Photo by Alexander Sinn on UnsplashI will eventually get round to writing a comprehensive guide to each of the different types of point of view (POV), I promise. But for now, I'm going to share a few examples of stories written with a third person omniscient point of view so that should you fancy using this narrative in your own story, you are armed with some examples to help.
Before we get to the examples, however, I will just briefly dive into what third person omniscient point of view means.
What is third person omniscient point of view?As the name indicates, third person omniscient point of view is written in the third person (he/she/they/it). When choosing this type of narration, you are not limiting the view of the world to the eyes of a select number of characters (like in third person limited POV). Instead, the narrator is all-seeing, all-hearing and all-knowing.
A third person omniscient narrator can opt to delve into certain characters' thoughts at whatever time they choose. At any given moment in a scene, you can divulge what each character is thinking and feeling as you are not confined to the thoughts and perceptions of one character who you are writing from.
The main criticism with this point of view is that it introduces a certain barrier between the reader and the character(s) as they are not seeing and experiencing the world solely through their eyes and they are not gaining full access to their thoughts and feelings. There is a level of detachment as the narrator is an all-seeing entity, and has their own narrative voice which is distinct from that of any character.
Nowadays, it's becoming less and less common to see fiction with third person omniscient narration published by traditional publishers, but it's not completely out of fashion! For example, a lot of fairy tales are told in this style, including modern retellings.
The advantages of third person omniscient POV:
- You aren't restricted by a certain character's perception and access to information. You can relay any information about the past, the present and maybe even the future without having to make sure that this information would be knowable to a specific character and without having to make sure this information is introduced in a natural way in the character's perspective.
- You can develop your own narrative voice which is separate from that of a character or characters. The narrator becomes a sort of extra character in themselves through their voice.
- You can move between characters easily and get a glimpse into different characters' thoughts in a scene so the reader is able to see exactly what's going on all around. An example of this would be two characters meeting for the first time. If we were in third person limited, the reader would be limited to the thoughts of one character. They would therefore only get to see what the pov character thought about the new character. In third person omniscient, the narrator can tell the reader about both characters' perceptions of the other and convey what both characters think of each other in their first meeting.
8 examples of third person omniscient point of view in literature
I genuinely wanted to have the opening sentences of Pride and Prejudice here because they are ICONIC, but I feel like our later introduction to Mr Darcy in chapter 3 is a better example of the use of third person omniscient.
...Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.
Our principal character is Elizabeth Bennett, but here we see Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley introduced without it being through her eyes. Instead, we get a more general overview of how everyone perceives the men rather than how Lizzie perceives them (even if these perceptions are the same).
Another big indicator is that everyone is named as an individual in their own right. If we were viewing the story through Lizzie's eyes (third person limited), the last sentence of the excerpt would look something like this:
Amongst the most violent against him was her mother, Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted Elizabeth.Mrs Bennet would be introduced in this part through her relationship to Lizzie, and the 'her' in this instance would be Lizzie, as it would be taken for granted that we were in Lizzie's head.
fairy tale fantasy story published in 1997 that follows the story of Tristran Thorn on his quest to find and capture a fallen star. Fairy tales are often written in third person omniscient point of view.
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire.
And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.
The tale started, as many tales have started, in Wall.
I feel like this is fairly self-explanatory, as it is clear that the narrator is separate from the story they are telling through their use of 'there was once a young man'. We're not getting the story from the mouth of the young man himself, but instead from someone watching from above.
Backman uses third person omniscient to enable him to switch between characters quickly in scenes and provide more philosophical ideas that wouldn't fit with a third person limited point of view.
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.
historical fairy tale fantasy published in 2017. While the story predominatly follows one character, the story is told from a third person omniscient narrator who frequently flits between other characters and tells the tale in a more detached style.
It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow. The brilliant February landscape had given way to the dreary grey of March, and the household of the boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich were all sniffling from the damp and thin from six weeks’ fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage. But no one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even, wistfully, of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was to tell a story. That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven. This oven was a massive affair built of fired clay, taller than a man and large enough that all four of Pyotr Vladimirovich’s children could have fit easily inside. The flat top served as a sleeping platform; its innards cooked their food, heated their kitchen and made steam-baths for the sick.
Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft, brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it. Elizabeth-or Beth, as everyone called her-was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her "Little Tranquillity," and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person-in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners. What the characters of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.
The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam sat in a tapestried chair watching mother and son approach. Windows on each side of her overlooked the curving southern bend of the river and the green farmlands of the Atreides family holding, but the Reverend Mother ignored the view. She was feeling her age this morning, more than a little petulant. She blamed it on space travel and association with that abominable Spacing Guild and its secretive ways. But here was a mission that required personal attention from a Bene Gesserit-with-the-Sight. Even the Padishah Emperor's Truthsayer couldn't evade that responsibility when the duty call came.
Damn that Jessica! the Reverend Mother thought. If only she'd borne us a girl as she was ordered to do!
Jessica stopped three paces from the chair, dropped a small curtsy, a gentle flick of left hand along the line of her skirt. Paul gave the short bow his dancing master had taught—the one used "when in doubt of another's station."
The nuances of Paul's greeting were not lost on the Reverend Mother. She said: "He's a cautious one, Jessica."
Jessica's hand went to Paul's shoulder, tightened there. For a heartbeat, fear pulsed through her palm. Then she had herself under control. "Thus he has been taught, Your Reverence."
What does she fear? Paul wondered.
The old woman studied Paul in one gestalten flicker: face oval like Jessica's, but strong bones ... hair: the Duke's black-black but with browline of the maternal grandfather who cannot be named, and that thin, disdainful nose; shape of directly staring green eyes: like the old Duke, the paternal grandfather who is dead.
Here, we are granted access to the Reverend Mother's thoughts and feelings, as well as those of Paul, and of Jessica.
Another indicator was the way the narrator seemed not to be Malcolm. This might sound strange, but through Malcom's dialogue, we get to see the way he talks and thinks, and there is subtle difference between this and the overarching narrative voice. It reads more as though someone separate narrating.
In fact, in an interview with the New Yorker, Pullman states, 'Malcolm is at the centre of the story, but he didn’t narrate it. The narrator is my old friend the omniscient narrator, who is in a position to comment on, to criticize, to see the characters from the outside, and who isn’t necessarily bound to the consciousness of one of them.'
Unfortunately, the only excerpt from the story available without copyright restrictions is from chapter ten and it is written heavily with dialogue (and mildly spoilery too) so isn't the best example of showing the narration, but the opening chapter is a great example so I'll leave a link here where you can access a free preview of the ebook.
Here's an excerpt from the opening chapter to showcase this:
A woman sat in a hotel bar, watching the door. Her appearance was neat and tidy: white blouse, fair hair tucked behind her ears. She glanced at the screen of her phone, on which was displayed a messaging interface, and then looked back at the door again. It was late March, the bar was quiet, and outside the window to her right the sun was beginning to set over the Atlantic. It was four minutes past seven, and then five, six minutes past. Briefly and with no perceptible interest she examined her fingernails. At eight minutes past seven, a man entered through the door. He was slight and dark-haired, with a narrow face. He looked around, scanning the faces of the other patrons, and then took his phone out and checked the screen. The woman at the window noticed him but, beyond watching him, made no additional effort to catch his attention. They appeared to be about the same age, in their late twenties or early thirties. She let him stand there until he saw her and came over.
Okay, that's it from me for now! If you're struggling with point of view in your story, I can help. I offer a manuscript critique service which focuses on giving you feedback on point of view, as well as the other crucial elements of your (fiction) story (plot, characters, dialogue, pacing, tension). For more info on this, click here.