As a writer, one thing that helps me improve my craft is reading books that use a technique I’m trying to master. Reading a how-to-write book teaches you the theory, but I find that delving into how the professionals have done it both solidifies the knowledge and details examples for handling specific cases the how-to book just didn’t have the room for.
I’ve used excerpts from novels in posts such as this one (Novel Openings in Third Person Omniscient) for just that reason. Writing in third person omniscient can be easy to understand in concept but difficult to master. For those looking for more books from which to take examples, I’ve compiled a list of every novel I’ve read and can personally confirm to be written in this point of view. It’s organized by year, with the most recently published at the top. Hopefully, this will help those looking to write for the contemporary market as well as those hoping to learn from the classics.
If you’re looking for help on specific topics related to third person omniscient, try my other posts in this series:
I’ve also made a shelf for third person omniscient books on Goodreads, which I’ll add to as I read more.
Best of luck with your novel! If you have any other favorites written in this point of view, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’m always looking for more.
VenCo by Cherie Dimaline – Fantasy – 2023
This is an excellent example of the third person omniscient perspective, as used in a modern fantasy novel. The story follows a main character while also giving insight into her allies and even the villain. The writing itself is also of great quality. I absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an example of this point of view in modern writing.
How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann – Fantasy – 2022 (Portions)
This book is partially written in third person omniscient, with other portions written in first person. The book begins with omniscient and provides a framing device for each character to tell their story.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read How to Be Eaten?
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – Literary Fiction – 2013 (Limited Omniscient)
This book is written in limited omniscient. It reveals the deep thoughts and feelings of only one character per scene, but the omniscient narrator still reveals facts that character does not know. For example, it often reveals information about events that have not yet happened at the time of the scene being portrayed.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read The Interestings?
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – Fantasy – 2007 (Portions)
This book and its sequel use an omniscient framing device similar to that found in How to Be Eaten. The story begins in this perspective and returns to it at certain points, while the majority is written in first person in the form of the main character telling his story. It serves to introduce the characters and the world with sweeping understanding and also gives an outside perspective of the main character that we wouldn’t receive otherwise.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Children’s Fantasy – 1997 (First Chapter)
From chapter two onward, the book focuses on Harry, but the first chapter starts by describing the Dursleys and ends with a conversation between Dumbledore and McGonagall as Harry is dropped off on their doorstep. This chapter is an excellent example of third person omniscient, and the transition between the focus on Mr. Dursley and the focus on Dumbledore and McGonagall is very smooth and a good one to look to as an example.
Beloved by Toni Morrison – Historical Fiction, Magical Realism – 1987
This is an example of a book that does an excellent job at showing the thoughts and feelings of many characters without making the reader feel lost or confused. It also shows a clear distinction between the voice of the narrator and that of the characters, a difference that should be present in all books written in this point of view but that isn’t always as obvious. Try reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye to really see the difference between this style and one that uses a strong first person narrator and consider how much this book was able to achieve by taking the approach that Morrison did. I definitely recommend this one to anyone looking to write modern literary fiction in this point of view.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery – 1987 and 1988
These books, as in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by the same author, uses the omniscient perspective in service of its humor. Being apart from the characters and their thoughts and feelings allows the narrator to maintain a light-hearted tone through every turning of the plot and to make jokes even at the characters’ expense.
Check out my spoiler-free post on the first book here: Should You Read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency?
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – Science Fiction – 1987
Although large portions of this book appear to be written in third person limited, careful readers will notice portions in which the narrator explains world building details the focal character may not have, as well as portions where the narration switches focus to a different character than the one previously being followed (without a chapter or section break). Especially towards the ending, it shows what many different characters are doing, even while other characters are unaware, and hops between them very often. For that reason, it may make a good study for anyone wishing to pull off a similar technique.
Howl’s Moving Castle – Children’s Fantasy – 1986
This book is a great example for those looking to write fantasy books for children. The omniscient narrator takes the reins of the storytelling.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Science Fiction, Fantasy – 1979
This is the series Douglas Adams is better known for. Using the omniscient perspective for the same reasons and to the same effect as the Dirk Gently books, readers should feel free to choose whichever interests them more or try out both.
A Wizard of Earthsea – Children’s Fantasy – 1968
This book makes immediate use of the omniscient narrator to establish the fantasy setting and tell the reader that the main character whose story they’re following as a child will grow up to become one of the greatest wizards ever. This outside knowledge surely has an impact on how readers see him and colors their expectations for the book to follow. Given the fact that he makes some terrible mistakes, it’s probably quite surprising to the children reading that this is the person whose life is going to be told in stories and songs, and through this it ends up teaching some important lessons.
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – Science Fiction – 1968
This book uses the omniscient perspective to tell events from different perspectives and different times as well as to explain certain things the characters themselves don’t understand. The opening in particular is a great example of how this point of view can be used with a character who is intellectually limited (a prehistoric human), and the ending is a great example of how this point of view can be used to maintain the reader’s understanding of events while the action is being driven by science fiction elements and the only character present is in a state of confusion.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read 2001: A Space Odyssey?
The Phantom Tollbooth – Children’s Fantasy – 1961
Another great example for those looking to write for younger readers. It’s been many years since I’ve read it personally, but it was one of my childhood favorites. I do remember it as being a book that did a great job of showing an initially flawed main character from an outside perspective that allowed me to see from the beginning that he could use some character growth.
