Writing Excuses 7.12: Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written by Linda K. Strahl, an editor at the Jet Fuel Review. Her full bio can be found at the end of this post.

Last week’s podcast had the audience go back to basics, which is why I decided to write it up this week along with this week’s podcast, which will be published later. With that note I will write the rest of the podcast in the summarizing format in present tense.  

The group has no guest host and Dan is absent due to family matters and ninjas somehow being involved. This, of course, means that the podcast happens without him. The topic Brandon, Mary, and Howard have decided to broach is none other than the omniscient POV in an author’s tools-of-the-trade handbook. There are a few kinds of this POV that we should all recognize. One kind is the “cinema omniscient POV”, the narrator and camera angle of a story, which is never an actual character in the plot. This POV is actually considered limited omniscient, because the perspective is not all encompassing and limited to the camera and timeline the story has to follow. Brandon corrects their name of “limited omniscient” to Orson Scott Card’s term of “limited third POV”.

“Base type omniscient POV,” Brandon says as he gets serious, “is the narrator.” The narrator is separate from everything and the narrator knows everything. The narrator is that voice in the background, (usually Morgan Freeman), telling the audience how everything starts and finishes. This is also known as the present narrator, who tends to have a conversational tone which tells the story we all want to hear. “It pulls in the reader in many different ways… you can tell the reader things that you do not want the character to know,” says Mary, to explain the narration in her book, Shades of Milk and Honey.

Brandon prefers having a narrator with some character behind it. Look at his series, Alcatraz, as an example of how to info-dump the reader. The actual narrator is in third person omniscient because he has been through the story he is actually telling. The narrator also lies, which makes him unreliable and omniscient. With every intention of making the book screwier, Brandon also adds the first person limited.

Crystallization by David Gerrold [Kindle Edition] is a short story that satirizes the nightmare of a city-wide gridlock. What Mary mentions as interesting, is that there are no name characters within the plot because if the author did use characters and third person POV, the story would not work as well in the short story format. Brandon then mentions one of my favorite short stories, The Ones that Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin [found online]. This story has the omniscient POV that the group is talking about. To illustrate, here is an excerpt from Omelas:

…It sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come.”

The excerpt shows the lack of identity within the character. It is evident that the story contains an omniscient POV because there is no relation for the reader to follow. It generalizes emotions such as fear, as well as stating that the hopelessness the character has seems irrelevant to the story’s continuance.

A point the group made that I thought to be very important was, “Authors do lapse into Omniscient POV, usually when there is no possible character to witness the event that drives the plot forward.” They mention all sorts of books to look at for this, one of them is a chapter in Sum of All Fears.

I will skip ahead to one of the more well-known Omniscient POVs because it involves Dune. The head-jumping, or character switch, in POVs lends itself to another form of Omniscient POV that restricts the reader to a character for a few paragraphs then jumps to another character with equally important thoughts on their perceptions of reality. This is shown in the movie adaptation that has the voice-overs for each character. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is another example with characters having discussions that are mistranslated in thoughts. Since the podcast went on for twenty minutes, I may have missed some things that could be important. So make an effort to listen to last week’s podcast on iTunes for free under Writing Excuses. Enjoy!

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Acacia, by David Anthony Durham, narrated by Dick Hill [not omniscient POV but still a good read].

Writing Prompt Two-fer: 1) Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes. 2) Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.

Editor’s Note: Linda K Strahl is a transfer student from University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, where she was studying Archaeology and minoring in Creative Writing. She came to Lewis University in Fall of 2010 to major in Creative Writing. After participating in the production of two plays at Phillip Lynch Theater she has become an enthusiastic dramaturg, and is contemplating a career as a researcher and playwriter.

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