This is part three of a series of posts based on Walter Mosley’s advice in This Year You Write Your Novel dedicated to exploring different narrative voices.  I have already discussed the first-person and third-person narrators.

Today we will conclude the series with the elusive, seductive, all-knowing omniscient narrator.


The Omniscient Narrator Is All-Knowing

When you write using the omniscient voice you are essentially speaking from the point of view of God.

This narrator knows everything.

He doesn’t just know what John, Jessie and Jyoti are thinking, but also everything that has or will happen to them.  He knows the psychological profile of the lady waiting for the bus, why cats love boxes so much, and can identify every person who has the BRCA gene (and, by the way, what that gene is and who discovered it).

In other words, the omniscient narrator knows everything about everything and everyone.  Not even the meaning of life is beyond his reach.

The Omniscient Narrative Voice Can Be Tricky

Because his knowledge is so limitless, the omniscient narrator can be difficult to navigate.

Before using this voice try asking yourself the following questions:

How will you jump from different perspectives and topics in a way that doesn’t confuse the reader?  Can you convince your reader that your narrator is, in fact, all-knowing?  Can you maintain tension between characters while at the same time speaking with clarity and superior knowledge?

If so, you may be ready to use this technique!

For a first-time novelist, the omniscient voice may create additional hurdles to an already difficult task, which is why Mosley recommends the more limited third-person narrator.  That said, the art always comes first!  Don’t be persuaded against it if you think the omniscient voice makes the most sense.

Create Boundaries for Your Omniscient Narrator

Because you have the opportunity to discuss anything and anyone using the omniscient voice, you as the author need to create boundaries as to how you will disperse information.

You may decide, for example, that your narrator is so high and mighty that he doesn’t waste time wondering about the complex motivations of the characters he presents.

Or maybe your narrator only uses his power to shed light on characters’ feelings, and sticks to an approach closer to the third-person narrative for everything else.

You can also decide to only be all-knowing with respect to a specific time period.

The boundaries simply need to be clear.


Take fifteen minutes to write a scene using the omniscient narrative voice.  Share in the comments section below!

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

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