Boring Academic Blather

Quite a few of you gluttons for punishment out there have asked for copies of my critical thesis on the omniscient point of view (especially in YA, though there’s some broader discussion too). Herewith, help yourself to this PDF of it.

I’d love any thoughts and reactions, either here or via e-mail. I’d also say enjoy, but this is an academic paper we’re talking about here.

8 thoughts on “Boring Academic Blather”

  1. One reaction already. You might enjoy having a look at James Wood’s How Fiction Works, because his sections on omniscience and indirect free style are particularly good:
    ‘We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once. A gap opens between author and character, and the bridge – which is free indirect style itself – between them simultaneously closes that gap and draws attention to its distance.
    ‘This is merely another definition of dramatic irony: to see through a character’s eyes while being encouraged to see more than the character can see (an unreliability identical to the unreliable first-person narrator’s).’

  2. You are my HERO!!! Seriously. I’m facing packet 1 and I knew I had to focus on POV, b/c that’s what my workshop group (especially Sharon) chewed me up about. I kept insisting I was being omniscient (like, hello!), but now I see I was just being clumsy. I get it now, and I’m quoting you in an essay on omniscience in Holes (possibly compared to Harry Potter). Thank you!

  3. Yay! My little thesis was helpful to someone besides me — this makes me the happiest ever. And I hope you stick with omniscient; I’ve been trying it out in my next book and it’s soooo much fun.

  4. Thanks, GBond! You saved me $10 and provided a semester’s worth of mulling, along with years’ worth of sources. So clear and thorough, too. Cheers for you and your Amazonian efforts!

  5. Gwenda, this is a great survey of omniscient POV. Our peer review group has been doing exercises on POV and you provide much discussion fodder. I think omniscient is still something for beginners (like me) to avoid–if you’re established you may get editors to accept works in omniscient perspective, but for the unpublished, it is probably a fatal flaw. It’s like having an unconventional batting stance. (“Yes, it’s EXACTLY like that,” you’re thinking.) Maybe pros can pull it off, but a beginner should start with the conventional, and branch out from there.

  6. Hey Patrick — Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure I agree with you. For one thing, I have seen a great many writers make sudden leaps forward in craft, and it’s usually because they tried something outside their basic comfort zone. In fact, I might even argue that because POV is so frequently misunderstood by beginning writers, they tend to use them all in weak ways, rather than in ways that support and enhance the story at hand.
    I’m also not sure I know what your definition of “beginner” is — you seem to be defining it as “unpublished” and, in my experience, those two things aren’t often the same. The magical leap in quality doesn’t come _with_ publication, but before it (by necessity), if it comes at all. The bottom line is that, as writers, we should understand point of view and use it to the best advantage of our stories, regardless of what stage we’re at in our development. I have seen far too may writers held back because they are trying to pitch their work to the market, rather than making the work so good the market finds a place for it anyway. That ways lies safe, boring, disposable. (All of which have their place, actually.)

  7. Good point about comfort zone.
    I agree that beginners often get POV wrong. We try to use 3P limited, but jump around from head to head and/or insert non-POV commentary that would be OK if it were omniscient–like describing what the POV character looks like, or talking about things they could not know or would not be thinking. It is a fine line between bad 3P limited and omniscient.
    Re “beginner,” I guess I mean me–no pub credits _and_ relatively new to fiction writing. If you are unpublished, it is not easy to break in, or so I’ve read. And as you mention in your thesis, the vast majority of genre fiction published today is written in 3P limited. Maybe using something the editors currently frown on will hurt your chances. If you’re established an editor is already more likely to read beyond the first paragraph. If you’re not established, why reduce your chances by writing from a perspective less preferred by editors?

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