Mixing Objective Omniscient and Third Person POV?

ShotokanXL

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#1
Question time again.

Having had some great responses to my question about POV and "head-hopping" and having read some great articles I've been pointed towards, I have a further question on which I am seeking your collective advice.

Is it okay to mix and combine objective omniscient and third person pov? For example, if I am describing a setting and want to provide the reader with background on the place (while avoiding info dump), this would be done using objective omniscient pov, as the characters that are in the scene may not have that knowledge themselves. Right? But then, when it comes to describing the events that are taking place in that setting, during the current scene, is it okay to do this via single third person pov? Meaning that the reader would have a broad overview of the environment but would experience the action from inside a character's head rather than a "fly-on-the-way" perspective.

I see it as setting the scene via objective omniscient and then showing the action through the character's eyes. I see objective omniscient as a way to impart a broader range of information to the reader (again, while avoiding massive exposition) rather than feeding the reader smaller "bites" of background based on what only the character in the scene would know.

Or is it better to do this? By using multiple third person pov and feeding further details to the reader by using different characters in different scenes, so that the bigger picture is woven together across the course of the story.

Similarly, when giving background information on a character - relaying key events that had happened to the character. Is this better done through objective omniscient - so the reader is quickly informed - or by having the character reveal background details piecemeal as the reader experiences the story through their eyes?

It all comes down to style, I suppose, but is there any advise on how to best proceed?

I hope that's not too much of a jumbled mess and makes sense...

Thanks
 

Brian G Turner

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#2
A single scene is one POV.

If you describe it with an Omniscient POV, and then move into a character for Third Person Limited, you are still writing in Omniscient.

However, you can write different scenes in different POV, ie:

Scene 1 - Omniscient
Scene 2 - Third Person Limited

There are some good writing books out there that deal with the different types of POV more closely - I would strongly recommend you read up one or more so that you can be clearer on it, as POV use is a fundamental writing skill and anything you get wrong early, you will likely find yourself having to rewrite.

It's also important to understand the strengths and weakness of different POV usage, ie:

Omniscient - good for general scene setting, but distant from characters
Limited - good for getting close to character experience, but not good for describing context outside of that experience.

IMO the *huge* danger of writing in Omniscient is that the writer is writing a film, not a novel, which can undermine the whole storytelling format.

While Omniscient used to be more common in old fashioned sff books, and is still present in other genre fiction, there's a clear preference in SFF these days for third or first.

One of the best examples of Omnsicient use is Frank Herbert's Dune - however, this is not because it is used for scene setting, but instead to highlight conflict between individual characters (cf Paul, Jessia, and Yueh in the early chapters).
 

ShotokanXL

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#3
A single scene is one POV.

If you describe it with an Omniscient POV, and then move into a character for Third Person Limited, you are still writing in Omniscient.

However, you can write different scenes in different POV, ie:

Scene 1 - Omniscient
Scene 2 - Third Person Limited

There are some good writing books out there that deal with the different types of POV more closely - I would strongly recommend you read up one or more so that you can be clearer on it, as POV use is a fundamental writing skill and anything you get wrong early, you will likely find yourself having to rewrite.

It's also important to understand the strengths and weakness of different POV usage, ie:

Omniscient - good for general scene setting, but distant from characters
Limited - good for getting close to character experience, but not good for describing context outside of that experience.

IMO the *huge* danger of writing in Omniscient is that the writer is writing a film, not a novel, which can undermine the whole storytelling format.

While Omniscient used to be more common in old fashioned sff books, and is still present in other genre fiction, there's a clear preference in SFF these days for third or first.

One of the best examples of Omnsicient use is Frank Herbert's Dune - however, this is not because it is used for scene setting, but instead to highlight conflict between individual characters (cf Paul, Jessia, and Yueh in the early chapters).
Thanks. Can you recommend any books in particular? Just so I look at the best?
 

Brian G Turner

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#4
Thanks. Can you recommend any books in particular? Just so I look at the best?
It tends to be a chapter in some writing books - I read it first in Orson Scott Card's book on how to write SFF, but it was more a bolt-on chapter at the end.

