorienting to the reader. Careful transitions and set-ups in dialogue are necessary for OPOV to work well.

In conclusion, OPOV is an antiquated technique that has some strong points; it works when an author wants to make comments and when distance within the story is desirable. With OPOV a sense of closeness to the characters and the element of surprise may be compromised. Practicing OPOV is tricky, but also helpful to a writer's skills. Every time I do this exercise, I learn more of the subtleties of OPOV and increase my knowledge of points of view in general. I hope you honed your skills this week!

Thanks to everyone for participating.

Patricia Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.