Employing the God Perspective

There you are, writing your story, deep in the minutiae of your characters’ lives, living it along with them. You know their points of view, their weaknesses, their strengths. You’re able to explain quite a lot about the world they live in, through their actions and their words. But it’s very hard to give any real perspective on this imaginary universe, without being restricted by what your characters know or are able to explain directly.
That’s where, in a film, they use that lovely cinematographic trick of pulling back the camera, back, still further back, until the people vanish into the distance and you can see the full, panoramic sweep of their environment. All of a sudden, their small, petty stories become part of a much larger perspective, even though at the same time their importance diminishes. The onlooker might even glimpse, in the corners of the picture, some suggestion of what is coming up: storms looming on the horizon, vast obstacles that await the travellers on their journey, of which they themselves are not yet aware.
So, how do you approach this as an author? It seems to me that there are two main ways in which writers do it. One is the Jane Austen style, Dear Reader, approach, where the writer addresses the reader directly from the page, bypassing the book’s characters altogether. The other is the God Perspective.
Here’s a bit: “…far below the tiny figure of a girl laboured up the mountain-slope, bent double under its load. It skirted a vast expanse of white, trudged slowly across the gravel slope of the saddle, and made its way down the far side of the pass to the tree-line. For a moment a white face paused, turned up to the sky, then the figure shrugged its load more securely onto its shoulders and was gone, vanished into the trackless maze of the ranges…”
Whose viewpoint are we using? Who on earth has the ability to step right back from the characters in this way, and view them dispassionately as objects on a stage? Only the author, right? Writers’ manuals warn against using the god perspective – we shouldn’t be able to tell our readers stuff our characters wouldn’t know. So how do you get away with it? One way, at least the way in which I’m hoping to get away with it, is through the use of magic. If it’s plausible in your imaginary world for a distant character (one whom we, the reader, may not even have met yet) to see through the eyes of another, for instance an eagle, soaring over the mountain pass below – then we can see what the eagle sees. God perspective with a coherent explanation.
I’m liking this idea. It solves a major problem I was having with my work-in-progress. Is it a good enough excuse for using godlike perspective? Maybe. I’d be interesting to hear what you (dear Reader) think about it.


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