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25 February 2010 @ 11:23 am
POV questions and resource search  
POV in writing can be a complex topic. I know I certainly have firm opinions on the subject. Some of those are from lack of exposure, though. For example: Based on my readings (modern, Western, English-language narrative), first and second person are sometimes used but third person is vastly more common, and limited third is particularly most common.

I know that, officially, omniscient third is an "acceptable" POV, but I don't have the experience to distinguish it from "wandering limited third" (I'll call that WL3)**, which I don't consider an acceptable POV. I was doing beta work last night for a story that is probably omniscient third, and I tried to find resources for ways to make the distinction between omniscient and WL3, but ... well. I swiftly encountered "workshops" with prescriptive examples that not only failed to work but included fundamental grammar/punctuation errors. (I'm not talking about the compromises inherent to writing dialogue and thought processes; I'm talking about simple, basic, blatant comma splices and the like.) The writing at those websites was just bad.

(** ETA: By wandering limited third, I mean third-person narrative that incorporates the thoughts, feelings, and internal reactions of more than one character within the same uninterrupted passage, paragraph, or even sentence without a clear scheme (and without telepathy). Use of different characters for third-person limited POV is one of my favorite tools, so long as the POV changes occur only at passage breaks. My problem is telling the difference between WL3, which isn't cool, and omniscient.)

So does anyone have any good resources for wrangling omniscient POV? If I'm doing beta on it, I really should know how it works to make sure I'm analyzing it effectively. I'm also interested in any thoughts anyone has on the topic of POV, whether this dilemma particularly or just in general.
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Frith: Rodney - orange fleecefrith_in_thorns on February 25th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Oh shit, is this mine? :( Oh dear...
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-NotMorningmichelel72 on February 25th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Nope! Sorry, I should have made that clear. You stick to classic limited third. (I've done the read-through but not markups yet.) This was that other fic I mentioned was ahead of yours; and I don't want to say it was wrong, because I simply don't know enough about omniscient to know. You know? Heh.
Frith: Rodney - No.frith_in_thorns on February 25th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
Sorry! I just went into panic-mode - I'm good at doing that :P
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-StayInBedmichelel72 on February 25th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
I like to think I would have let you know first. But I could have been more careful, or waited until I'd sent the response back first. ::sheepish::
Seth Gordonsethg_prime on February 25th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel uses an odd viewpoint that is very similar to third-person omniscient.
michelel72: General-Writing-CoffeeBetamichelel72 on February 25th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
I will have to check that out. Thanks!
Sophiasophia_sol on February 25th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
This has always been a thing I've wondered about too, actually. And it's the reason why I never ever write in omniscient third: I'm too worried it'll just come off like WL3, since I don't know how to make it work smoothly. Some people DO do it well, though. I guess my only suggestion is to go find a book by a good author that DOES use omniscient third, and look at how he or she does it. But I'm afraid I have no suggestions on what authors to look at....

(You'd think, given the obvious possible pitfalls in omniscient third, there'd be more good tutorials on how to do it well!)
Sophiasophia_sol on February 25th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, actually, I just went to look back at my favourite website for writing advice, and there was something there I think is useful:

"A few stories are not told from the viewpoint of any character in the story. For example, the famous 'third person omniscient' type of story is told by a godlike being who can see into everyone's mind as well as seeing into the past and the future. This doesn't mean there's no viewpoint character—the persona telling the story is as much a character as anyone who's actually in the story. As an example, consider anything by Terry Pratchett: the viewpoint character is Pratchett himself, tossing off jokes, footnotes, and side remarks as he tells the story. In other words, Pratchett creates a persona for himself and narrates the story from that persona's viewpoint."

