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The Dreaded Omniscient Voice... I think.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jerry, Dec 22, 2021.

  1. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Hello and Happy Holidays one and all!

    I wish to keep my style and approach in my WIP, but I fear the omniscient voice as some say, is out of date or touch. I feel it is a matter of taste, and again, approach... yet again, I want to be sure I am doing something correct and understand which narrative voice I am exactly using.

    I'm telling the story, indeed using the all-knowing voice, yet I don't reveal every certain thing, or pretend that I do, or that I am some narrator 'within' the story revealing it - it's just an approach, somewhat like a third person narrator, but with more. Not sure. I just narrate, tell the story using the OV, giving insight into worlds, possible viewpoints of life, philosophy perhaps in small instances as if perhaps the narrator was a character, but is not a character. Does that make sense? An example could be "The Book Thief." While the narrator is obvious and all-seeing, it is in a sense, a character of the story, sort of... so I was seeking that same type of omniscient approach - but not like The Book Thief, where that narrator openly states who they are - I just want to tell the story from that sort of point of view, as this story takes place over centuries, and many characters and perspectives, which won't be head-hopping, just telling their story. Maybe The Book Thief story is not a good example, but that's what I'm aiming for. I was hoping for some advice in that respect, perspective, and hopefully, for some literary examples. Would appreciate your advice fellow writers.
     
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I'm not sure about dreaded, out of favor, perhaps. Or at least accepted as being so. This is too vague for me to say much about, and even if giving me a sample I might not be able to say what's written in a similar way. Best advice is write what works. I would think that taking a look at epic fiction, not necessarily epic fantasy, where stories follow a family across generations might be the place to look. For some reason Norman Mailer comes to mind, but I'm not grasping a certain book from my scattered memory.
     
  3. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

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    Hard to say without looking at your writing. Everything in writing comes down to the execution, does omniscent add to the vibe of your piece? Does it fit the themes or message? We can't answer that question with such a high-level ask.

    Dune is 3rd omniscent and it works if you have the knowledge that it's written by Paul's wifey who wants to write this book about how cool and awesome he is, which is why the head hopping is all in service in talking about how cool and awesome he is. But it's not really EXPLICITLY said in the book that she is the "author" so most people reading it are probably going to see it as "wow this sure is wish fulfillment, huh!" That along with a lot of the other stuff in the story make it really "old fashioned."
     
  4. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    I like the omniscient voice of someone like Trollope where you know someone is telling you a story and it is his view of what is going on inside the characters' heads, and not necessarily accurate. The other sort of omniscience, the god-like kind that infallibly knows everything, always rubbed me wrong--a bit hard to believe in sometimes. Of course, multiple points of view, even a whole lot of them, is not omniscience. That's the way I chose to go with my Donzalo's Destiny epic.
     
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    It all gets into a lot of splitting hairs on definition after a while. One can live life happily enough just by acknowledging 1st, 2nd, and 3rd POV, heh heh. Once you are even inside one head that is not the narrator's... it's omniscient. The opposite would, while still being 3rd, then be 3rd cinematic.
     
  6. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    I notice I don't like "omniscient" 3rd P, and I tend to be prejudiced against a book right on page 1 that uses it . So are a lot of other people these days. It's not a deal-breaker as such... but it is a major red flag. Three red flags before I get hooked, and you are out, I'm not buying the book, or reading further. Why deliberately write with a major red flag on page one? Sometimes I ask myself if this is a prejudice I have merely learned to mimick - I only FORMALISED my objections to it when I "learned to write." Did I already find it unappealing, back before I learned to notice it? I am not sure!

    What do I mean by it, since definitions vary, at least a little? D defines it as getting into any head that is not the narrator's.... but I would respectfully define it as the moment I get into any head that is not the POV character's.... In PRACTICE, it means any tale which is not 1st person, but where the writer chooses to draw attention to the existence of a narrator telling the story, a narrator who is not one of the characters. So this comes down to two things: 1) opinions sneaking into the story, judgments that are not the opinions of any of the characters - even a single inappropriate adjective has me on my guard. In other words, I will accept opinions in dialogue and internal thoughts, but only facts from the 3rd P narration - the narrator should only express facts. And, of course, 2) nothing should appear on the page that the POV character is not thinking, seeing or otherwise sensing, or remembering, AT THAT EXACT MOMENT. Even being told about something the POV character DOES know, but would not be actively thinking of at THAT moment, sounds like a bum note. A man wrestling for his life with an alligator will not be replaying his CV in his head, not like a man on his way to an interview.