These may help better:

Wonderbook
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1419704427/?tag=brite-21

38 Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0898798213/?tag=brite-21

The first one is especially lavish and aimed at providing comprehensive learning for the beginning writer, while remaining stimulating and interesting. Definitely a unique book.

The second is a short and succint piece on general writing issues.

I've read both and would consider each to be of potential help. Re-reading about the same issues can help hammer them home more easily.
 

Venusian Broon

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#5
For example, if I am describing a setting and want to provide the reader with background on the place (while avoiding info dump), this would be done using objective omniscient pov, as the characters that are in the scene may not have that knowledge themselves. Right? But then, when it comes to describing the events that are taking place in that setting, during the current scene, is it okay to do this via single third person pov? Meaning that the reader would have a broad overview of the environment but would experience the action from inside a character's head rather than a "fly-on-the-way" perspective.
I'd instantly query this assumption - that omniscient PoV avoids info dumping. You are in fact adding information that either the 3rd person PoV won't know, doesn't notice or doesn't care about. So you have to ask the question: why are you adding all this info? Famously Victor Hugo jumped from a low garret in Paris into a stonking 60 page, minute-by-minute omniscient description of the battle of Waterloo in Les Miserables. (That eventually was brought round to the character in the garret, but still 60 pages!...) I think it was easier to do that in the 19th century, and it helped that he was a brilliant novelist.

The hackneyed, but still reasonable way, to bring an in-depth description of the environment/society/description is to have a character come in who has never seen what you want to describe - the farm boy from the outback of Tatooine is wide-eyed everywhere - thus their PoV will be awash with descriptions, questions and a bit of info transfer to the reader. Vader on the other hand has been there and done everything so even the brand new deathstar - which he's been about for 20 years - probably doesn't rate much in how he would see a scene. All would be familiar.

I see it as setting the scene via objective omniscient and then showing the action through the character's eyes. I see objective omniscient as a way to impart a broader range of information to the reader (again, while avoiding massive exposition) rather than feeding the reader smaller "bites" of background based on what only the character in the scene would know.
Put it this way - if important information about your story can only be given to the reader in omniscient, then how in fact does this percolate down to your main characters (Off 'screen'? By magic?) And if the information you are giving is not really relevant to character, plot or setting then I think it's a massive luxury and padding (that probably should be cut.)



But, on the other hand you might be a brilliant Victor Hugo that will have legions of fans screaming for in-depth infodumps about your world...

...however I'd K.I.S.S.

or Keep It Simple Shotokan. Before mixing PoV styles in the same story, I'd recommend to tell a story/novel rigidly in third person, or first person - or if you feel that you can handle it in some form of omniscient.

(I suppose there is something saying, what the hell go and do what you feel like and see what comes out, experimenting with creative writing doesn't cost money - but if it takes you years and it's fundamentally flawed it could then take years to correct.)
 

ShotokanXL

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#6
Added to Amzo
It tends to be a chapter in some writing books - I read it first in Orson Scott Card's book on how to write SFF, but it was more a bolt-on chapter at the end.

These may help better:

Wonderbook
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1419704427/?tag=brite-21

38 Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0898798213/?tag=brite-21

The first one is especially lavish and aimed at providing comprehensive learning for the beginning writer, while remaining stimulating and interesting. Definitely a unique book.

The second is a short and succint piece on general writing issues.

I've read both and would consider each to be of potential help. Re-reading about the same issues can help hammer them home more easily.
Added to Amazonn basket :)

Cheers!
 

ShotokanXL

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#7
I'd instantly query this assumption - that omniscient PoV avoids info dumping. You are in fact adding information that either the 3rd person PoV won't know, doesn't notice or doesn't care about. So you have to ask the question: why are you adding all this info? Famously Victor Hugo jumped from a low garret in Paris into a stonking 60 page, minute-by-minute omniscient description of the battle of Waterloo in Les Miserables. (That eventually was brought round to the character in the garret, but still 60 pages!...) I think it was easier to do that in the 19th century, and it helped that he was a brilliant novelist.

