by Annette Lyon
Anne Shirley longed to wear puffed sleeves.
In high school, I wore pegged jeans and shoulder pads.
And a century and a half ago, Dickens wrote in the omniscient point of view.
Fashions change, and the literary world is no different. Today, it's very difficult to write in an omniscient POV and get published. There are several reasons for this.
Frankly, a good omniscient POV is really hard to do well. It sounds easy, because yes, "omniscient" means that the narrator knows what's going on in each character's mind.
But here's the giant caveat: that does not mean that the narrator can hop around between their heads willy nilly. There has to be a purpose for when we go from one person's viewpoint to the next person's, a stylistic reason for showing the contrast between this person's feelings and that one's, even if it's within the same line.
The most common excuse beginning writers use when they're criticized for a poor point of view is, "But I'm using an omniscient POV."
Chances are that no, you're not. You're just being sloppy.
A real omniscient narrator has its own personality and feel. There's a distinct reason and purpose for telling the story in that way, more so today than in Dickens' time.
In today's publishing world, the most common place you'll see this type of POV is in epic-style fantasy, where the scope is large and sweeping. But even in many of those works, you'll get third person POV, such as with Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, which are definitely written in third person.
A contemporary example of an omniscient POV that works is Lemony Snicket's 13-volume The Series of Unfortunate Events, wherein the narrator has such a distinct personality that he even breaks the "fourth wall" and talks directly to the reader at times. He pontificates on his own opinion of the events as well as what other characters think about them. It's done very much tongue-in-cheek and deliberately over-the-top. And every bit is intentional and smart.
A somewhat older (and serious) book that has an omniscient POV is James A. Michener's The Source. It was published in the 1960s, when the omniscient POV was already going out of style. The POV really works in this book, and for that matter, there's really no other POV that Michener could have used for it. For starters, the book covers literally thousands of years, so he couldn't have picked two or three POV characters to carry the plot.
Another big issue with The Source is that because the stories and themes covered over the centuries in the book reflect on one another, an omniscient narrator is needed to gently draw lines between them for the reader. The result: a brilliant read that must have been painstakingly written.
The entire point of this post? In general, pick a third person POV (how close or distant is up to you, as is how many POV characters, but I wouldn't go for more than 3-5), or first person. Each of those POVs has its own pros and cons.
But unless you have a really, really good reason for using the omniscient POV, resist the urge. There's a very good chance your story won't come across as a brilliant Michener work (the guy won a Pulitzer, for crying out loud). Instead, you'll likely look like an amateur who head hops and doesn't know what it means to maintain a decent POV.