    WHY do I not like it? I ask myself this, and I suggest the following reasons:

    1 - I don't like being told what to think. As an educated adult, I don't like being indoctrinated, or being "propagandized" . . . I don't like being spoon-fed the conclusions I am supposed to draw. A narrator slipping in his opinions is a lot more annoying that a character who epresses his opinions in dialogue.
    "The evil templars attacked the muslim village at dawn. Only Mustafa saw them coming, but none could hear his warning, all the way from the hilltop...."
    is a LOT more annoying than.--->
    " 'Wake up!' Mustafa shrieked from his vantage point on the hill. 'The evil templars are coming!' But he groaned, realising his warning was futile. Who could hear a shepherd a mile away? Why had he not thought of taking his brother's drum? "

    1st person POV seems to get away with this, since we know all opinions are the POV characters'. It feels honest, somehow.

    2 - I want to LIVE the adventure, not read a summary of it. I want to put on VR goggles and BE a knight of the round table facing a monster, or a wife wondering if her husband is cheating, or a butler wondering whether the servants are stealing, or whatever. The more obvious the narrator is, the less I am LIVING the adventure, and the more I am merely being TOLD about the events. It's similar to why we remove "distancers" - "Mustafa gasped as he saw the templars riding up the valley" is always weaker than "Mustafa gasped. Templars were riding up the valley." -- get rid of all the words like "he saw/heard"...or most of them. An OBVIOUS narrator causes the same sort of problem.

    3 - Omniscient is usually quicker, faster, easier to write, and more able to get a lot of story covered in fewer words. Alas, it is usually also more boring. This is because it is really only a summary? Quick and fast and easy is how you want to clean a toilet, sure. I don't mind sitting on a toilet that was cleaned quickly and efficiently. But when I eat a gourmet meal, or watch ballet, I don't care to suddenly realise the chef or the choreographer took the quick, easy way out. It shows too much, unless you are ignorant, and do not have the education to evaluate art instead of passively accept any old garbage. You don't enjoy it as much. Sorry. Taking a quick and easy way to slop out "art" - no thanks. Once you know how the soup is made, you do not enjoy it as much, I am afraid . . . unless it is GOOD.

    BUT there are exceptions. The Hobbit, anyone? How does this book get away not just with a narrator, but one who talks at length about his own opinons and explaining things that none of the characters are thinking? Is it that it can work in children's books? (Polemics, too? Uncle Tom's Cabin" was meant to get people angry about slavery, and it succeeded - would it have been less effective if the narrator had shut up about her own opinions, and just let the stoy play itself out? Again, it is an old book, would it be written the same way today?) I still scratch my head about The Hobbit. I reread it after "learning to write" and I still love it. That sort of POV is toned down a LOT in LotR, but it is still somewhat present if you look carefully. When it DOES become obvious, it is immediately one of the weaker parts of the book.

    Look at some of the "clumsier" passages - or so I MYSELF think - anyone else want to contribute? DISCLAIMER - I love Tolkien and LotR, but I am willing to criticize it too -

    EG - meeting Treebeard -
    "(T's eyes)... were brown, shot with a green light. Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them.
    'One felt as if there were an enourmous well behind them....' " --> nine whole lines of Pippin AT SOME LATER DATE describing T's eyes, years after first seeing them --> Too much yakk about the description of one person's eyes... AND Pippin himself could not possibly have been thinking this memory at the moment he first met T, AND it drains the suspense of the tale - the narrator has told us Pippin will not die anytime soon, no matter what.

    Or consider - Sam and Frodo trying to find a way though the wastes of Mordor, and wondering what the hell orcs EAT -
    "Neither he nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes .... nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands..."
    Ask yourself - WOULD this have been better as...? -->
    "Frodo, what do orcs eat? Not a speck of green anywere."
    "I studied a map in Elrond's library in Rivendell, Sam. There is a great lake to the south, with fields worked by slaves. And roads for tribute and booty from those who worship Sauron, who treat him as king, and as more than a king." (insert action beats as needed bla bla)

    Never mind the strange bit of head-hopping into the mind of a wandering fox early on in the book, when Frodo and Sam are sleeping....