The hackneyed, but still reasonable way, to bring an in-depth description of the environment/society/description is to have a character come in who has never seen what you want to describe - the farm boy from the outback of Tatooine is wide-eyed everywhere - thus their PoV will be awash with descriptions, questions and a bit of info transfer to the reader. Vader on the other hand has been there and done everything so even the brand new deathstar - which he's been about for 20 years - probably doesn't rate much in how he would see a scene. All would be familiar.



Put it this way - if important information about your story can only be given to the reader in omniscient, then how in fact does this percolate down to your main characters (Off 'screen'? By magic?) And if the information you are giving is not really relevant to character, plot or setting then I think it's a massive luxury and padding (that probably should be cut.)



But, on the other hand you might be a brilliant Victor Hugo that will have legions of fans screaming for in-depth infodumps about your world...

...however I'd K.I.S.S.

or Keep It Simple Shotokan. Before mixing PoV styles in the same story, I'd recommend to tell a story/novel rigidly in third person, or first person - or if you feel that you can handle it in some form of omniscient.

(I suppose there is something saying, what the hell go and do what you feel like and see what comes out, experimenting with creative writing doesn't cost money - but if it takes you years and it's fundamentally flawed it could then take years to correct.)
Haha... Victor Hugo, I ain't! :)
What I meant about objective omniscient was that I would use it to provide background without ME giving a load of info dump, not that the style itself would avoid it.
I'm beginning to see that sticking to one kind of POV is the best way to proceed at the moment - especially as I'm a total novice. It's wise to hone one skill set before experimenting with mixing things up much.

Thanks!
 

Robert Mackay

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#8
It is definitely possible to do it in one scene - Jane Austen does it all the time - she starts the scene in omniscient, then floats in to 3rd person limited, then floats back out at the end. But it is tricky to do right, and you may not be Jane Austen (and Jane Austen is not for everyone, partly because of the authorial voice). Brian's post is good as a guideline.

You can do anything - the trick is to do so successfully, and most people end up bruising their nose rather than breaking through the wall.
 

Venusian Broon

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#9
Haha... Victor Hugo, I ain't! :)

I'm beginning to see that sticking to one kind of POV is the best way to proceed at the moment - especially as I'm a total novice. It's wise to hone one skill set before experimenting with mixing things up much.

Thanks!
I've been on-off writing for decades and writing every day (more or less :D) for about 7+ year. I am sure that I would totally mess up a mixed PoV style work, utterly! So I'm totally focused on my particular set of rules that I use for multiple third person limited. (Even then I still fail at it very occasionally.) The way I see it you've got to walk before you run. Then when that's reasonable and I can craft a good story out of that, perhaps I will get an idea to try another type of PoV when I have the right idea and the confidence!
 

ShotokanXL

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#10
It is definitely possible to do it in one scene - Jane Austen does it all the time - she starts the scene in omniscient, then floats in to 3rd person limited, then floats back out at the end. But it is tricky to do right, and you may not be Jane Austen (and Jane Austen is not for everyone, partly because of the authorial voice). Brian's post is good as a guideline.

You can do anything - the trick is to do so successfully, and most people end up bruising their nose rather than breaking through the wall.
I think I would more likely be a "splat pancake" on the the wall, rather than bruising my nose... :)
 

ShotokanXL

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#11
I've been on-off writing for decades and writing every day (more or less :D) for about 7+ year. I am sure that I would totally mess up a mixed PoV style work, utterly! So I'm totally focused on my particular set of rules that I use for multiple third person limited. (Even then I still fail at it very occasionally.) The way I see it you've got to walk before you run. Then when that's reasonable and I can craft a good story out of that, perhaps I will get an idea to try another type of PoV when I have the right idea and the confidence!
I see the wisdom in the "walk before you run" belief. In terms of what I understand - you have to learn the basics of your martial art before you can understand and move on to the advanced forms. Solid foundations are needed, otherwise the "house" you are building will inevitably collapse.
 

