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I will try to simplify the subject the way I understand it. In the last five years, I've read everything there was to read on "omniscient" and would like to share it with you.
It is understood that Omniscient narrators know everything, which means they are not bound or limited to a character's perception at any time (contrary to its neighbor the 3rd person limited). Omni narrators can and do follow isolated characters, but they don't *become* them.
The narrator is describing what’s happening. It’s not because the narrator turns her/his attention to one character in a paragraph or a scene that the POV changes. It’s not because, in a dialogue, a character is predominant that it becomes her POV. That’s why it’s called omniscient—and not limited third or multiple POVs.
It’s safe to say that multiple POVs = also third limited — one character at a time (with the illusion of omni sometimes, due to the nature of cycling through different heads).
Whereas omni = subtle or not-so-subtle POV that may go into characters but always has the narrator's perception at its core? The narrator being a character in itself, in a sense, but always one step removed, sort of like the grandfather character in Snow White (often, it's a little more subtle).
What is the role of the narrator? The narrator is the consciousness, which filters the events of the story and expresses them in some ways. In omniscient, the narrator is active or not so active, and the story is his POV.
Someone once told me:
But when the narrator chooses to describe everything as if the MC were describing it, she/he has created in the mind of the reader the belief that the author has chosen MC to narrate.
Good question and at the heart of the confusion. The fundamental question in talking about POV is actually: Who is telling this story, and where do we stand in relation to the events?
If the narrator is a character experiencing the events of the story, we call it an internal narrator. Usually, no one sees any problem with that.
If the narrator has no part in the action, we call it external narrator. But the narrator is not (necessarily) involving herself and giving her opinion—that's something else. This would be more like Sherlock Holmes and the Great Gasby.
There are few ways of doing omniscient. I’ll only talk about the one I use. If the narrative goes right in and gives the reader a character's interior monologue and physical perceptions as they occur, it becomes stream of consciousness (you can check this out on line) and the sense of a narrator almost disappears altogether.
Thinking in terms of psychic distance, then, the closer into an individual character's consciousness the narrative gets, the more the character is present and the more their voice dominates, the more the narrator and his voice fade out. That’s the reason many writers believe I’m writing in a character’s POV—it almost feels like it until they notice someone else’s thoughts. They then believe it’s a breach of POV.
Getting deep inside characters’ head (whether they're the narrator or courtesy of an external narrator who takes you there) is the way we become most intimately involved with those characters. It's entirely possible for us to be engaged with another character and care about what happens to the MC's children or husband or anyone else the narrator wants to bring into the story. I write my narrative nonfiction in a style closely related to fiction, so my narrative NF reads like a novel, with the difference that the characters are not telling the story—I am.
My beta readers, and a few writers from my group at CC, have told me that they like omniscient because it makes the reader participate in every aspect of the story, on the spot, as the event occurs. It makes the reader feel closer to the secondary character with direct thoughts instead of filtering them with: looking as if, perhaps he was, it seemed, etc. which then becomes third limited.
I barely touched the subject here. If you want to read more about it, my main source is from Emma Darwin: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2011/10/point-of-view-narrators-1-the-basics.html
I read many blogs on the subject over the years and NOBODY explains it as Emma Darwin does. She knows her stuff.
I hope my short presentation helped trigger the curiosity of those who are not sure about what style to choose.. If you want to find out everything there's to know about POV and Omniscient, Emma’s blog is long to read, but is worth it. She also writes on other subjects that are just as informative.
Thanks for reading my modest presentation,