As I’m now going through my official edit of Sunrise, I’m falling in love with omniscient narration. While I was writing the first draft, I had some ambivalence because of my decision to go with a named narrator. I reflected on a previous post I’d written about the subject. My initial worry was about pulling the reader out of the story. However, I now hold a different view as I’m reading through the manuscript.
The narration has a mystical quality to it, and this was the effect I wanted. When I analyzed what made it so—even as the dark events began to play out, I realized it was the narrator that added this otherworldly, ethereal quality. It was through this acknowledgement that I started to understand the dynamics of using an omniscient voice. I pondered over why it had fallen out of favor. I’ve read hostile remarks and some people even refuse to read any book that has an omniscient narrator. I was concerned that I’d limit my readership by using the voice and even considered switching the P.O.V. But then I remembered the reason I write…to tell a story the best way that I can. If I limited myself because of some dogmatic comments, I’d fail on both measures. The type of readers for my books would be those who are interested in the story, irrespective of what voice I choose to tell it. If I can pull that off, I’ll be a very happy author.
If I could take a stance for something in writing, omniscient narration would be my cause.
Narration is dependent on the type of story you want to tell. As a writer, I don’t want to limit myself to one type of narration. I prefer to tell the story in the way it presents itself to me. For Sunrise, I chose omniscient voice for two reasons:
I have a large ensemble. While Unison also has a large cast, Sunrise is different in that there are several main characters. While I could’ve used a close third and broken up each thread by chapter, I wouldn’t have been able to dig deep into the characters as intimately as I could in first person. By using one consistent voice, I was able to tie the characters together with one view point.
With close third, my book would’ve ended up being over 1000 pages. Yikes! With omniscient voice, I was easily able to change perspectives within the same scene, and I even kept that at a minimum. At present, Sunrise is at 90,000 words—up from 86,000 words at the start of my edit. As I started off as screenwriter and outline, my writing is usually very terse. I project I’ll end up with a 100,000 word novel. My first draft of Unison moved from 93,000 words to almost 137,000 words! So I’m the type of writer who always ends up adding.
I can understand how a beginning author would be guilty of head hopping with this voice. However, if the narration is focused and well thought out, it shouldn’t confuse the reader. Learning the craft of screenwriting helped sharpen my writing, and I recommend it to all writers who want to sharpen their dialogue, description and point of view. When writing a screenplay, you learn how to view each scene through the lens of a camera. And because thoughts aren’t part of the story, you have to rely on the description and dialogue to get your point across. When I write a novel, I think of each scene exactly the same way, and it makes it easier to detect when I mess up my point of view. A screenplay also makes a great outline in which to base your novel!
GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH
The other main problem with omniscient voice is giving away too much information. How I avoided this was by focusing on what I wanted each scene to accomplish and what I wanted to remain secret until the reveal. I did spot one area where I said too much about the antagonist, and I removed it. The trick is knowing that although an omniscient narrator knows all; he, she or it is also a storyteller who wants to keep the reader guessing and not confuse them with too much details or cause them to shut the book because they already figured out the ending.
When I first wrote the ending for Sunrise, I realized it was going to be difficult to pull off. I toyed with the idea of switching to a close third voice. I’m so glad I stuck to my instincts. Now that I’m sculpting my story, I can see the beauty of allowing it to tell itself. I see storytelling as an organic process. It sometimes freaks me out when I get ideas that challenge me by pushing me out of my comfort zone, but after I’m finished I realize all the effort was worth it. This is why I write…to challenge myself. Without that feeling, writing would cease to satisfy me.
TIPS ON USING OMNISCIENT NARRATION
As a newbie I read every article I could find on this P.O.V. I thought I’d end with some lessons I learned during the process.
- Know who or what is narrating—even if the narrator is neutral. The viewpoint must remain consistent throughout the story, or it will confuse the reader and possibly enter head-hopping territory.
- Be clear on why the narrator is telling this story. As opposed to using a close third, what is the importance of having a seeing all narrator? I found this question to be important because it allowed me to see what motivated the narrator. This demonstrated a personal stake in the story…even though the narrator wasn’t in the story.
- What is the tone of the narration? Is it humorous, serious, a combination of both? This also adds more personality, consistency and flavor to the narration.
- Reveal only whats important to the scene. Sometimes it’s okay to tease the reader, but ensure when you do that, you don’t give too much plot away. Ask yourself what parts of your story do you want to surprise your readers and go back in your manuscript to ensure you haven’t tipped them off.
The thing that helped me most was to read and analyze books with omniscient narration as I was writing my first draft. I learned what worked and what pulled me out of the story.
Well, that’s all for now. I have to get back to my editing. And as a reminder, if you appreciate visionary fiction, please visit the Visionary Fiction Alliance for interviews, book excerpts and all things visionary.