Monday, March 8, 2010

Omniscient or Simply Third Person

I've read a half-dozen style books the past year. No surprise, every "expert" has a slightly different take on things, though they generally hold the same beliefs on "the basics."

One author I really enjoyed had a different explanation of omniscient than any other author I've read, and it's stuck in my head. In critique groups you often hear the word omniscient, referring simply to any passage that is outside the protagonist's (or the current POVC's) knowledge.

"My author" defined omniscient as dialogue directly between the author and the reader – very specific author intrusion, such as: "As I write this, I am moved by the emotion of the times."

I like that definition of omniscient. I readily buy-into third person as a sliding scale. On the far left is near-third person (others call it close-third person). On the right is far-third person (or distant-third person).

Viewpoint isn't either or. It's white sliding to black, with much more gray than either black or white. Every nuance the writer deploys either moves the reader left or right. Present or past tense? Do you use present-tense sounding pronouns and adverbs (this-that/these-those/now-then)? Do you heavily leverage internal narrative? Internal dialogue? Does your exposition spring less from the mind of the single protagonist, or leap from POVC to another? Move right.

I personally don't like viewpoint shift. I read a chapter that jumps from the mind of three people and just groan. How can a writer minimize the impact of their protagonist like that, I ask. I have read lots of published authors who jump heads, and sit on the right of the third-person slider. But I suggest that if they all stuck nearer to the protagonist, their stories would be stronger.

Just my humble – well, not quite so humble – opinion.

Write every day!


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