    Now this is just what I think now - and rereading LotR, these sort of "bum notes" are fairly under control, so I don't have a serious problem with it.

    So - is YOUR "omniscient or limited omniscient" acceptable? Slap up a few thousand words in critiques, and we will give you our honest opinion!



    I have waded my way though Pride and Prejudice this year, REFUSING TO SKIP ANY BORING BITS - and by golly the parts that drag REALLY drag, There are whole chapters in the "late middle" (soon after Lizzie's visit to Mr Darcy's estate) where a narrator just sumarises the thoughts and emotions going through the heads of different people at the same meeting, pages and pages of it. Not even a line of dialogue. I only kept reading because it is a classic I told myself I would read it all, come hell or high water. My opinion of it is irrelevant - it is one of the most successful books of all time, any "review" of it would be utterly pointless - but I cannot help but feel if J Austen had had the benefit of advances in the art of writing over the two centuries that have followed her, bits of it could have been done differently...
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Much of whether a narrative works, no matter the POV, is whether the reader is absorbed. If I'm reading the Hobbit, I'm enjoying the narrative voice of Tolkien and rolling with the story. If I'm reading Pride and Prejudice, I'm just bored off my ass at every turn because I have zero interest in that story. In fairness, the story is okay, but there's no way to rewrite it that I will get into. Dickens, Twain, Conrad, three writers I love, but if they aren't writing a story that will draw me in? I'm not going to be able read them. Tolkien has the advantage of fewer finished books, heh heh. I often wonder how writers of any style get away with... whatever. GRRM and Steven King babble and babble and babble, that hasn't stopped them from making piles of money. Collins goes into some stuff in Hunger Games that made my eyes want to roll into the back of my head, and was just reading and listening along with my daughter for a class assignment. Rowling? I have no clue why she sold so many books, except I write it off as YA, heh heh. Rothfuss? Mrrrf. I have no idea why readers put up with what he does.

    Then again, there are readers who can't stand what I'm writing, and others who compare me to the "greats" of epic fantasy. Readers who think I go too slow, readers who think I go too fast. Readers who think I include too much info, others not enough.

    Advances in writing? I don't know about that. There's been as much regression as advancement, or time has just filtered out most of the crap, heh heh. Or, it's just all fashion. I really don't see any writers out there knocking my socks off with anything.

    But, on Om v Lim, Limited is simply a variant of Om, the full name might as well be limited omniscient. Being inside anybody else's head requires omniscience.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
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  8. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    "Much of whether a narrative works, no matter the POV, is whether the reader is absorbed."

    Agreed! And a boring tale will not be saved by any fashionable POV tricks. Sometimes being "boring" comes down to genre vs the reader's tastes, and sometimes it does not. As I said, I will tolerate a certain number of red flags / bum notes while I read (say) ten pages, hoping a writer can hook me. These days, I tolerate two or three red flags - writers, please, please hook me before that point! If I have nothing else to do, I might accept five, or nine. Literary agents etc probably only accept one, or none at all.

    A few red flags AFTER you hook me can be acceptable, and then become mere quirks, not red flags at all. You all know what the red flags are - eg, lots and lots of characters introduced at the very start (or, worse, all speaking at once!) is a red flag. So too are flashbacks within flashbacks, especially at the very start of the book. So are info dumps at the start of a book, etc, instead of a bit later. So are prologues (usually) and a dozen other things. Anything that "takes me out of the flow" . . . and a narrator who insists on giving me HIS opinions, or goes off on an irrelevant tangent, just when I was paying attention to a POV character's dilemma, is one of them. But, as I said, if you can hook me fairly fast, your POV is not a deal-breaker, not on its own.

    I can quibble about the definition of "omniscient" - if you only have the power to enter ONE person's head per chapter/scene, then you are not omniscient! If you DO have the power to enter all heads, but choose to limit yourself to one, then...?
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Om is more "natural" than 3rd Limited POV.

