Omniscient Deficient

Now that I griped about the challenges of third-person omniscient narration in my last Red Pen post, gol’ damn if I’m not going to try it in novel manuscript #3! After stewing on it and reviewing another manuscript submission that actually handled it quite well, challenging myself to write with an omniscient narrator has become a quest. But more important than that, I sincerely believe it’s the best choice for the story that is presently budding in my head. I can’t pretend I’ll be at all skilled in handling this POV, but why not try and broaden my range.

I have been so inundated with editing assignments that I can hardly fathom starting a new novel anytime soon (I can barely fathom when the hell I’m going to edit my own book—manuscript #2, which is now slated for publication this August), but the voices have started chattering in my head, and ever so slowly, I am sifting through them to hear my individual characters. So I’m just grabbing minutes when I can to brainstorm the people and plot in the random, sloppy, handwritten way that I do (see alter-ego Rumer’s “Madness to the Method.”). It’s crazy fun exploring this new idea, just when I thought I’d be tapped out on novel-length fiction for a spell. In the meantime, I’ve also kicked around some short story ideas for a paranormal anthology. (Alas, I thought I’d conquer NaNoWriMo 2013 to accomplish that project, but all I squeezed out was one story that I ended up posting on fanfiction.net as a retelling of an urban legend.)

Anyway, back to third-person omniscient. Like I said, I wouldn’t use it just to try it; I think it’ll work great for my story, which will comprise an ensemble cast in a single setting over the course of a single night. Remember my ages-old post “The Shotgun-Shack Story: Nowhere to Hide“? I’m going for that. This will consequently place a lot of pressure on characterization and dialogue, and I’d honestly like to experience it as a fly on the wall. I’ve enjoyed writing in third-person limited narration so far—manuscript #1 is limited to a single POV, and #2 is limited to multiple–and that’s what I mostly read these days, be it published fiction or the yet-to-be-published stuff that I edit. But I don’t know…do you sometimes get sick of being inside the same head(s) as a writer or reader? Sometimes I’m bored trying to speak through a specific set of eyes all the time, and as an editor, I find a lot of authors over-indulge in introspection. I’m constantly hacking out superfluous inner narrative that either gets repetitive with itself or redundant with what’s already been said and done. The string of inner-questioning in particular seems a popular rookie favorite, the constant upswing in intonation at the end of every sentence that I “hear” with my inner ear driving me batty at every turn! We can’t let our characters just constantly stew in insecurity and indecision like that. I don’t care if the main characters eventually do get off their asses to proactively achieve their goals; even those small moments of having to swirl through the questions in their minds is just wheel-spinning and dizzying when we probe too deep too often.

So at any rate, I’m terribly eager to stick all my new characters into a room with each other and see what the hell they do. I don’t want to think for them. And I don’t want them to give anything away in their thoughts. So I’m going to aim for a truly objective POV, avoiding any head-dipping if possible. The risk, of course, is detaching the reader from these characters. It will sharply lose the intimacy that a subjective POV could provide. But that hasn’t stopped me from attaching to the characters I see on TV and in film, most of which don’t bring us into their thoughts like Dexter; they just let us watch and listen (with or without Ron Howard’s omniscient narrative assistance 🙂 ). So why not give it a go and practice my way from POV deficiency to proficiency?

How about you? Have you written third-person omniscient narrative before? Do you find it easy or difficult? Do you keep it purely objective, or do you like to head-dip now and then? And when do you think it’s most appropriate to use? Do you care for it as a reader?

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About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

3 responses to “Omniscient Deficient

  • Tahlia Newland

    Omniscient his hard to do well, but you’ll be able topull it off

  • claudenougat

    Omniscient is very hard indeed because you lose that intimacy. I guess a very visual approach will work – but while it is effective in the movie medium I’m not sure about writing. The danger is that it will make the book look like a 19th century novel…I think that’s the real trap of omniscient, though you can probably avoid it by keeping all the descriptive material to a minimum – all those descriptions that are so characteristic of 19th century novelists, whether English or French. Very dated, of course, and bet avoided. Still, those descriptions are what gave flavor to those novels. And the intimate soliloquies characteristic of our introspective times is what give flavor to the modern novel.

    So, go figure it out! All I can say is that I don’t find it easy. I had a book written in 3rd POV, I changed it all back to 1st POV but used the 1st POV of the two main characters, so that they form a “duet”. Hope it works! So far, it seems to please readers far more than the original in 3rd POV…This, mind you, is not my advice – simply refering to my own experience. It could work very differently and very well for you!

    • thefallenmonkey

      And the intimate soliloquies characteristic of our introspective times is what give flavor to the modern novel.” That’s an excellent observation and certainly does characterize so much of what we read today. I also like the approach you used in your book, with the 1st person “duet”–I enjoy that alternation in voice and perspective and hope that did work out well for you! I think what will determine if I truly run with 3rd person omniscient or not is when I actually start writing this thing. I will not be surprised if I find it frustrating before long, as it’s still difficult to wrap my mind around concentrating on just the audiovisual (although I suppose I could use the subjective omniscient approach to allow some thought-dipping; my main fear is that I’ll slide too easily into head-hopping if I give myself that inch). But I do think it’ll be a worthwhile exercise to at least hone my showing-vs-telling skills. I think 3rd person limited introspection is very effective and intimate when done well, but I also see a lot of other new authors relying on it as a crutch so they can bypass descriptive language. Or the character whose head we’re in interprets another character’s body language/dialogue a little too specifically to be anything but contrived, and it doesn’t give the reader a chance to speculate as well. So in that respect, I’m hoping that learning (trying) to write omniscient successfully could end up strengthening my limited POV writing as well. But the last thing I want is for this to turn out old-fashioned and detached, so I’ll have to closely monitor my narrative voice. 🙂

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful commentary and insights! And wish me luck. It’s definitely valuable to have a heads-up from your experience, and I wish you happy writing, too!

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