Omniscient Narrator – Concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what the omniscient narrator is, its characteristics and examples. Also, what is the equiscient narrator and the witness narrator.

omniscient narrator
The omniscient narrator is characterized by knowing in detail the story he tells.

What is the omniscient narrator?

An omniscient narrator or directing narrator is a form of narrative (i.e., narrator) voice often used in literary accounts such as short stories and novels, which is characterized by knowing in its smallest detail the story that it tells. This implies that he knows the most secret details of it, such as the thoughts of the characters (not just the protagonists) and the events that occur in all places in the story.

The omniscient narrator is frequent in fables, children’s stories and in the epics of antiquity, but not too prevalent in contemporary literary forms (with notable exceptions). In general, it is characterized by the following:

  • It narrates in the third person. That is, he recounts everything as if he were watching it happen, talking about the characters like him / her or by their names. Sometimes he can refer to himself, say what he thinks, etc., but the story itself is usually told without involving the narrator.
  • It has ubiquity. That is, he is everywhere at the same time, like God, and he knows absolutely everything about the narrative. It is even inside the heads of the characters and knows their thoughts and motivations.
  • Offer explanations. Instead of suggesting, as other forms of narrator do, the omniscient explains to the reader what is happening and the motivations for it, since he has all the information about it.
  • It can be changeable. By not being subject to any character or perspective in the story, the omniscient narrator can jump in time, vary his location, or be in two or more places at the same time, depending on his whim.
  • It is usually authoritarian. The omniscient narrator cannot be contradicted by the story and the characters, that is, he always tells what happens, and has a certain authority over the story, which is why he is often disguised as the “author’s voice” (although he does not is never) or he is allowed to make judgments and give opinions about what he narrates, more than anything in the texts that pursue a final moral.

Examples of omniscient storyteller

omniscient narrator
The omniscient narrator is frequent in fables and children’s stories.

A couple of examples of an omniscient narrator are:

  • Taken from: A happy world (novel) by Aldous Huxley:

«Bent over their instruments, three hundred fertilizers were devoted to their work, when the director of Incubation and Conditioning entered the room, immersed in absolute silence, only interrupted by the distracted humming or solitary whistling of those who are concentrated and absorbed in his work.

A group of newly admitted students, very young, ruddy and beardless, followed with excitement, almost abjectly, the headmaster, on his heels. Each of them carried a notepad on which, every time the great man spoke, he desperately scrawled.

Straight from the lips of science personified. It was a rare privilege. The DIC at Central London was always very interested in personally accompanying new students to visit the various departments. “

  • Taken from: Tallow ball (short story) by Guy de Maupassant:

“After a few days, and the fear of the beginning dissipated, calm was restored. In many houses a Prussian officer shared a family table. Some, out of courtesy or sensitive feelings, felt sorry for the French and declared that they were reluctant to be forced to take an active part in the war.

They were thanked for these demonstrations of appreciation, also thinking that their protection would be necessary at some point. With flattery, perhaps
they would avoid the disruption and the expense of more accommodations.

What would have led to hurt the powerful, on whom they depended? He was more reckless than patriotic. And recklessness is not a flaw
of the present bourgeois of Rouen, as it had been in those times of heroic defenses, who glorified and polished the

It was reasoned – hiding for it in French chivalry – that it could not be judged a disgrace to take extreme care at home, while in public each one showed little deference to the foreign soldier.

On the street, as if they did not know each other, but at home it was very different, and they treated him in such a way that they kept their German for social gatherings at home, as a family every night. “

Equiscient Narrator

equiscient narrator
The equiscient narrator is a false omniscient narrator.

This is the name given to a type of omniscient false narrator: one who seems at first to know everything about the story and not be involved in it, but as the plot unfolds, it is revealed as a disguise that a first-person narrator hides.

Therefore, it is distinguished from the true omniscient in that does not know the thoughts of all the characters in the story, but only those of the main character; but he may well describe the other characters from things he knows “from hearsay” or from stories that, we assume, he later learned. It is, then, a narrator who is half witness and half omniscient.

Witness narrator

witness narrator
The witness narrator recounts a story he witnessed.

The witness narrator is the one who, as his name indicates, tells a story that he witnessed, without having much more of it than his own observation experience. He does not know what the characters think, he does not know what happens in secret, only what he was able to witness, whether it is part of the narrative plot (that is, whether it is a character) or not.