What’s an Omniscient Narrator? Everything You Need to Know

What Are the Four Narrative Voices?

Let’s take a step back for a moment to remind ourselves of the four types of narrator that are available to us when telling a story.

1. First-Person Narrative Voice

The first-person narrator tells their own story since only they can see and experience it. This means they can provide us with limited insights into what’s going on in their world. An example of first-person narrative is Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird:

4. Omniscient Third-Person Narrator

And now for our big guy: the third-person omniscient narrator. The star of this show. The one that knows all, sees all. The one we’ll be looking at for the rest of this article. Read on for a deep-dive on what exactly the omniscient third-person narrator is.

What Is an Omniscient Narrator?

The third-person omniscient narrative voice is a classic narrative style, going as far back as Homer’s Illiad.

  1. Toni Morrison’s Beloved
  2. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
  1. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You
  2. Brit Bennett’s The Mothers

Why Use an Omniscient Narrator?

An omniscient narrator can quickly create feelings of connectedness and familiarity in your reader. The narrator can set the scene, lay out existing tensions, and get the story rolling without having to rely on the appearance of one particular character’s voice to do the same job.

How Do You Know If It’s an Omniscient Narrator?

It can be tricky to pinpoint whether a narrator is omniscient or whether the story is being told from multiple limited POVs.

  1. Look at whose perspective the story is being told from. Do we only get one or two people’s takes on what’s happening, or are we getting multiple, varied perspectives? If so, it’s likely an omniscient narrator.
  2. Is there anything the narrator doesn’t know about? If the narrator can provide details of everything that’s been and that’s currently happening, and even hint at what’s yet to come, you have yourself an omniscient narrator.
  • “You” is the rare second person
  • “He/She/They” means the story is told in the third-person narrative voice.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Creating an Omniscient Narrator

Writing an omniscient narrator can be tricky and has gone a bit out of fashion in modern literature. One of the best things you can do is to read as many novels written with an omniscient POV as possible to see just how it’s done.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

Just because your narrator has all the knowledge and insight and could, very quickly, tell your reader exactly how a character is feeling or what they’ve been through doesn’t mean that they should. Why not let your readers experience all that for themselves?

2. Stay Consistent

Make sure you stay consistent in your narrative voice. Some omniscient narrators have universal, detached voices. Some are more specific. One good example of this is in Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, where a group of church ladies lend their voices to the omniscient narrator:

3. Don’t Go Head Hopping

Head hopping is when you move between multiple characters’ perspectives within the space of a paragraph, or even a sentence.

Should You Use an Omniscient Narrator?

Writing an omniscient narrator comes with plenty of challenges and you can see why it’s a style that’s gone out of fashion in modern literature.

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