Writing (or not writing) in Omnipotent POV (Or is that Head Hopping?)

I recently was contacted by a friend who I did a beta read for, asking for help.

She wrote her manuscript from an “omnipotent” point of view, which means you are inside every character’s head, and hear all their thoughts.

Think GirlApparently I was not the only one who cautioned her against this. She asked for tips on how to fix her manuscript to not make it sound like “head hopping”.

As I typed up my lengthy response, I figured it might be beneficial to others as well.  Hope this helps … and before anyone starts yelling, remember that SEVERAL beta readers had told her that the head hopping in her manuscript was jarring.

This was my response:

Omnipotent POV is very hard these days. In my opinion, it is a very “old” kind of writing. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Many classics are written in this fashion.  The problem with omnipotent in contemporary writing is that readers have become accustomed to a deeper experience. And from what I’ve seen, the deeper the better. This can only be done effectively with one POV per scene.  More than that and the reader gets confused, and it is harder for them to immerse themselves in the story.

When I was trying to defend my own Omnipotent manuscript a few years ago, (a mutual friend) recommended a romance novel to me, written by a best selling author that had sold a gazillion copies.  I read it, but to be honest, even though she was trying to help me defend omnipotent, it made me completely change my mind. The “head hopping” was far more distracting than I ever thought it would be reading a professional book.

All this to say… that most (not all) publishers will be more comfortable with third person or first person POV, and having only one POV per chapter (or a scene break, but I personally prefer one per chapter

Has omnipotent been done? Of course. Has it sold?  Yup. Is it as good as deep POV from a single character? – debatable, and depends on what you think is good. From what I have seen, It looks like the people doing it are well established, and publishers (and readers) will buy their books no matter what.

For newbies like us, you might want to be cautious.

However, if you love the omnipotent, and think you NEED it, go for it! It might end up excellent. You could start a new trend.

(Note: I did show her in her novel that almost every scene cold have easily been written in one character’s POV, or switching up with a scene break)

Just do so with caution, knowing that it could potentially be an instant deal breaker for some pubs and agents. (As any POV could be, but more so than the more accepted methods these days.)

I did read an article written by an agent last year (cannot remember who is was, sorry) that said that omnipotent was “lazy writing” and put it out there in the category of manuscripts with show verses tell issues

Will everyone think that way?  No, of course not.

Again, this is just to make you realize what you might be up against. If you do choose to do omnipotent, it needs to flow fluidly from one character to another so it is not jarring. I think this is something that will just take a lot of practice until you get it right

Best of luck whatever you decide!

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10 responses to “Writing (or not writing) in Omnipotent POV (Or is that Head Hopping?)

  1. Victoria Marie Lees

    Great information here, Jennifer. Thanks so much. I’ve noticed in popular suspense fiction that the writer is inside of the main character’s head as well as the villain’s head. Again, always appreciated what you share with your readers.

  2. Thanks for the post! When I first started writing, I considered many different types of POV’s. However, I tend to go to first person because if there is a mystery that I’m trying to keep throughout the novel, it makes it easier. Also, I just kinda like being able to see the world through one character’s perspective. Sometimes, I do, however, go to third. I have yet to try out the omnipotent POV.

  3. Thanks, Jenn. *waves*

    I appreciate the post and can’t argue with a word of it. Besides smooth transitions, which I need to work on, there is making sure the reader knows it is in omnipotent POV from the very beginning. When I read this, it was like a light going off. I had dropped the ball big time. 🙂

    I’m still plugging away, and so lucky it is a short (for now). Cuz, it’s one huge learning curve. Your advice is noted and filed.

    Jenny, when I get more of it sorted out I’ll sending that email. 🙂

  4. I think it is a preference for readers (as much as writers). I’m noticing that epic fantasy writers use omniscient POV often. The funny thing is, I read all of John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series and LOVED it. Then started his Brotherhood Band series and was jarred by the omniscient. What?
    I looked back at the RA books and they were done in the same POV, but with only one narrator’s thoughts per scene, while the BB hopped all over the place. Ugh. Distracting and distancing. I couldn’t connect with the BB characters.
    So, I would advise, if you want to write in this style, still try to keep to the thoughts of ONE character per scene. Of course, if you’re going to do this, why not just write in third person limited?
    In the end, I realize the use of this distancing POV might be yet another reason I’m put off by most epic fantasy novels.

    • Yes, Sharon, this has to be something an author considers. At this point in my career, I have to try to suck in as many readers as I can. I can’t afford to “put off” anyone. So for me, I say keep it safe – as you said – one POV minimum per scene.

  5. I think it really depends on the book. I think some authors can pull it off very well. I suppose it’s a preference thing. Some people can’t stand more than one POV in a story. They simply won’t read it. Others hate when POV changes within a chapter, but they don’t mind if it changes with each chapter. C.L. Wilson’s fantasy romance novels are ones that I believe multiple POVs work. So do millions of other fans. As for lazy writing? 50 Shades of Grey, and the Twilight series, in my opinion, are absolute epitomes of lazy writing, obviously for different reasons. Millions of other fans disagree. My suggestion to anyone who wants to write omnipotent multiple POV is to read other popular authors that write this way to see what it is that makes it work for them. I think a lot of it has to do with establishing your characters early, and making the reader identify with each one before getting inside their heads within the same scene.

    • “I think a lot of it has to do with establishing your characters early, and making the reader identify with each one before getting inside their heads within the same scene.” I think you have a good point here. This might go for switching POVs per chapter, as well. — I know I would like to know who’s head I’m hopping in to. 🙂