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View Full Version : Finding my voice: objective or omniscient, or halfway between



wildcatter67
01-06-2008, 08:56 PM
Can you write half way between 3rd person omniscient and 3rd person objective without merely switching back and forth?

It would officially be omnicient, but use many of the techniques of objective, without having to resort to using the passive tense. Would a strong use of "show don't tell", be enough to keep a new writer from getting lost in 3rd person omniscient.

I have a team of 6 very strong, main characters, in a SF setting, in which they have been trained to show almost no emotion, but the subtle nuances of what they show by accident, or allow to show, are a huge part of the story. The widening of a pupil or the twitch of a major artery as a result of increased heart rate are major events. Squeezing a hand is a minor climax. Adjectives and adverbs are almost nonexistent. I can't seem to use a totally objective view without resorting to passive tense, which is all wrong for this story.

This is my first piece of fiction, in 22 years. I'm a recent divorcee who spent the last 2 decades writing about my dysfunctional family that included 2 homeschooling boys (one of them profoundly gifted, but borderline autistic, the other a hustler), a crippled, retarded dog with severe anxiety issues and a weak bladder (I'm not joking) and a violent and profoundly gifted husband who shunned education and came from a mafia type Italian family.

I lived among these larger than life people (and dog), but was never one of them. My ethnicity, gender and lower IQ did not allow me to enter their world. I was an outsider looking in. I wrote about them, but obviously didn't see into their heads. I wasn't trying to tell a story the way I am now and had no concept of POV or voice or style.

I was either letting off steam, or asking for advice, on homeschooling messageboards. Through these posts on messageboards I was continually contacted by professors and other highly educated people who kept commenting on my writing and encouraged me to look to my own education as well as that of my boys. They said I had a unique "voice" that they envied. At the time I had no clue what voice was, and no time to find out.

I'm 40, my boys are grown, I'm divorced, and finally looking to my own education. I'm reading books on writing. I'm signed up for an 8 week short story class that starts next week. I started writing my first piece of fiction in 22 years.

I'm trying to figure out what it is that caused people to take notice of my writing. I don't want to educate myself right out of something that is possibly better than what is instructed in the books. That sounds incredibly arrogant doesn't it? :-)

Writing is an art. There is room for creativity and uniqueness. Trash can be mistaken for uniqueness by a lazy artist set in his ways, though. How do I refine my "unique" voice without losing it?

I remember once being told that it was my intimate knowledge of my family, but my distance from them that stood out. How does this apply to writing fiction?

slcboston
01-06-2008, 09:03 PM
Well, there's actually a great deal of range between the two, though technically the moment you get into a character's head it becomes omniscient.

But you don't have to be ALL knowing when you write - lots of people do a limited 3rd Person Om by sticking to just one character's thoughts... or only going into a character's head when it really becomes necessary.

Technically, the moment you have a character "think" you've entered the realm of the big O unless they're thinking out loud (also known as talking to yourself), so I wouldn't worry about this too much.

My suggestion is get into your character's heads when you feel the need, and stay out of them when you don't. Just try and be consistent, and your readers will follow along. :)

slcboston
01-06-2008, 09:10 PM
I remember once being told that it was my intimate knowledge of my family, but my distance from them that stood out. How does this apply to writing fiction?

And because you've got a second set of questions beyond the technical one... :D

It's kind of the same thing, really. Think of your characters as your "writing family" and you'll probably be on your way.

(There's a longer answer in that, but I keep resorting to silly writing cliches. My best advice to newish writers is that the more you write, the easier it will be to find your voice. You've been writing already, so I'd just continue to write as you have. Don't worry about "adapting" your voice, just write. :) )

JanDarby
01-07-2008, 04:08 AM
Generally, "omniscient" isn't the opposite of "objective." It sounds like you're writing in third omniscient, and you can either go deep inside a character's head or not, and you're still in omniscient.

The basic POV options are first ("I"), second ("you") and third "he/she"), and then third person has the two sub-categories of omniscient (all-knowing) and limited (meaning the reader is privy to only one character's internal thoughts/feelings per scene).

Omnisicent is generally considered a more distant POV than third-limited, while allowing for moments of deeper connection. The story is presented from the point of view of an outsider, but it's an outsider who knows more than any given character, and who can go inside the head of any character.

