Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

The Morphing of the Omni Narrator

Right now we are toughing out poetry with my freshmen. *sigh* “We study poetry because oral storytelling came before the written language came into existence, plus many of the elements we study in poetry exist in fiction–you know, like imagery, diction, syntax, metaphors, analogies–so get to know poetry and you’ll understand and enjoy fiction that much more.”  And the question? (Jeopardy music, please)

Why do we study poetry?

Returning to the anticipated second quarter…(quick, quick, I’m losing them)

Once I get to short stories in the curriculum it’s pretty easy sailing, since my students are versed in plot, characters, setting, and such. Theme sometimes throws them; however, point-of-view gets them pondering. For instance, trying to explain the omniscient narrator is tricky these days. Back when, I used to say, “The Omniscient narrator is a lot like God–you know, everywhere and knowing everything about everybody.” I’m getting less comfortable about using that analogy in such a forthright manner.  I still believe it’s a valid analogy, yet don’t want to offend any of my students.  Let alone get the ACLU or other NSA types coming after me.

Cover of "The Long Winter"

Cover of The Long Winter

Another problem with trying to explain the omniscient narrator is that the old-fashioned version of the narrator filling into the details has changed into something quite different. For instance, I recently reread The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (don’t snicker, it’s a great read, besides it’s for research–really) and Wilder includes in the story what’s happening to the town’s people and to Almanzo and Cap who are all caught up in a grueling blizzard, in an inclusive fluid manner.  I rarely come across this type of narrative style today. As Bob Dylan once said, “Times they are achanging.”

In the last few years I have noticed a trend where the omni narrative is now designated as separate chapters.  This at first proved quite annoying because the point-of-view kept changing. One chapter would be one character, the next a completely different one.  I felt like I was juggling characters to the point of wanting to run an Excel sheet to keep it all straight.

The last few novels I’ve read have run this narrative style, and every new book I’m pulling from my suggestion list and review newspapers seem to be pandering this new style. I keep checking them out though.  I’m either getting used to this new kaleidoscopic style of story-telling or I’m so starved to read I’m willing to put up with it.

Here are some examples of recent titles with the switch-hit character changing technique. Enjoyable reads all, but fret and nuisance, doesn’t anyone write in the old-time omni narrative style anymore?



















Any thoughts, Book Boosters?

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6 thoughts on “The Morphing of the Omni Narrator

  1. Wow, how sweet to see Wilder’s book again! That book was kinda tough to read for me, when I was younger, though. But maybe that was because I had just finished Charlotte’s Webb (with pictures) beforehand. The Forgotten Garden looks interesting!

  2. I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about reading the Little House series. I read it a few times as an adult and still really love it. I find it difficult to read first person narrative for an entire novel. I feel like the writer’s being selfish with information 🙂

  3. O goodness I chuckled at X-cell spreadsheet comment. Your apt summary helped me understand my troubles with new ‘reads’.

    • I’ve been teaching short stories to my AP Lit students and so many of them, like Fitzgerald employed omniscient pov, but that seems to have gone the wayside in favor of character chapters. It’s rather schizy to keep interrupting the flow of the story with so many perspectives.

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