If you want to read all the stuff it says about viewpoint, go here, and check out the third section. It's got some particularly interesting stuff on how to do effective first-person narrative.
michelel72: General-Pets-KittenMommichelel72 on February 26th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
That looks very interesting indeed. I think the identification of the omniscient narrator as a specific identity (whether conspicuously or subtly), rather than the deep perspective of rapidly switching characters, may be the key factor here. Pratchett sounds like a good example; I haven't yet gotten into most of his stuff, but I keep hearing very good things about him, and I quite liked Good Omens. Thanks for all the suggestions!
Sophia: Yeah!!!sophia_sol on February 28th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you should definitely look into Pratchett! Although, I think his more recent books actually is in third person limited, so you'd have to go to his older stuff to find the omniscient third. (though in my opinion his newer stuff is better reading...)
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on February 25th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
Yeeeeah... Guilty wander-y author here...

I believe I kept my course book from the creative writing class I took (18 years ago!). When I get home later, I'll see what I have. The prof had us do a piece each week from each of a bunch of POVs, some continuing the original story, some telling the same part from another POV.

It was intended to be omniscient, but I had warned you something didn't feel right. I hadn't noticed I changed POV mid paragraph, really, until you mentioned in your email. And that just goes to show how out of practive I am. I was reading some of my old writing yesterday and it doesn't feel the same as any of the new stuff. I'm rusty.

You can refer to me by name next time I poo all over the POV, so no one else panics. :)
michelel72: SGA-RodneySam-Readingmichelel72 on February 25th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, an actual class. I've never taken one. I'd like to ... if I could find a good one. But in a way, fanfic acts as a (positive-feedback-skewed) workshop, at least.

And I wasn't looking to rake you over the public coals, silly. (Or anyone; I recognize that I don't know all.) I just wanted to explain to folks why I wanted to increase my learnings. :>
Amy- ninja extraordinaire, bad monkeyninjamonkey73 on February 25th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, you can rake, anyway. I write for the public flagellation. :)
Andrew Greene530nm330hz on February 25th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
"My mother is a fish."
michelel72: Cat-Suzie-Yawnmichelel72 on February 25th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
I somehow escaped Mississippi without ever having to read Faulkner, and you're not gonna change that, gosh darnit!

But for serious, Wikipedia tells me that As I Lay Dying has rotating narrators, but each has a separate chapter. That's still limited third, isn't it? Perhaps classically so? I mean, there's no point at which the POV mixes within those chapters or a character knows the inner logic of another character, is there?
Will write for cakesgatazmy on February 25th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, As I Lay Dying changes POV based on chapters/passage breaks so it's definitely not WL3 or third person omniscient.

WL3 drives me crazy but 3rd person omniscient doesn't seem to. The difference to me is whether the switch is awkward or natural. WL3 tries to act like limited but switches so much it becomes jarring. It seems to me how the thoughts are described is what makes the biggest difference. So I don't know the official difference, but the real question I think you need to ask is whether or not it is working as a narrative or if the switch is taking away from the flow of the story?

michelel72: General-Writing-PenFanficLovemichelel72 on February 26th, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
Well, switching rapidly (or even at all within the same passage) detracts from the story for me, but that's in part reaction to too many WL3 encounters. I just don't encounter that much true omniscient! ... As far as I know, anyway. But yes, I think the common theme is that there is a difference to the omniscient voice, as opposed to deeply limited but wandering third.

There was a SGA Santa (or similar event) story this year that moved among all the characters, but I think each character got two consecutive paragraphs or something. I was very touchy about it at first, but it did seem to follow a rule, so I made peace with that approach and came to accept it as a stylistic choice rather than "wrong!". It's definitely a tough road for me, though.