Lord of the Flies – Literary Fiction – 1954
Here’s a book I never personally cared for, but it certainly is written in the third person omniscient. This book is definitely the sort where the narrator makes judgments about the characters and invites readers to do the same, intending to make some big statements about human nature, so it may be a useful study for those wanting to achieve something similar.
The Old Man and the Sea – Literary Fiction – 1952
This book is written in the simple style characteristic of Hemingway. Its omniscient narrator looks at the characters from outside, describing them as it wishes, revealing things the main character doesn’t know, and mentioning how various characters feel about things whenever it is relevant to the story being told.
Charlotte’s Web – Children’s – 1952
Another childhood favorite of mine. This book starts the story with a little girl named Fern but leads the reader into caring about a pig and a spider, of all animals. Another great example of this point of view in children’s literature.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov – Science Fiction – 1951
This book uses the omniscient perspective both for the purpose of sci-fi worldbuilding and in order to focus the story on the growth of a civilization rather than that of a single character within it.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read Foundation?
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Children’s Fantasy – 1950
In this classic children’s book, I would argue that the characters are far less important than the fantastical world they wander into. The omniscient narrator provides whatever information is needed, including the thoughts of any character, but we don’t focus on any one of the four children to a great degree. As the series goes on, it doesn’t even stay with the original four children at all (though they sometimes reappear), so it’s a great example for writers looking to create a series that does something similar.
The Martian Chronicles – Science Fiction – 1950 (Portions)
This short story collection uses a mix of third person omniscient and third person limited omniscient. As such, it might be a good pick for short story writers, those who are looking to read examples to decide which of these points of view they’re really looking for, or those who want to use both points of view as well.
Cry, the Beloved Country – Literary Fiction – 1948
This is a book that I unfortunately haven’t read in far too long, but a look at the first few pages is enough to see an omniscient narrator with a strong voice and strong opinions, who draws the reader into the setting and the story that follows.
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Literary Fiction – 1937
Another book I haven’t read in many years, but I do remember it for its use of a framing device and for the way it smoothly tells a story that unfolds over a period of many years. Like Beloved, the narrative voice is clearly differentiated from that of the characters.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – Fantasy – 1937
Originally written for children, this book uses the omniscient perspective in a way reminiscent of a fairy tale. It introduces and explains the fantastical through a narrator who is clearly keeping the audience in mind, making everything easy to understand without needing to worry about the limitations of a first-person or third-person limited perspective. The narrator can tell the reader what a hobbit is and how they live without the author needing to worry about whether it’s believable for them to know this information or to be revealing it. As the storyteller, it’s obvious that they know, and their purpose for explaining it is just as plain. This book is a great example for those wishing to use the same techniques for world building.
The other Lord of the Rings books are written in this perspective also, and those who wish to skip to The Fellowship of the Ring may do so without any real sacrifice of understanding.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read The Hobbit?
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – Horror – 1890
Although I found myself debating whether the omniscient point of view was really the best choice for this book, it is indeed a classic example of it. At its strongest, I believe the point of view in this book serves a similar role as in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (see below).
Check out my spoiler-free post on it, including my thoughts on what perspective its author might have used, here: Should You Read The Picture of Dorian Gray?
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Horror, Science Fiction – 1886
This book is a classic example of the use of the omniscient perspective. While it may have been written differently today, I believe it uses its narrative distance to avoid unduly disturbing the sensibilities of its audience with detailed accounts of the violence and debauchery its titular character(s?) engage(s) in. For modern writers, I believe it also makes a great example of how and to what extent information can be hidden from the reader while making use of an all-knowing narrator. The secret on which the book hinges is not revealed until the very end, but its usage of this point of view is flawless.
Check out my spoiler-free post on it here: Should You Read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Anna Karenina and War and Peace – Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction – 1873/1869
These two classics by Tolstoy are some that really helped me get a feel for the omniscient perspective. I especially like the way the style can make sections of summary read as compellingly as sections of scene.
Middlemarch – Literary Fiction – 1872
This book has a narrator who’s very present in making observations and judgments about the characters. It has great sections of character descriptions as well as examples of strong narrative voice.
A Tale of Two Cities – Historical Fiction – 1859
This classic novel uses the omniscient perspective to bring its historical setting to life, maintaining a wide scope even as the plot revolves around the trials of a single family.
The Scarlet Letter – Historical Fiction – 1850
Another classic example. This book gives you access to the thoughts and feelings of several different characters as it tells the story of a woman who has a child out of wedlock in a Puritan settlement in pre-Revolutionary War Massachusetts.
The Three Musketeers – Historical Fiction – 1844
This book is an example of a book where the omniscient narrator remains objective, showing everything that happens but not going into characters’ thoughts and feelings.
Pride and Prejudice – Romance – 1830
Yet another timeless classic. This one uses the omniscient narrator in all the usual ways, but also to poke a bit of fun at the characters sometimes. It allows the readers to see the characters from an outside perspective that comes in very handy when the main character and her love interest both start out with flaws that the reader can see must be overcome if they have any hope of getting together.
Don Quixote – Parody – 1605
The oldest novel on my list, this one also makes use of an omniscient narrator to comedic effect. It also makes great use of this point of view because its main character is unreliable and often unaware of what is really going on. A great example for those who really want to go back in time and see where many of our modern literary conventions started.
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