Sunday, September 6, 2009

BEATING THE OMNI POV CONFUSION

Do you have a problem with POV? Particularly OMNI?

You aren't alone.
Before I get into that, first let's agree that POV is the viewpoint character or narrator of your story. Thursday I wrote about choosing POV:
1st person is the most intimate, Omni the least, and 3rd falls in the middle.
1st-----------------------------------------3rd-------------------------------------Omni
Intimate<----------------------------------------------------------------------->Distant

When new writers ask me, "Which one of my characters should tell my story?" my response is, "Whoever you think best serves as your narrator." In other words, I dunno. Just kidding. The viewpoint character generally is the character with the most to lose. If there’s any doubt, often it's a matter of deduction. Start with a character in one particular tense, and if that doesn't work, keep switching until your inner voice yells, "Oh yeah!"

But let's clear up one tiny thing first. Your viewpoint character doesn't have to be your hero. They can be the friend next door, as in Nick in The Great Gatsby. Or the side-kick in Sherlock Holmes. Or the killer as in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. You can have one narrator, two or ten.

Okay, so you settle on George because it's his story. He has the most to gain from the outcome and he has the most to lose if things go wrong. Now you need to decide in what tense George speaks to your reader.

Should it be first person present tense: I verb?

Or first person past tense: I verbed?
Or third person present tense: George or He verbs?
Or maybe third person past tense: George or He verbed?

The answer should showcase how intimate you want George's relationship or connection with your reader to be.
1st-----------------------------------------3rd------------------------------------Omni
Intimate--------------------------------------------------------------------------Distant

I'd stay clear of third person past tense perfect: George had verbed. Unless you're anxious for a challenge.

Here's an excerpt from my suspense thriller Dead Witness:
Valerie spun around. Raced back to the warehouse. Footsteps pounded on the asphalt behind her, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
She ducked around the building. Spotted a broken two by four lying next to her. Grabbed it. Listened, gauging his steps. Heard his panting. And swung!
Before he hit the ground--she was gone, racing toward the next building, dodging behind another, crossing the yard.
She reached the path leading up to the highway. Gained the crest of the hill. Her legs throbbed; her lungs blazed. She dared a backward glance, heard him yelling, and saw him reach the last corner.
Another pop and a bullet whistled past her head.
Dead Witness is told in 3rd person, multiple POVs. One of those is from Valerie McCormick. Here's how it would have looked had I switched to first person:
I spun around. Raced back to the warehouse. Footsteps pounded on the asphalt behind me, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
I ducked around the building. Spotted a broken two by four lying a short distance away. Grabbed it. Listened, gauged his steps. Heard his panting. And swung!
Before he hit the ground--I was gone, racing toward the next building, dodging behind another, ...
Here an example of Valerie's POV in 3rd person present tense:
Valerie spins around. Races back to the warehouse. Footsteps pound on the asphalt behind her, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
She ducks around the building. Spots a broken two by four lying next to her. Grabs it. Listens, gauges his steps. Hears his panting. And swings!
Before he hits the ground--she's gone, racing toward ....
To discover how George should narrate is to write a scene from his perspective in each tense, then choose the one you like best.

If Aunt Marcy thinks it stinks, stick to your guns. Remember: you can't please everybody. Oh, and don't assume you're wrong and I'm right. I, being anyone, regardless of their experience at writing fiction, reading it, or whether they're even published. Trust yourself; you'll go mad trying to please every reader.

Choosing POV needed be complicated. It's not the make or break-all. It's simple the viewpoint you choose. Your skills at spinning a gripping tale will mark your success or lack of it. Don't over think POV.
You know all those articles where it begins: Choosing POV is the most important...?

Either switch to another page or walk away from your computer.
Writing is fun stuff. If you're stressing out, something is seriously wrong with that picture. Writing is about experiencing passion head on, not worrying about writing from the perspective of the most interesting characters in your story, or what tense they should tell your story, or whether they should share the perspective with one or two or a dozen other viewpoints. Or whether all the setting and set pieces should be shown.

Many new writers write the story in OMNI, the all-knowing narrator, because Omni knows everything.

