So I’ve been wallowing in a reading-fest of late and having a grand old time of it. However, I have discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, something as I read, and that is: Omniscient is harder than hell to pull off, unless you’re British or Australian.
The thing is, I do like the omniscient POV, it hearkens back to the Once Upon a Time voice of childhood fairy tales, and I’m just enough of a writing/reading nerd that I don’t mind the author inserting themselves into the reading process. And yet…
And yet so often stories written in omniscient lose something in the process—some spark of life or suspension of disbelief. I can’t quite put my finger on it, which is why I’m blogging about it—trying to figure it out. The last three books with an omniscient voice that I’ve tried to read, I’ve ended up not finishing. There is just too much voice and not enough story or character.
I think what it boils down to is, while I like the chatty, observational tone of omniscient, it begins to wear on me when used for an entire book. Which is odd, I realized, because I do love those exact same elements in a first person voice. In fact, I think a first person voice can feel very flat without at least some of that.
But what omniscient does is remove the reader from the story, it separates me from the emotions, feelings, and experiences of the character by one degree, and that one degree can be crucial to the bonding and empathizing necessary for me to become absorbed by a story.
Omniscient, by its very nature—a present or invisible narrator telling us the story—is telling rather than showing. I don’t ever get to lose myself in that character because the narrator is keeping me at arm’s length.
Also, omniscient lends itself to overwriting.
Omniscient is also what a lot of beginning writers default to when they first start out because they don’t understand point of view, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.
I think one of the techniques to getting around that distance problem is to telescope with omniscient—to not insert the narrator all the time, but only in judicious doses. Other times, let it feel more like third person.
Another technique is to just have a fabulous, fabulous omniscient voice that really ADDS to the story, that gives the reader something but not at the cost of some other vital element of story, such as creating an emotional connection.
Also, a dry wit never hurts. Or an archness of tone.
Some omniscient books that I think worked:
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Code Orange by Caroline Cooney
Sherry Thomas--she opens with about two pages of omniscient, then moves into third person for the rest of the book.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Lemony Snicket books (although I could only read those in small doses due to the very elaborate voice.)
I'll add more as I think of them. What about you? Do you have any examples you can think of?