As many of you know, I’m no big fan of the omniscient point of view (POV). That being said, there are a few authors who’ve managed to hold said POV together and do it well enough that I’ve enjoyed the story well enough to finish their books, relatively stress-free. Others, not so much. Certain members of my writer’s group love omniscient. Lucky for me, and for our friendships(!), I’ve read some of their stories and I was quite pleased. Even though I may not have found them the easiest reads for me personally, the authors handled things and told their stories in such a way that I was still able to close the books with a smile on my face.
In the “Others, not so much” category, I’ll name a few names.
In a way, I grew up with omniscient, or what is really pseudo-omniscient. By that I mean, the author writes mostly third-person subjective, but head-hops and throws in occasional true omniscient sections without separating those areas with either scene or chapter breaks. It’s a true POV mishmash, but all in third-person.
NAMING NAMES – WHEN IT WORKS
To go way back, the most classic example is Lord Of The Rings. To tell the truth, as I sat on that stool in the maintenance shed at night, between watering runs at the Desert Aire Golf Course in Palmdale in the summer of 1969, just after I graduated, I had no idea what I was in for. I’d go out and set a line of sprinklers on the fairway, then run in and sit on that stool with one of those thick books, keeping my feet off the ground while the scorpions ran around on the floor. I had to suffer through those tomes, and at the time, I couldn’t figure out why they read so difficult. It wasn’t until forty-odd years later, after I gained my writing and editing chops that I went back and leafed through the omniscient prose and figured it out. Turns out, I loved the movies much more than reading the books, and I’m not alone in that.
When I first started writing, one of the authors that inspired me was Clive Cussler. I still read him every chance I get. The problem with him is that he’s a big head-hopper. Back in the days of Raise The Titanic, his skill with mixing omniscient and third-person subjective worked and his fast-paced prose influenced me a lot. It hasn’t been until the last decade that I’ve noticed how much he does this mix, but with a skill that usually, but not always works. Many authors can’t pull it off.
NAMING NAMES – WHEN IT DOESN’T WORK
I don’t usually slam other authors and…you know what? I’m not going to here, despite what I said about Tolkein. I save that for my reviews on Amazon. I’ll just call this guy author X.
There’s a certain thriller writer that I have mentioned by name on this site once. I love his stories and have read every one of his books. I just bought his latest hardback and I did a three-star review. To tell the truth, the story was worth five stars, the writing one star.
This is an author that writes pseudo-omniscient, but has no clue how to do it. He has no finesse whatsoever. The POV shifts from character to character within the same scene, paragraph, and sometimes even within the same sentence! It was a rare thing when he’d stay in one character’s head for an entire page. In fact, at the end of the novel, I was just rooting for the story and none of the characters. There were so many characters, I had no idea who the main protagonist was, despite what the back cover said. In the end, it didn’t matter because I had no emotional investment in any of them. I just wanted to see how the story ended.
To add more fuel to the fire, the author’s notorious bad grammar, syntax and you name it were there as well. The editors did little more than spell check.
In the end, instead of closing the book with a smile on my face, I closed it with a sigh of relief. I wanted to finish it to find out what happened, but I had to suffer to get there.
Then I picked up a book by F. Paul Wilson (I am naming names here!), and it was such a breath of fresh air, it was like I slipped into another world and breezed through his story in no time at all.
Wilson’s book was solid third-person subjective with no head-hopping. When he shifted POV, he either changed scenes or chapters. I always knew who was doing and thinking what. The prose was clear and distinct and the grammar, syntax and prose were very professional. This author knows how to leave a legacy!
Okay, I don’t like omniscient, but I accept that some people find their voice in that style. Fine. However, if you’re going to write that way, at least try to do it right.
I cannot understand why author X insists on writing with such a crappy style, book after book, with almost no editing, and thinks chaos is the way to reach people. Sure, he has his fans and sells enough books to get a publisher to go the hardback route with him. My question is how much further he could go if he’d get off his butt and learn to write coherently.
I can’t be the only one that finds that type of writing frustrating and almost unreadable. In fact, I don’t, based on the Amazon reviews. However, that makes no difference at all.
If you want to write omniscient, at least make an effort to do it right.