Tag Archives: Omniscience

POV for Vendetta

“[F]airness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives…[I]f you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me…”

V for Vendetta

In the time since my last post, my eyes healed (thank you for your well wishes on that!), and I’d come to trade my sunglasses for a different mask of sorts…one that had tried to preserve an eternal grin to bear the POV debacle that was crashing down on me just as I set off on holiday last week.

Don’t fear. Though I now live in London, it is not my intention to load a tube train up with explosives and send it on its merry way to Westminster. (I did infiltrate Parliament once, though, back in ’98 when my friend—an intern—snuck me in. I stood on the MPs’ terrace and drank a Carlsberg in the pub they have in there. Oh, and I bumped into a blind MP, which made me feel really bad. In all fairness, however, he should have been able to smell me from a mile off, as I’d just gotten in from a train from Spain via Paris and hadn’t showered in all that time. But I digress…)

Anyway, the real issue at hand concerned the manuscript I’m editing for my freelance work with an independent publisher. I will certainly assume the title of “Dufus” on this one, but the whole situation really has had me reevaluating my perspective on, well, perspective…a.k.a. point of view.

So here’s the deal. The author intended the novel to be 3rd person limited POV, which is precisely how I read it as well, correcting here and there for stray thoughts of other characters to which the POV was not limited. This is a romance, and the two lead characters that comprise the central romantic couple share the limelight 50/50, as do their thoughts. The writing was strong, so it honestly didn’t confuse or distract me through my many reads of this ms that the POV was head-hopping between the two, sometimes on a paragraph level. I made sure the POV didn’t shift within a paragraph, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it doing so between these two characters within a scene.

Okay, technically, that’s more omniscient than limited where 3rd person goes, and that’s what the managing editor at the stage beyond my developmental edit called us out on. For 3rd person multiple limited, shifts in POV between the multiple characters should be denoted by a section or chapter break. If this author is asked to revise for this (which she was last week and, thank goodness, spoke up about it, as I agree with her), it’ll be like rewriting half the novel, and the playful sexual tension that the omniscience delivers so well will be squashed. If she’s required to adhere to this technicality of 3rd person limited, that is…

As it stands at present, our appeals induced the managing editor to forward the ms to the other MEs for their opinion on whether it can work as-is or be revised as 3rd person omniscient instead. The author and I are strongly preffing this option, as it’ll not only be a significantly less extensive revision, but will preserve said back-and-forth tension. It’s not that this tension couldn’t be brought about otherwise, just that it hasn’t been written that way all along, so in the direction the story has since gone, it would be difficult to change and really sap it of its spirit, at this point and in this particular case (you’d have to read it to know what I mean).

So this is my question to you: Why can’t a 3rd person limited POV (limited to multiple characters) head-hop between the characters it’s limited to if it’s been done in a skillful manner that is not confusing and actually enhances the tone and conflict of the text? Now, if this author is given the go-ahead to switch to omniscient, she’ll be adding thoughts of secondary characters as well, which is only promoting further head-hopping and extremely unnecessarily, all in the name of convention. Why would it be okay to hop around several different heads instead of just two if it’s all about ensuring clarity for the reader? Why can’t an “omniscient” POV be limited to two characters? Am I making myself sound like even more of a dufus?

My fear stems from the true limited POV being that of these editors who shun 3rd person omniscient (along with 1st person multiple perspectives—in that case, um, hello? Time Traveler’s Wife? Poisonwood Bible?)  from the get-go because they so often see it mistreated by inexperienced writers. I understand that perspective, I do; green writers can easily make a mess of either one, and do. Yet I don’t think it’s quite fair to essentially adopt as a policy when there are more skillful writers (even first-time ones) who do pull it off. So it’s my latest bone of contention that is rendering Point-of-View my Pain-in-Ass.

By the way, this is really, really humbling for me to share as both a newbie editor and former English teacher, for cripes sakes! I guess the wonderful world of creative writing will always be full of surprises, just when we think we’ve dissected it down to a science. If there’s anything to be learned in this, it’s that I have a lot to learn…which makes it difficult to know when to fight for what I think is fair, just, and promotes creative freedom or to just grin and bear it.

Have you encountered this issue with POV in your writing? Can you think of examples of literary works that somehow defy narrative convention and pull it off?


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