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The third-person omniscient is a narrative mode in which both the reader and author observe the situation either through the senses and thoughts of more than one character, or through an overarching godlike perspective that sees and knows everything that happens and everything the characters are thinking. Third-person omniscient is virtually always the narrative mode chosen for sprawling, epic stories such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, George Eliot's Middlemarch, or the great Russian novels of the nineteenth century.

However, while a godlike all-knowing perspective necessarily uses third-person omniscient, there are other uses for this narrative mode. Third-person omniscient simply means that the narrator can tell the reader things that the main character does not know, or things that none of the characters know, or things that no human being could ever know (e.g., what the first conscious creature felt like as it climbed out of the primordial ooze, in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). While third-person omniscient is associated with sweeping, epic stories, not all third-person omniscient narratives stray beyond the characters' knowledge and experiences. For example, Jane Austen's novels are third-person omniscient in that the narrator describes the thoughts and feelings of more than one character, but Austen's novels typically focus closely on a very small number of characters and their milieu.

Third-person omniscient point of view can change the viewpoint for characters instantly, by contrast with the third-person limited point of view, which limits narration to what can be known, seen, thought, or judged from a single character's perspective.

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