Thanks for the thoughts. They really help me start to piece together what I'm looking for here.
schneefinkschneefink on February 25th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
...I have a few examples that won´t mean anything to you since they´re in German (and I´d have to look up the title), but aren´t many fairy tales in omniscient third? Or at least some of them. Hmm, I´ll have to pay more attention next time.
I always considered something omniscient third when you have a narrator who doesn´t only know what each of the characters know or think, but also what they can´t possibly know and how the story will continue. But I haven´t ever tried writing it. I think that omniscient third also often creates the narrator as a person (with his own comments, sympathies etc.), who is then telling a story in limited third. (Does that even make sense?)
(There´s an Austrian detective story author who wrote a series with an omniscient first person narrator who is definitely a (vague) character on his own , but telling stories about someone else entirely. In the last book he reveals who he is and is killed shortly afterwards by the villain. Very interesting to read.)
michelel72: SGA-RodneySam-Readingmichelel72 on February 26th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
Actually, I am getting that sense of omniscient as creating an extra-story character who is working in limited third, and whose presence may be blatant or subtle. When I've thought of omniscient before, I've always thought of it as something that actually should go less deeply into the characters than limited third does, even if that seems not-so-omniscient! I think that sense of detachment does help; the omniscient narrator can relate the thoughts of the characters and even describe the emotions, but those thoughts and emotions shouldn't really color the narrative in the same way that they do in limited third.

One great advantage to true omniscient is that ability to relate information unknown to specific characters. I've sacrificed that, since I (so far) work only in limited third, but that hasn't been too much of a loss to me so far. (In one story I'm working on, I alternated limited-third Rodney POV with omniscient interludes, to relay information Rodney simply couldn't have ... but it was really, really annoying. My omniscient narrator turned out to have a very snotty, superior tone that drove me up a tree! I punted it, and only one small element is giving me trouble with the change.)

It's been a very long time since I've read original fairy tales in any form, so I can't speak to them, but that is a thought. Thanks for the interesting angles! (That detective story could be highly entertaining or annoyingly stylistic, I suspect, but it sounds fascinating.)
lyrstzhalyrstzha on February 26th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
In a short selection, it can be hard to tell the difference between full-on omniscient 3rd and WL3. WL3 is like having a few inside-the-skull cameras on characters, but it doesn't say what eveyone is thinking and feeling, and it doesn't know any more background info or future than the POV characters do. In full omniscient 3rd, your narrator stands outside the frame of the story, already knowing all the background, seeing inside everyone's mind, and knowing exactly where everything is going. Depending on the narrative voice, this may be more or less noticeable. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have very noticeable, distinctive omniscient 3rd voices, whereas Jane Austen's is more subtle and delicate. Being of a methodical bent myself, I woudl suggest making a small chart of which characters are revealing what about their inner landscapes, and if there are any who have the opportunity to do so, but don't. For instance, a sentence like this would tend to indicate WL3 instead of omni: "Apprently annoyed by the question, Gia gave a sharp half-shrug." That "apparently" (or any "obviously"s, or something similar) is, of course, a hallmark of trying to show the emotions of characters who aren't POV characters through the eyes of the POV characters in limited 3rd.

Edited at 2010-02-26 05:26 am (UTC)
michelel72: General-Pets-PetrescuePawsmichelel72 on February 26th, 2010 06:13 am (UTC)
It's funny — in partially rereading Austen recently (via Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), I took her style to be a case of restrained WL3 rather than omniscient. Which just goes to show that I may be hypersensitive about WL3 and underexposed to omniscient. Heh.

That's a good point about which characters are revealed and which aren't. The writer in question elected to reveal herself here (she's definitely a good sport!) and has let me know she was aiming for omniscient, but only Kara's and Lee's POVs are used, even though Gaius's reactions and apparent feelings are described ... from Kara's POV. I had noticed that Kara took over the last third of the story, but I hadn't really pinpointed Gaius's lack of representation. That will definitely help, so thank you for that!
Grey Lupousgreyias on March 9th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
I meant to reply to this weeks ago!

I have a really good book I'm reading on POV: The Power Of Point Of View by Alicia Radley

I'm a little embarrassed to be seen carrying it around, because it really looks like a college textbook assigned to some unwitting creative writing student, but so far (I've read a later chapter that intrigued me, and I'm starting from the beginning now) it's really good, and has great examples. The section I read the other day goes over your exact question in really good detail.

But I'm not sure if you want to purchase a book just for beta duties.