There are some obscure variations of POV, which is probably what you're thinking of with the "third person objective," but what you're describing is pretty much the definition of third person omniscient, so you may be over-thinking the matter.

JD

FennelGiraffe
01-07-2008, 06:35 AM
Can you write half way between 3rd person omniscient and 3rd person objective without merely switching back and forth?

It would officially be omnicient, but use many of the techniques of objective, without having to resort to using the passive tense. Would a strong use of "show don't tell", be enough to keep a new writer from getting lost in 3rd person omniscient.

I'd be very interested to hear your definition of 3rd person objective. Requiring the use of passive voice doesn't apply to any I've encountered.

Bubastes
01-07-2008, 06:49 AM
I'd be very interested to hear your definition of 3rd person objective. Requiring the use of passive voice doesn't apply to any I've encountered.

Ditto. That statement threw me for a loop.

To the OP: have you read Characterization and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card? It has a fantastic section comparing the different points of view and what types of effects are possible with each. It's worth checking out.

wildcatter67
01-07-2008, 05:14 PM
This thread talks about it.

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=36834&highlight=point+view+objective

An objective narrator is not allowed to write "she saw." This is getting into the character's head, and isn't permitted. The sentence should have read "The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and the river was visible through the trees."

The objective narrator is standing right there beside her, and can say this or that can be seen because he sees them. But he can never be sure anyone else sees these things unless they say they do.

Dawnstorm
01-07-2008, 05:46 PM
Well, we have a narrator who is distinct from the story (a 3rd person narrator). How does the narrator know what's going on?

If he has any knowledge privileges (most notably character point-of-view and future happenings) we're likely to call him "omniscient" (and if the knowledge privilege is limited to a single character's point of view to the extent that the narrator "disappears" behind this character, we talk of "limited omniscient" or, short, "limited"). For example, this is the standard mode of inventing a story and talking about all of it.

If he narrates simply from observation, we're calling that an objective narrator (he can still offer input, such as interpretation of events, but they hold no more authority than the reader's interpretation). A real-life example would be a football game broadcast over the radio.

These terms are applied after you've written the story, anyway. If some call your narrator objective and some call it omniscient, and none say it doesn't work, then I suppose you've written something halfway inbetween. All you really need is a concept, an idea of how your narrator tells the story. Leave the rest to the terminology quibblers. In the end it doesn't matter what people call it.


An objective narrator is not allowed to write "she saw."

While that's true, it's a bit of a simplification. Imagine the case of a video transcript. The very act of putting a visual sequence of events is an act of interpretation (via selective attention, for example). If, on that video, a woman turns towards a man, her facial expression changes, and makes a series of handmovements, "She saw him and waved," would be a fair interpretation. It's a matter of how fine-tuned your objectivity meter is. The difference is that with an objective narrator there is the possibility of misinterpreting the visual input; the omniscient narrator has no such option. Of course, this is where the line blurs. There's a large area of narration where the difference between interpretation and relating knowledge isn't apparant at all. That would be the "grey zone", the "half-way between objective and omniscient".

wildcatter67
01-07-2008, 07:32 PM
If you consistently use "saw", but otherwise don't relate the characters' thoughts, will that be considered switching back and forth between omniscient and objective. Is it thought to be bad writing? Hemingway gets picked apart for it.

I'm surprised there isn't a limited POV that includes limited knowledge of ALL the characters. Instead it seems that limited, tunnels in on one character, and only limits the knowledge of other characters. So in traditional limited POV, "saw" can be used for the main character, but not the others?

Am I worrying too much? Should I just be consistent in what I do and tell my story? Then if it gets picked apart, just laugh? Or as a new writer do I need to learn from the masters?

Bubastes
01-07-2008, 07:35 PM
I'm surprised there isn't a limited POV that includes limited knowledge of ALL the characters. Instead it seems that limited, tunnels in on one character, and only limits the knowledge of other characters.

Limited 3rd POV allows you to do this. You can change the POV character between scenes or chapters, for example.

wildcatter67
01-07-2008, 07:52 PM
Limited 3rd POV allows you to do this. You can change the POV character between scenes or chapters, for example.

Huh! I thought limited stuck to one character. Omnicient can switch between characters, though, right? Am I wrong?