    What I mean by that is this: When you (or I) tell a story to someone in real life, during the course of a real lived day, we tend to use either third omniscient or first person.

    Example:

    When I went to the supermarket this morning, I ran into Lucy. Remember Lucy Davenport? Yeah, her. She was strutting down the produce section like she does anywhere. Thinking she's better than anyone. She was buying produce, for f's sake! But you would think she was shopping for a third home in the Hamptons. When she saw me, her nose rose three inches. "Sally! Imagine running into you here." As if I'd somehow been spotted at one of those open houses. In the Hamptons, I mean. Anyway, she thought I'd just take her attitude and do nothing. Boy, was she wrong.....
    Okay, you may be thinking that's actually first person. Thanks, pronouns.

    But what about "she thought I'd just take her attitude and do nothing" ? Isn't that omniscient? How could I, in my real life (assuming my name is Sally, heh) know what this Lucy Davenport was thinking? I wasn't inside her head, right?

    So maybe it's an attempt at omniscient first person. Which is a thing, by the way.

    But what if I were telling a story in which I wasn't personally involved. A story someone else had related to me, perhaps, or that I just knew somehow. Example:

    When Sally went to the supermarket this morning, she ran into Lucy. Yeah, that Lucy. Lucy Davenport. Lucy was strutting down the produce section like she does anywhere, thinking she's better than anyone. You would think she was shopping for a third home in the Hamptons instead of lettuce and potatoes. When she saw Sally, her nose rose three inches. "Sally! Imagine running into you here," she said, as if Sally had been caught at one of those open houses in the Hamptons. Lucy thought Sally would just take that attitude from her and do nothing. She was wrong....​

    Okay, so if I were relating this series of events in real life, I'd likely be adding some omniscient bits. "Thinking she's better than anyone" and "Lucy thought Sally would just take that attitude from her and do nothing," are things that I, the narrator of these events, couldn't really know. They are the sort of artistic license that real life narrators flash around like badges of authority. So omniscience, whether in the first person or third person variety, is rather natural. (A natural posture, you could say.)

    Now imagine rewriting this in strict third person limited POV. The result will not resemble 90% of the storytelling you'd use in your day-to-day life in conversations with those around you. Sometimes for effect, you might slip into an authentic limited third POV when relating events. But unless you're a rather special individual, you'd probably not use limited third most of the time, heh. We are just too used to jumping to conclusions about the inner workings of others, and we like adding details for effect—whether strictly true or exaggerated—which lend a hint of omniscience to our storytelling.

    Just something to consider when considering the pros and cons.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
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  10. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    I agree absolutely that "natural" casual gossipy verbal storytelling goes off on tangents, or just assumes the speaker knows what everyone else is thinking, and many other things. It also usually does not rely too much on the rules of grammar etc. Like I said, quick and easy! But not "better", IMHO. Would you willingly lap up 100,000 words of "natural story telling" though, listening to it as a podcast or something, or would you tune out, thinking to yourself that it would have been better if the telling had been polished a bit first?

    A "first draft" is natural and instinctive, much more "natural" than the polished, deliberately-reshaped later draft you see on sale in the bookstore, the final version which was pored over by beta-readers and editors who worried about "rules of good writing". Would you really prefer to read the first draft?

    Good movie dialogue SOUNDS "natural", but it is NOT natural dialogue at all - it merely seems so. A skilled writer carefully redrafted it more than once so it served a purpose, fitting into a meaningful tale designed to interest an audience.

    =================

    Let me put it this way - how many of you ever watched THIS scene? Saruman giving an info-dump to the audience via a short speech to one of his uruks. It's only 100 seconds long.



    Do you know how the race of orcs came into being? etc...

    THIS scene is "3rd person Limited" - or what I myself think "3rd P ltd" is. Of course there IS a "narrator" - someone who is NOT Saruman decided this would be the next scene, and this person is "omniscient" because he had the power to pass through the walls of Orthanc and spy on proceedings and find out what was going on ... or already knew what was going on ... or what WOULD happen ... AND knew exactly when to do so (or - GULP - had the power to go BACK in time and spy on things AFTER they had happened in private! Wow!) Bad omniscient narration blurs into the writer himself giving his opinions. In turn, I could argue that the "eye of God" that decided to walk invisibly though Othanc's walls in NOT PJ himself, but a "narrator" - we can split hairs on this all night long!


