Monday, March 9, 2015

Writer Beware: Omniscience

I feel like I talk about point of view a lot, but it's fascinating, and today's subject is something that I feel is extremely important when choosing to write from an omniscient point of view.

Back in December, I wrote a post about writing from multiple perspectives, and based on a few books I've read recently (not naming names), there's something that I really want to reiterate, both as a reader who enjoys books told from multiple points of view and a writer who enjoys writing from multiple points of view:

If you choose to write from an omniscient point of view, make sure every character you choose as a perspective as a point of view that's pertinent to moving your story along.

Omniscience the the all-knowing. It's when you give yourself the freedom to jump into the head of any and every character in your book, even if it's just once. It gives you a lot of freedom as an author: you can tell the reader things that many of the other characters won't know until later. A really great example of this is what I've seen in Maureen Johnson's series, THE SHADES OF LONDON. There are small chapters told from an outside point of view of the main character, and these are points of view that we only see once: most of them tell the reader that there's a ghost involved in whatever crime is being investigated.

What's the effect of this? The world of the novel believes these crimes to be committed by a human, while the reader knows it was a ghost. It's dramatic irony in its finest.

It's a really compelling idea to occasionally jump into another mind and tell the story from there for a few pages; when done right, as I mentioned above, it can have a great effect in the reader's experience, upping the suspense.

However, it's also a really dangerous move if you're not paying careful attention to whose mind you're choosing to jump into, and what information they have to give.

Note that I bolded that. Because it's important.

If your narrative is going to occasionally dip into another, minor character, then you, as the author, have to be very certain that their perspective has something to offer the story. They need to have information, an observation, an action that relates directly to the plot; otherwise, when you're reader reads it, they're going to sit there and wonder why the heck you took a deviation from the main characters or the main plot line. If there isn't anything pertinent, you run the risk of losing a level of respect from the person who's spending a good few hours of their life devoted to your books.

Don't waste your reader's time by doing that. It's not fair to either of you.

What do you think? Do you like omniscience as a point of view choice? When do you like it more, and when do you like it less? Let's have a conversation, shall we?

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Writer Beware: if you choose to write with omniscience, make sure the character has info worth sharing (Click to Tweet)

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  1. I don't mind omniscient POV, but it can be confusing to the reader, creating questions about whose head we're in and why it matters. And it can might keep the reader from fully submerging into a character's mind. I've never written a ms this way... and don't know if I ever will.

    1. I love reading omniscience when it's done right, but I totally agree with you: if care isn't taken with it the reader's going to get confused and won't get the chance to connect with the characters they way they should/want to.

      I find writing from only two POVs to be hard enough (but rewarding), but I'm always afraid that if I tried omniscience, I wouldn't be able to do it justice. Major kudos to the people who make it work.