You love your characters, you want them all to have a viewpoint in your story. And how better to do that than by using Omni to head hop. Oh and you want to do this and show all the facets of the story they aren't aware of.

Write the story. When you're finished, if your POV and tense are wrong, they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

But know that you are not alone.

Most new novelists think they need to write in Omni's POV to include all the backstory.

And why wouldn't you feel this way? You've had the influence of television and movies on your life your entire life.
The camera shows you everything and anything. Who else but Omni can zoom in on one character, then out to include a dozen, then travel 5000 miles away? Or jump from George's POV to Amy's, then onto Tom's?

Sadly, the camera is not the same as POV in a novel. Yes, the camera can let me hear the character's thoughts, but seldom do voice-overs work. Except maybe in Dexter.

Ten times out of ten Omni doesn't work and you're left wondering why. "Omni is suppose to head-hop!" you cry.

Yes, but your job is not to give your reader whiplash, nor are you to divorce said-reader from your protagonist. Your job, if you choose Omni, is to entertain and make the transition from one POV character to the next as smoothly as possible. Even in one scene. Especially in one scene.

You succeed when you show the scene from one character's pov, then explain something that character wouldn't know, and then ease into the viewpoint of another character in the same scene. Lead your reader by the hand. No throwing us into the middle of action filled scene.

You've seen the television series ER? ER is filmed from the many perspectives of the doctors and staff. But notice how the camera does it? Two or more characters interact, then just as the camera is ready to move on to a different perspective, the lens zooms out, spans, then lands like a feather on a different characters in a different part of the emergency ward? It's all done easily, effortlessly and smoothly. No jarring.

If you are bound and determined to let Omni tell your story, and you've picked the tense you think works best, keep this rule of thumb in mind:

#1. Show a scene from inside the head of POV #1
#2. Just as you're ready to move on, have Omni explain something that relates to what POV#1 just experienced.
#3. Then have Omni settle his gaze on the next character connected to what POV #1 experienced.
In other words, don't head hop without a tour guide. Keep a tight focus on the topic.

Jane, surrounded by devastation, is a warrior living in 2248 Earth. She's protecting her section. She worries. She wonders. She thinks about life on the other side. Omni zooms out and shows what Jane doesn't know: the entire perimeter, the enemy, the foreshadows, etc.
Stewart, Jane's enemy, is also surrounded by devastation. Right now he's digging a trench and wondering if there will be enough food tonight to feed his family. He worries that the city's leaders aren't acting responsible. He looks back in the direction of HQ and fears the worst.
Omni narrates about Jane and Stewart having reason to worry. Leaders are meeting at this precise moment in the underground room at HQ. They're a greedy bunch who hate each other. Jason is about to bring the meeting to order. He feels....

Send me an excerpt from your current WIP using OMNI, and I'll read it over and reply. My email address is cluculzwriter at yahoo dot ca.

Before I go, a thought on why authors choose 3rd person limited instead of Omni. It's tough to write Omni and not give your reader whiplash. It's also far less intimate. Third person lets the reader connect with one protag at a time. It’s not as intimate a relationship as 1st, but it an exciting journey. And whatever else we do: we promise the reader a good time. That’s why we love revising, right!
Happy writing.
--
joylene

4 comments :

  1. I love that whiplash image! ;) I sure agree that whatever POV we choose it needs to offer the reader an intimate relationship with the characters. In my current revision I've been changing everything from third person into first... admittedly it's somewhat of an ordeal but it just feels so much better.

    Carol

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  2. Hi Careann. Welcome back. I missed you. Your pics of Alaska were beautiful.

    I've been having some fun with POV for some time. My current book is 3rd, but I've done ones with multi-3rd, first and third combo, and first person present and 3rd person past.

    The more I explore, the more challenging and eventually exciting. Not sure where I'll go next. Maybe I'll try Omni. Tho, I'll wait until it's popular again.

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  3. Hi Joylene. Hope your next book is coming out soon. Keep us posted. I don't write, but your explanation of viewpoint made sense, and now it's one more thing I get. Nice.

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  4. Hi Joanne. Thanks for stopping by. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. Take care.

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