    NOW - imagine if, INSTEAD of this, Saruman had "frozen" and Peter Jackson jumped in front of the camera and explained directly to the audience where orcs came from. This would be as annoying as hell, and I wouldn't put up with it (unless it were meant as comedy, perhaps). BAD "obvious narrator" writing would be like that, and that is what I mean by "3rd person omniscient is usually worse" ... (I am aware the movie does have a brief intro narration by C Blanchett, I am not interested in talking about that)
    of course, it could be done in a better way -

    Eg, Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" is a beautiful movie, and has a narrator who speeds up the story by giving voiceovers and summaries of backstory at "appropriate" junctures. It helps that we do not SEE him, it helps that he speaks in a dignified, relaxed voice, etc. But do you notice something? When the killing starts, the narrator shuts the hell up and lets the action speak for itself!

    "It would require a great philospher and historian to ...."



    This is the equivalent of "good" omniscient-obvious-narrator story telling.

    What I am trying to say is that MOST writers who deliberately insert an omniscient narrator can't pull it off as well as Kubrick did in this scene. If you ARE one of those few, then by all means carry on, ignore my caveats, and hook me!

    Imagine, for a moment, Barry Lyndon narrated by some modern rapper with a "Yo, let me tell y'all bout a thing called the Thrirty Years' war, bro!" I suggest it would be as annoying as hell. The voice of this unseen narrator has to be exactly right - if there is chance it will not be exactly right, is it better to take no chances and just show me what Saruman himself sees and hears?
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    No, it is not. It is best described as cinematic perspective, or perhaps cinematic POV.

    It is limited—in the sense that, any given moment, what we as audience see is limited by whatever the camera is focusing on.

    But that kind of limitation happens everywhere in literature. First person, second person, third person limited, third omniscient, and so forth.

    You, as reader, are currently reading this sentence I'm now typing.


    Sure, you read it after I typed it, by however many minutes, hours, days....not AS I was typing it. But still. You, as audience to my sentence—we call this "reader" re: the written word—were focused on that sentence when you got to it. You are focused on this sentence as you are reading this.

    That's what the camera in cinema does. Every piece of writing does this as well. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph—I am changing your focus with these things. These things create content; so, your focus changes there as well during this process.

    This is an insanely important feature of literature.

    It is not limited only to third limited point of view.

    The issue for readers of fiction rests on an illusion.

    In third person limited, the narrator tries to hide as much as possible, and readers expect not to see that narrator stepping between them and whatever is happening in the tale. But this is an illusion. The narrator is still there. Holding the camera. Choosing where to focus the camera.

    While reading third limited, you can still detect the camera and the hand that holds it—unless you stop caring or lose yourself in that camera, seeing through the lens as if it were your very own eyes. This happens to me when watching great television and movies; I get lost in the tale sometimes. If I jump during a jump scare or bawl during a sad scene, I might forget that some crafty people—literally—have directed my attention in such a way to cause these effects in me.

    But even if I lose myself in those moments, that doesn't mean I'm in an absorbed state throughout the entire episode or movie! The same goes for written tales. A wrong word choice, an ambiguous sentence, vague description, errors in continuity, and a hundred other things can "throw me out of the tale" for a moment or three. Those are the narrator showing himself. Or herself. Or themself. Sometimes I notice the craftiness, the measured choices of the creators, and in some cases this adds to my enjoyment of the tale. Other times, what I am seeing is horrible and further reveals the ineptitude of the creators.*

    Some readers prefer this illusion of a narrator-free tale. Or even—the illusion that characters are narrating things in third limited! That's an illusion also. That's the narrator using sleight of hand to make it seem as if these observations, thoughts, descriptions, and so forth are coming via the mind of the character. Never mind that the character isn't referring to themself as "She" or "He" and likely wouldn't be taking the time to note so many descriptive details of armor, weapons and the landscape during a life-or-death battle, which sometimes happens in third limited. The narrator sneaks into the scene but dons a disguise.

