cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Things I Now Know About Omniscient Viewpoint

Some of you may have noticed that I've been playing around with different types of omniscient viewpoint in most of my Afflection stories. My experiments have met with mixed success, but I've learned a lot from them. If you're interested, clicky clicky and find out the lowdown on Cathy's Tips on Using and Not-using Omniscient Viewpoints.

First, a quick refresher on omniscient viewpoint. It comes in two main flavours:

1. Changeable third person. This is when each section of a story is in a dedicated third person point of view, but from *different* character's viewpoints. An example is my novel in progress, Roadtrip, which alternates between a chapter in Matt's viewpoint and a chapter in Ben's, turn and turn about.

2. True omniscient. This is when there is no viewpoint character. The author mostly describes external actions, but can also dip into the thoughts of any of the characters, sometimes even doing so to more than one character within the same scene. Two examples of true omniscient are my stories TMI and Marked.

While I've had some success with the first type, changeable third person, I've had real trouble mastering True Omniscient. This rant is going to outline some of the major problems I've discovered in my experiments in this form.

Let's start with one of the least effective stories I've ever written, Marked. This story begins with an omniscient description of Matt and Ben's foreplay, which comes across as rather stilted and unsexy. Heat begins to build once they're actually having sex, but at the expense of a kind of schizophrenic line and line about change in viewpoint. At the time I wrote it I couldn't figure out why this story wasn't working; I thought I was just too unpracticed at omniscient to make it work well. Wrong! Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

True omniscient is a technique that works best for scenes in which you want to present an objective view. For instance, Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain has a kind of formal "report" style to it. Omniscient is perfect for that kind of writing.

Omniscient is also perfect for light humour, because it makes it easier for us to laugh at the characters. Take TMI, for instance. This short piece works quite well, and was the first thing I wrote in true omniscient. It even jumps in an out of different character's heads to a limited degree. But because the reader is expected to laugh at, rather than empathise with, the characters, this technique is not jarring (as it was in Marked).

So why didn't Marked work, if it wasn't due to a lack of writing skill on my part?

It's all about content: some techniques just don't suit some genres. And love stories, by their nature, are subjective!!!!!!

I cannot stress this enough. Romance is *subjective*. True Omniscient viewpoint is an *objective* technique. It sounds obvious, but I hadn't put the two ideas together until I started trying to practice true omniscient in romances. Doh! No wonder I couldn't make it work.

This constant conflict between subjective and objective is most perfectly realised in Daredevil's Dilemma. It's through writing that series that I finally twigged to what was going on. The first one-and-a-half episodes of DD are light humour, and the true omniscient technique works fine. Not my best ever writing, but not jarringly awful either.

Then we get to the kiss in Daredevil 2, and suddenly I couldn't make the scene work! It was so hard to write! And in the end it didn't turn out to be nearly as hot as some of the kisses I've written in the past (which were all in dedicated third person pov). Fortunately, that was fine, as the kiss in DD2 was meant to be at least semi "professional," as Matt and Ben had their acting hats on, supposedly. But in order to make it work even that well, I had to bias the viewpoint a bit. Go have a look and see if you can spot it.

Part 3 of Daredevil is more sophisticated, as I'd started to get the hang of true omniscient's limitations. So, while much of the main narrative is still true omniscient, when necessary (for the subjective "romantic" or emotional bits), I segued into short bursts of more focused third person viewpoint. If you look at the not-kiss, for instance, it's suddenly from Ben's pov more than it is Matt's (there's warm breath on Ben's skin, and he feels his pulse in his thumbs).

This worked fine for DD3, which I wanted to be imbued with that strange hyper-real time you experience at parties. However, this combination wouldn't always work. For instance, if you wanted to break a story into more formal scenes and use flash-back or flash-forward, it would be very hard to make this mixture of omniscient techniques work, especially while writing in the romance mode.

Which is why DD4 is all in alternating viewpoints (mostly Ben's, with the non-chron opener and closer in Matt's). I made the choice to move away from true omniscient for this episode, because of the theme. Denial is a subjective experience, and I wanted the reader to emote with both Matt and Ben. I also wanted to fracture the narrative to maximise the tension. The distancing of true omniscient would have weakened both the empathetic impact and the tension arising from the split chronology.

There was a problem with this shift though. As I'd used true omniscient in the earlier episodes, I didn't want the tone of DD4 to obviously jar with what had gone before. So I ended up being quite restrained in the third person pov of DD4, using a lot of description and not dipping into Matt and Ben's heads too often. This actually worked out well, in terms of tension, because it kept the reader wondering what was going on.

So there you have it. Omniscient viewpoint = objective. Romance = subjective. Mix with care!

I'd love to hear your stories about using omniscient viewpoint. Particularly if you've ever managed to make it work well in a romance.
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