Knowing All - the Point of View

  • Martin Kirkham
The most interesting thing during do my essay or other types of paper is the point of view you have decided to take. The omniscient point of view is all-knowing. The author can take the reader all over town and in and out of every single person’s head if she wants to. Omniscient point of view can be divided into two categories: intrusive and neutral.

With an intrusive third-person, the narrator (the author) becomes a virtual character. She comments on events and forces her head into the story whenever she feels like it. Many of the novels written prior to the 20th century used this technique, but it has fallen out of favor with most contemporary authors (Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie are exceptions). One reason this pov is not often used is because, as writer Adam Sexton says, “intrusive omniscient point of view encourages readerly passivity. It discourages readers from deducing truths about characters, situations and the world.” In the hands of a novice, this technique can also reduce the tension of a story. Since all the character’s thoughts are apparent, there is less (perceived) driving need for dramatic dialogue, action, and misunderstanding.

Another side effect is that the story is constantly interrupted and readers are reminded that they are in an artificial world. This artificiality tends to remind readers of the great old-fashioned books that used this technique (Tom Jones, Silas Marner, and Tale of Two Cities). If you can’t replicate the style and skill with which these books were written, then this resemblance is probably not a good thing.

In the other type of omniscient, the author does not play a role in the story. She does not judge or overtly comment on characters and events. This makes it easier for the reader to maintain the illusion of the world the author has created. However, for the reader to be comfortable, the reader must know whose head they are inside. This can be very difficult to maneuver, even for experienced writers. Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey jumps from character to character, sometimes switching point of view in the same sentence. It can be very disconcerting. While Kesey’s beautiful writing and skilled characterization make the novel worth reading, if a less skilled author used the same technique, people would most likely refuse to read it.

Another difficulty inherent in this pov is the need to constantly make decisions on what to tell and what not to tell. Tony Morrison’s Beloved is built around the mystery of one of the main character’s background. When her characters talk about this mystery, she has to be careful to tell enough to pique the reader’s interest, but not give away too much. The author has to constantly make decisions on what to include and what to exclude.

The commonly given advice to beginners is to avoid the use of omniscient. For some writers, the only solution is to pay someone to write your essay. While I disagree with the idea that a writer should outright reject any type of point of view, you should approach the omniscient pov cautiously, fully cognizant of all the possible downfalls of this style.

Useful Resources:
Expository Writing Rules
Using Comparison Mode to Enliven Your Writing
How to Become a More Effective Writer
Want to Write a Book? You'd Better Start Now
How to Write a Comedy Story (Part 1)