    Omniscient third often dispenses with this attempt at illusion. Someone doesn't mind letting the reader know there's a person holding the camera. But that doesn't mean omniscient third is the entire absence of illusion. Far from it. I think the goal of omniscient third is usually this: To make the reader a co-conspirator with the narrator. The narrative voice is a trusted guide. The narrative voice is an interesting observer. The camera-holder has my entertainment in mind and is taking care to show me things that will add to my enjoyment of the tale. That sort of thing.

    Mind you, I've read far, far, far, far more crappy third limited attempts than crappy omniscient third attempts. This is in part due to the glut on the market and people avoiding the use of omniscient because they hear the other narrators—er, voices—saying, "Don't use [email protected]!!!!#[email protected]!!" But it is also due to the fact that many seem to believe third limited is the silver bullet. The gold bullet. The platinum bullet. I.e., if you use it, you are automatically a marksman. In these cases—there are so many—I still feel the hand of a narrator in third limited, but I do not get the sense that the narrator gives a damn about my entertainment.

    ________

    Re: The natural vs the measured art. Yes, of course, just because something is more "natural," that doesn't mean it is always better than what is studied art. Measured art. Eh. Art in literature came into being as an attempt to improve on the unexamined, habitual, knee-jerk efforts people have used for telling tales. But natural storytelling continues to exist because it works. We are humans, and we've been conditioned, heh.

    Obviously, you and I have been bored to tears by our companions, from time to time. I in particular have an extremely difficult time not cutting someone off in the middle of a tale. I hate when tale-tellers go on at length about something I already know—I mean, get to the point already, I already know this—and I also have a knee-jerk reaction toward assumptions of omniscience. I can spot holes in the argument without even trying.

    This is why I wrote,

    Despite being an impatient listener, I can still be quite enthralled by a tale. If the teller would just do it right. But this latter point returns us again to the question of art. Some have taken the time to care about my entertainment more than their own and use what they know about me to their advantage, heh.

    *Edit: Admittedly, I was blurring the lines between narrator and author here. That's a worthy subject of its own. But the point remains: I become conscious of the narration, either way, and thus of the existence of a narrator. Even if the narrator is being screwed over by the author, heh.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2021
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  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I'll let you do the talking, saves me lots of time, heh heh. There were some great conversations on POV back in the day on this forum. Too bad several of those aren't around any longer.

     
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  13. Some of my favorite novels are written in omniscient 3rd. So if that's what you write, then go with it.

    One thing to remember with omniscient 3rd is that there are a lot of different types, just as there are different types of 3rd limited and 1st person. And some of them work better for some readers while others work better for others. Omniscient simply means that you can be inside any head at any given time. That's it, nothing else.

    Two big distinctions in it are when you have a present narrator and when you don't. Basically: you either have someone telling you the story, or the story simply happens. The Hobbit has a fairly present narrator, you get a sense that it's Bilbo sitting you down and telling you the story. On the other hand, Dune simply shows you what everyone is thinking all the time, and The Lies of Locke Lamora are somewhere in between.

    The main thing is that you must be consistent. If you always show all thoughts then you can't hide something from the reader, because they feel cheated. However, if you don't get too deep inside anyones head then you're fine with hiding stuff. It's a promisse you make to the reader, and it's one you should make very early in the story and it's one you shouldn't break.

    In my opinion, omniscient is harder to do well than 3rd limited, but when it works it's brilliant.
    These passages show different tastes. For me, both of them work. Especially the Frodo and Sam one. In one simple passage the whole world is expanded. It's shown that there's a whole world out there to discover and that the characters are only small pawns in a very large game. It works much better than having Frodo mention something about reading something obscure in Rivendell. Given in dialogue between the characters it would have reduced the world in size and have felt very out of character.
     
  14. S J Lee

    S J Lee Inkling

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    And to each his or her own!

    To me, the narrator, once he starts yakking, usually acts like a unwanted filter - the danger is, the writer ends up telling me about something instead of showing me something. I have to listen to someone talking about the adventure instead of letting me live the adventure - when it is NOT done well. The "flow" of the story is disrupted - or it risks being so. If someone is doing something tense and exciting, a character who suddenly parachutes into the scene and starts talking can get very annoying - and this person is, alas, often the narrator.