FennelGiraffe
01-07-2008, 07:52 PM
This thread talks about it.

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=36834&highlight=point+view+objective

An objective narrator is not allowed to write "she saw." This is getting into the character's head, and isn't permitted. The sentence should have read "The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and the river was visible through the trees."

The objective narrator is standing right there beside her, and can say this or that can be seen because he sees them. But he can never be sure anyone else sees these things unless they say they do.
"The river was visible" isn't passive voice. "Visible" is an adjective; that makes "was" a linking verb (copula). Passive voice is a form of "to be" plus a past participle: was seen, was noticed, was viewed, etc.

maestrowork
01-07-2008, 09:22 PM
Stick with omniscient -- you don't have to get inside characters head in omniscient, but you can. 3rd objective, to me, is just a special case of omniscient (the narrator knows everything, except to get inside the characters' heads). It seems like you just want to have a know-it-all narrator. So stick with that.

Passive/active voice has nothing to do with POV.

Dawnstorm
01-07-2008, 10:05 PM
If you consistently use "saw", but otherwise don't relate the characters' thoughts, will that be considered switching back and forth between omniscient and objective. Is it thought to be bad writing? Hemingway gets picked apart for it.

"Saw" isn't necessarily relaying a character's perspective. "Saw" can be the interpretation of an observation.

Q: Is it thought to be bad writing?
A: Yes, by thouse who pick Hemingway apart for it. No, by those who don't.

There are many ways to write. There are many ways to read what ends up written. There are many ways to categorise what's been read.

A critique is a perspective on a text, explained. No more, no less. You don't have to agree with it to find it useful.


Huh! I thought limited stuck to one character. Omnicient can switch between characters, though, right? Am I wrong?

One at a time.

An omniscient narrator can write:

Amos thought he had found the perfect present. If he knew what Mllicent was really thinking, his grin wouldn't be quite as big.

A limited narrator would have to provide the same information by repeating the same scene from the other point of view. Or he'd have to provide it later, as a (mini-)surprise, say, when Millicent tells Amos in a fight.


Am I worrying too much? Should I just be consistent in what I do and tell my story? Then if it gets picked apart, just laugh? Or as a new writer do I need to learn from the masters?

You said yourself they picked Hemingway apart for his usage of "saw". He's one of the masters. Draw your own conclusions.

maestrowork
01-07-2008, 11:30 PM
Once again, I see a lack of understanding what omniscient (vs. 3rd limited) really means.

Rowdymama
01-07-2008, 11:53 PM
I was taught in college that there are six points of view:

1st Person: "I" this, and "I" that. Nothing stands between the character and the reader.

2nd Person: "You" this and "you" that. Awkward and difficult to bring off, seldom used.

3rd Person: Uses a narrator to frame the story. One step between the story and the reader, but can move between characters.

3rd PersonLtd.: Told from the viewpoint of one character who participates in the action, usually the main character. Stays with them throughout.

3rd PersonOmniscient: No narrator, but can jump from one character's viewpoint to another's. This POV is extremely popular, but author intrusion may seep in if the writer is not careful. Several steps between the story and the reader. For the purposes of the story, the writer is God, sees everything, etc.

I suspect the last POV is what you mean when you say "objective," is that right?

Dawnstorm
01-08-2008, 03:24 AM
Once again, I see a lack of understanding what omniscient (vs. 3rd limited) really means.

Shall we dig for the link or provide a repeat performance?

maestrowork
01-08-2008, 03:38 AM
NO!

;)

wildcatter67
01-08-2008, 04:05 AM
"The river was visible" isn't passive voice. "Visible" is an adjective; that makes "was" a linking verb (copula). Passive voice is a form of "to be" plus a past participle: was seen, was noticed, was viewed, etc.

Oops! I was so distracted by the conversation on passive tense, earlier in the thread, that when I saw "was", I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have.

wildcatter67
01-08-2008, 07:39 AM
OK :-)

I found the correct term for what I'm talking about. Shallow penetration vs deep penetration.

I don't want to use objective or limited. I want to use omniscient with shallow penetration. All set now :-)

I also read about another interesting idea. Do the first chapter as omniscient, and then switch to limited for the rest of the book, after the stage has been set.