Troubled by Point of View? Particularly OMNI?

You aren’t alone.

Before I get into that, first let’s agree that POV is the viewpoint character or narrator of your story.

1st person is the most intimate, Omni the least, and 3rd falls in the middle.



When new writers ask me, “Which one of my characters should tell my story?” my response is, “Whoever you think best serves as your narrator.”

Generally, the viewpoint character is the character with the most to lose. However, remember  Nick in The Great Gatsby?. Or Doctor Watson in Sherlock Holmes? Or the killer in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? You can have one narrator, or several.

But you settle on George because it’s his story; he has the most to gain from the outcome and he has the most to lose if things go wrong. Now you need to decide in what tense George speaks to your reader.

Should it be first person present tense: I verb?
Or first person past tense: I verbed?
Or third person present tense: George or He verbs?
Or maybe third person past tense: George or He verbed?

The answer should showcase how intimate you want George’s relationship or connection with your reader to be.



I’d stay clear of third person past tense perfect: George had verbed. Unless you’re up for a challenge.

To discover how George should narrate is to write a scene from his perspective in each tense, then choose the one you like best. Trust your instincts. Choosing POV needed be complicated. Your skills at spinning a gripping tale will make or break your story. Don’t over think POV.

You know those articles: “Choosing POV is the most important…”? Writing should be enjoyable. If you’re stressing over POV, you’re missing something. Writing is about experiencing passion head-on, not worrying about choosing the perfect perspective, or what tense they should use, or whether they should share the perspective with other characters. Just write.

You love your characters, and you think it’s better if they all have a viewpoint in your story. And how better to do that than by using Omni to — head hop.

Write the story. When you’re finished, if your POV and tense are wrong, they’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

But know that you are not alone.

Most new novelists think they need to write in Omni’s POV to include all the backstory. And why wouldn’t they? Like you, they’ve had the influence of television and movies their entire life.

The camera shows you everything. Who else but Omni can zoom in on one character, then out to include a dozen, then travel 5000 miles away? Or jump from George’s POV to Amy’s, then onto Tom’s?

Sadly, the camera is not the same as POV in a novel. Yes, the camera can let me hear the character’s thoughts, but seldom do voice-overs work. Except maybe in Dexter.

Ten times out of ten Omni doesn’t work and you’re left wondering why. “Omni is suppose to head-hop!” you cry.

Yes, but your job is not to give your reader whiplash, nor are you to divorce them from your protagonist. Your job is to entertain and make the transition from one POV character to the next as smoothly as possible. Even in one scene. Especially in one scene.

You succeed when you show the scene from one character’s pov, then explain something that character wouldn’t know, and then ease into the viewpoint of another character in the same scene. Lead your reader by the hand. No throwing us into the middle of action filled scene.

You’ve seen the television series ER? ER is filmed from the many perspectives of the doctors and staff. But notice how the camera does it? (ignore what I just said about cameras) Two or more characters interact, then just as the camera is ready to move on to a different perspective, the lens zooms out, spans, then zeroes in on different characters in a different part of the emergency ward. It’s all done easily, effortlessly and smoothly. No jarring.

If you are bound and determined to let Omni tell your story, and you’ve picked the tense you think works best, keep this rule of thumb in mind:

#1. Show a scene from inside the head of POV #1.

#2. Just as you’re ready to move on, have Omni explain something that relates to what POV#1 just experienced.

#3. Then have Omni settle his gaze on the next character connected to what POV #1 experienced.

In other words, don’t head hop without a tour guide. Keep a tight focus on the topic.

IE. Jane, surrounded by devastation, is a warrior living in 2248 Earth. She’s protecting her section. She worries. She wonders. She thinks about life on the other side. Omni zooms out and shows what Jane doesn’t know: the entire perimeter, the enemy, the foreshadows, etc.

Stewart, Jane’s enemy, is also surrounded by devastation. Right now he’s digging a trench and wondering if there will be enough food tonight to feed his family. He worries that the city’s leaders aren’t acting responsible. He looks back in the direction of HQ and fears the worst.

Omni narrates about Jane and Stewart having reason to worry. Leaders are meeting at this precise moment in the underground room at HQ. They’re a greedy bunch who hate each other. Jason is about to bring the meeting to order. He feels….

It’s tough to write Omni and not give your reader whiplash. It’s also far less intimate. Third person lets the reader connect with one protag at a time. It’s not as intimate a relationship as 1st, but it an exciting journey. And whatever else we do: we promise the reader a good time. That’s why we love revising!

Happy writing.

Joylene Butler‘s second novel Broken But Not Dead will be released by Theytus Books in 2011

“Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard.” Standing Bear