    In my opinion, omniscient is harder to do well than 3rd limited ---> I would deffo agree with this, so I would advise most noobs not to try it, or at least be ready to receive criticism for it... unless they have decided they want to do it as a test of their skills, etc

    when it works it's brilliant --> Like the Barry Lyndon movie, yes! But a lot of people who think they are "good enough to pull it off" are actually not as good as they think they are, alas...there are two "hurdles" that the narrator often falls flat at:
    1 - he won't let the action happen, but ruins it by interrupting it, or telling vs showing
    2 - he starts being "chatty or preachy" - eg, the writer thinks there is a funny joke that will only work if the narrator tells it. So the narrator tells it. The joke isn't anywhere near as funny as the writer thinks it is...I am left cold, and dump the book. Sorry.

    Where I would not agree would be if someone said "GOOD omniscient is usually BETTER than good 3rd P ltd" - I would not agree with this.

    Also, I realise my concept of what we are talking about seems to both be the same as those of the other posters, and yet NOT the same!
    -> Omniscient simply means that you can be inside any head at any given time. That's it, nothing else. ---> I must respectfully disagree with this somewhat, one of the differences between GofT and The Hobbit is not just how many heads we have the choice of entering at ANY time, but there is the presence of the narrator "himself" - who talks directly to the reader whenever he likes. This never, ever happens in GofT at any time. I have heard some people say "The 3rd person limited narrator COULD speak directly to the reader at any time, but chooses not to do so, therefore 3rd P Ltd and omniscient are actually the same thing" but I am not buying it. Maybe I will change my mind in ten years!

    I do not think the narrator in The Hobbit is Bilbo himself, speaking years later - and I do not think the narrator is Tolkien himself, describing the wonders of Middle Earth to his fans. Whoever the narrator is, he is something different. The narrator can reveal himself in three ways - first, by staying in the room after the POV character has left (this is perhaps the least annoying - 3rd P L would just create a new scene with a different POV character)...second, speaking directly to the audience, and, third, by inserting opinions instead of facts, especially though sneaky (and usually very annoying) judgemental adjectives. It CAN work, but it usually doesn't! Just my two cents.

    I remember seeing a blog by some pro writer or other (no, nobody that famous, or I would remember her name...) saying she pretty much refused to read anything in omniscient. Now, maybe that was going too far, but she made a good point: when you start writing a book, you decide on a POV. These days, omniscient is out of fashion (for reasons like those I suggest above - and yes, fashions change over time). A lot of readers will reject a book because of an omniscient POV, but very few people reject a book because it is in 3rd P L.

    IS omniscient out of fashion?
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2021
  15. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    Because it is done well. I think the OV in something like the Hobbit might almost be considered a character in its own right. It establishes a kind of dialogue/relationship with the reader. "let me tell you about hobbits..." - rather like grandpa telling the kids a story around a fire.

    Terry Pratchett is another example of clever use of OV. Sir Terry predominantly used Omni POV. His work relied on it.

    It is a bit out of fashion at present - perhaps because George RR Martin shied away from it so firmly. But what is in fashion today may not be in fashion a year from now when your book gets published. So don't follow fashion - do what works best for the story at hand.

    The best use of OV in my opinion is Juvenal - in some of his satires the OV appears at first sight to be the opinions of Juvenal - but then, usually at the end, there is a twist in the narration that changes the perspective. The narration, it turns out, was the opinion of a character Juvenal created all along - rather than Juvenal himself. Now that's clever.

    It is also the case that writing from character POVs can be done poorly. It is not a guaranteed success formula. It can get confusing and some readers can find it hard to follow a plot that jumps around between too many POVs. I heard one reader say recently that she gave up on reading something because it jumped around between so many different POVs that it made it virtually impossible to make any overall sense of what was going on.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2021
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Actually, this isn't better, this comes off as hokey. "Why yes, I just happened to study..." which is similar to the casts in movies and tv shows just HAPPENING to be an expert in something (Battlestar Galactica) so that the writers don't have to introduce a new character and the producers don't have to pay another actor. Mind you, these are Necessary for sanity on a set when it comes to writing and budget, but does that make them good writing? Nope.

    I find this similar to the argument that Dialogue doesn't = Info Dump, which is also not true... See Sword of Shanarra, heh heh.

