Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: Troublesome Omni


People talk about Point of View on a regular basis. One of the things folks suggest is that beginning writers have a tendency to use first person, because it’s a voice that a beginner will find easiest to deal with (and there may be a tendency for beginners to write more personal stories, which might naturally come out in first person). But, they say, first person is hard to do well.
I’m not sure I’d say it’s hard to do well; the trick is to remember that your character, your narrator, can’t know it all. She doesn’t know what’s going on in the heads of others: she doesn’t know the man she’s going to meet is packing a gun and intends to kill her, she doesn’t know what’s in the letter that just made her best friend fall to the floor in a dead swoon. She doesn’t know, she can’t know, and the author, who should know (though perhaps you don’t know when you write that scene), can’t tell, at least not right away.
I don’t find first person especially hard; what I find hardest is omniscient. It’s funny, in some ways omni should be the easiest. You’re the all-knowing, all-seeing viewer, a ghost hovering over the proceedings, the camera crew on the deck of the Time Bandit. You see all, know all, can report all. You can even inject your own commentary into the proceedings (see, Snickety, Lemony). It seems easy, right?
Yesterday I wrote a little flash piece in my writer’s group, and it’s one of those pieces that’s really on my mind. I like it. I think with a bit of cleanup, it can find a home somewhere, if I choose to go through the submission process, which is every bit as arduous as searching for an agent, with far less potential payout (or so it seems to me). It won’t leave me alone, and I actually shared it with my wife, who dubbed it both amusing and creepy. But I have a problem with Point of View. It’s aimed at being omni, yet it feels like head-hopping. No one in my writer’s group said, “Hey, you’re head-hopping here.” Neither did my wife, but it feels a little off nonetheless.
‘They’ also say the best way to learn about writing is to read more, and keep writing. I guess I need to find myself a good book written in omniscient and do some careful reading.
Do you have a point of view you prefer, or one that gives you particular trouble?

14 Responses

  1. I definitely find third person omni the easiest P.O.V to write from. I didn't even make a conscious decision when I first started writing; I just started telling the story and it came out in omni. Having said that, I've definitely been experimenting and practicing with other P.O.Vs recently, especially this year. I used to find that I start too many sentences with 'I' when using first person, but practice is slowly making me more comfortable using it.

  2. My current WIPs are in first person, and I have to say it's a difficult POV to maneuver in when you have a lot of moving parts to the plot. You have to get a little creative about how information gets to your MC, since she can't witness everything. In that respect it is difficult for me. Takes a little more thought to plan things.

    I think I like writing a focused third person the best, at least it's the easiest for me. And I know what you mean about omniscient feeling like "head hopping." Not sure how to avoid that.

  3. My preference is 3rd-limited. Have you looked into 3rd-narrative? It's probably my second favorite, if done right. I've never read 3rd-head-hopping omniscient. Orson Scott Card writes the tightest 3rd-omniscient I've ever encountered. I'm not sure what direction you want to go in. If you want to go 3rd-narrative read The Hobbit, for 3rd-omniscient read Ender's Game, and for 3rd-head-hopping-omniscient Dune is supposedly a great example.

  4. Patrick's response has me tripping on the different third person perspectives. Right now I'm torn between first and third person. I know I do first better but I like the options that third person gives me as well. And I love Lemony Snicket! Just keep writing and you'll improve Jeff and I'm glad that even if others didn't notice something was off you did. That's the mark of a true writer.

  5. I prefer writing and reading third person. And I like it close. I'm not a fan of first because I like to know what other characters are thinking/doing, especially in a romance (my fav).

    Dean Koontz and Stephen King are good at the omniscient (in some of their books), so much so I don't realize it!

  6. Yeah, the 'I' think is a problem. I should do a word count on Parallel Lives and see how many times I use it….

    I do believe stories tend to come out of us the way they're supposed to be told, for the most part. I put a lot of faith in that, anyway.

  7. That's part of the fun of it, though, figuring out what you can and can't reveal. At least that's part of what I like about it. I'm going to have to work on my omni a bit.

  8. Thanks for the examples, Patrick. It's been quite a while since I read Dune, I wonder if we still have a copy around here…

    I do tend to stay tight in my characters' heads, so I prefer first or close 3d. I do have a tendency to slip into omni in 3rd, but I find intending to write in omni tougher for some reason. I'll have to work on it.

  9. Snicket's great fun, isn't he? I heard him doing an interview on the radio recently and he was quite entertaining. And I agree, practice, practice, practice, and try new things!

  10. I like close, too, Stacy. I think what I find hard about omni is striking the right 'narratorial voice', which seems much easier to find in a different POV.

    And King does have some good examples of omni. Haven't read any Koontz in quite some time; I may have to do that for some variety!

  11. Sounds like an intriguing story! I've only tried writing in 1st a few times and it always comes out cheesy – sounding like that voice over guy on TV. Maybe one day it'll be easier. I prefer close 3rd person -feels most natural to me 🙂

  12. I think every story and every person has a most effective point of view, and trying to write outside that POV is when things get especially hard. For me, if a story calls for third person, then first is a struggle. But when a story calls for first, then third feels impossible. It's so nice that publishing is more open now and we can have a choice to write in whichever POV works best for our stories.

  13. I agree with you, Caryn. Omni just seems to be tougher for me to really 'nail' for some reason. I'll just have to keep working on it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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