Today's post is inspired by a conversation I had with Simon Larter and Jordan McCollum in the comments of Subtle Narration in the Graveyard Book.
Omniscient viewpoint, where the narrator can access the thoughts in every character's head, was popular in older literature. Nowadays, however, most books are written in a limited viewpoint, confined to the thoughts of one or a few characters. (Just to complicate things, limited POV with multiple narrators is also called Limited Omniscient, but for the purposes of this article, I'm just referring to the godlike omniscient narrator).
So lets speculate. What do you think killed omniscient point of view?
A few possibilities from our discussion:
1. It's a natural progression. The visual arts progressed from 2D cartoonlike ancient and medieval drawings to realistic 3D images as artists learned from the ones who came before them. Perhaps similarly, the art of storytelling has progressed from omniscient viewpoint to a more realistic limited viewpoint. (Jason Black has an interesting post on a similar idea.)
2. Changing societal norms. In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James Frey says that society was important in Victorian times. Therefore, it was important to know everybody's thoughts in order to get society's viewpoint. Is limited POV on the rise now because society's role is less important?
3.Individualism - This is related to point two. Perhaps a rise in individualistic culture makes modern readers want to identify with one person at a time.
4. Freud - Is it the rise of Freudian thought and the desire to know the various motivations, conscious and subconscious, within an individual?
5. Just random chance - Or maybe we're overthinking things, and limited POV is popular for the same reason bellbottoms were popular in the seventies and crocs were popular a few years ago.
What do you think? Are there any literature folks who know of research on this?