    It isn't that the dialogue is necessarily wrong, it is just that neither is wrong and are only parts of differing approaches.

    Another interesting note with such a passage is that expository dialogue will tend to come off flatter and less interesting to read than the narrative voice of a skilled writer, one might say with less "character" despite being spoken by a character, heh heh.

    Ask yourself - WOULD this have been better as...? -->
    "Frodo, what do orcs eat? Not a speck of green anywere."
    "I studied a map in Elrond's library in Rivendell, Sam. There is a great lake to the south, with fields worked by slaves. And roads for tribute and booty from those who worship Sauron, who treat him as king, and as more than a king." (insert action beats as needed bla bla)
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2021
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  17. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    I couldn't agree more. Expository dialogue is potentially dangerous ground in my opinion. It can come across as very false if you get a character explaining something which you can't help but feel their audience should probably already know. I also get uncomfortable when a character suddenly launches into an exposition that seems to demonstrate a level of knowledge that you simply would not expect them to have.

    Used right, expository dialogue can work of course, but it needs to be woven into the story carefully - and in a way that does not stand out like a sore thumb.
     
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  18. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    Terry Pratchett did that all the time. His footnotes form anecdotal asides that deliberately digress from the main narrative - all written in an omni voice. Indeed the Discworld fans even have threads on their forums about "what's your favourite footnote?"

    So, clearly, when done well, readers love it.
     
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  19. It also never happens in Lies of Locke Lamora, which is omniscient. The only difference between omniscient and limited is the number of heads you are in in a given scene. Yes, in omniscient you often get a narrator, but it's not required to have one for a story to be omniscient. In the same way that with 3rd limited you often get multiple POV's, but you can have a whole novel in 3rd limited in a single POV.

    It is true that it's easier to have a narrator in omniscient than in 3rd limited. It feels fairly natural to have one in omniscient. But it's not a requirement. Also, you can have one in 3rd limited. In the Wheel of Time, you can spot a narrator in scenes where Mat Cauthon is the view point character. He has a very unreliable POV, which the narrator shows by describing what actually happens instead of what Mat thinks is happening. Other examples are where you have a child as the view point character. Often, you aren't completely in the child's viewpoint, but rather you get a narrator overlaid on top of it simply because the thoughts of a 4 year old can make for tough reading.

    I hesitated earlier to bring up Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams as examples (though both are brilliant writers I love). The reason is that they write for comedic effect as much as for the story. Which is part of the reason the footnotes and narrator jumping in work.
     
  20. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    I think that probably points to the fact that whether an omni-narrator works well or not depends on what you are trying to write and the effect you want to create.

    In a serious epic fantasy, having an omni-narrator 'interrupt' the action might well be an irritating distraction. In comic fantasy, the same kind of interruption might be hilariously funny. Two of the golden rules of comedy are incongruity and surprise. An unexpected and seemingly digressive (even irrelevant) interruption to the story, when done well, delivers comedy.

    On the other hand, having an omni-narrator in fantasy can provide a succinct and effective way of providing necessary background information such as "what is a hobbit?" How would Tolkien have introduced us to hobbits without an introductory omni-narrative? The story starts in the world of hobbits. Hobbits already know everything about hobbits - so there would be no credible reason for any hobbit character to provide any expository dialogue to explain what hobbits are or how they typically live. (Any reason that wouldn't have come across as forced and artificial anyway). So how would you do it without a narrator? Get a couple of travelling human peddlers to tramp through the Shire just to "show" us what hobbits are all about? That would probably have taken an unnecessarily long time to do with a couple of characters who then don't appear in the story ever again. Whatever way you turn, it's hard to think of a way that does it as succinctly as the introduction made by the omni-narrator. It sets the scene, gives us the information we need, and has the merit of allowing the story to then move on at pace.

    In general, if you can tell a story by showing rather than telling then so much the better. But I would not agree with the idea that it is always better to show than to tell. To my mind, I think it is better to write by the principle that "It's mostly better to show than to tell but sometimes it's better to tell than to show."

    Also, just because you have an omni-narrator who jumps in now and then does not mean to say that the narrator voice needs to tell us anything about what any character is thinking. You can jump between storytelling with an omni-voice and storytelling through the eyes of one of the characters as and when appropriate.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
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