Hex

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#12
I think that's a sensible way to look at it. Also, drifting between points of view was more common in the past (Gaskell does it in North and South, and I'm sure lots of other classics do it). More modern authors do it as well, for example, Diana Wynne Jones will jump between characters' points of view in single scenes, but again she is an amazing writer and it works for her because she makes it work.

Just now there is a fashion, I guess, for sticking to one point of view per scene. It's one of the ways in which writers are judged, and it's risky to go up against this kind of current wisdom unless you have really strong reasons for doing so. If you're self-publishing, it's not so much of an issue (especially if you can skip through points of view effectively), but if you're aiming for an agent and a traditional publishing deal, it might be best to stick to the way things are 'normally' done (or it might not, of course).

VB's point is important, also. And I'd add: just because you know something, doesn't mean the reader needs to know it too. You're selling them an experience and a story, not a text book :)
 

ShotokanXL

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#13
I think that's a sensible way to look at it. Also, drifting between points of view was more common in the past (Gaskell does it in North and South, and I'm sure lots of other classics do it). More modern authors do it as well, for example, Diana Wynne Jones will jump between characters' points of view in single scenes, but again she is an amazing writer and it works for her because she makes it work.

Just now there is a fashion, I guess, for sticking to one point of view per scene. It's one of the ways in which writers are judged, and it's risky to go up against this kind of current wisdom unless you have really strong reasons for doing so. If you're self-publishing, it's not so much of an issue (especially if you can skip through points of view effectively), but if you're aiming for an agent and a traditional publishing deal, it might be best to stick to the way things are 'normally' done (or it might not, of course).

VB's point is important, also. And I'd add: just because you know something, doesn't mean the reader needs to know it too. You're selling them an experience and a story, not a text book :)
I hear ya :)
 

Toby Frost

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#14
I agree with Hex and Broon. This does feel like a way of infodumping rather than a way of avoiding it. The easiest and most tempting thing to do in a book is to infodump, to prime the reader with the knowledge they need to read the rest of the story, but it's not the best by a long way.

But it can be done in small doses, if you're quick and unobtrusive about it. I've had to do this where writing sequels, to give a quick update on who the characters are. The easiest way is to have X think about Y, and then to drop in a bit of backstory:

Dave grinned as he remembered Proxima Centuri. The unit had been on reconaissance there, scouting out the enemy lines, when he'd unearthed a cache of gold bullion. He'd left Joan behind to guard it.
I just hope she's not spent it all, he thought.

The sentences about finding the bullion and leaving Joan behind are technically backstory. Dave probably isn't literally thinking them, but to understand his thought I hope Joan hasn't spent all the money, they're necessary to provide the context. I don't see anything wrong with this, so long as it's not obvious or overlong.
 

ShotokanXL

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#15
I agree with Hex and Broon. This does feel like a way of infodumping rather than a way of avoiding it. The easiest and most tempting thing to do in a book is to infodump, to prime the reader with the knowledge they need to read the rest of the story, but it's not the best by a long way.

But it can be done in small doses, if you're quick and unobtrusive about it. I've had to do this where writing sequels, to give a quick update on who the characters are. The easiest way is to have X think about Y, and then to drop in a bit of backstory:

Dave grinned as he remembered Proxima Centuri. The unit had been on reconaissance there, scouting out the enemy lines, when he'd unearthed a cache of gold bullion. He'd left Joan behind to guard it.
I just hope she's not spent it all, he thought.

The sentences about finding the bullion and leaving Joan behind are technically backstory. Dave probably isn't literally thinking them, but to understand his thought I hope Joan hasn't spent all the money, they're necessary to provide the context. I don't see anything wrong with this, so long as it's not obvious or overlong.
Gotcha. As one of the critiques I've had said: slip information in without launching "into a lecture with slides and graphics".
 

Venusian Broon

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#16
Dave grinned as he remembered Proxima Centuri. The unit had been on reconaissance there, scouting out the enemy lines, when he'd unearthed a cache of gold bullion. He'd left Joan behind to guard it. I just hope she's not spent it all, he thought.
I had a bit of a mind spasm and read the start of the second sentence as: "The unit had been on renaissance there, scouting out the enemy lines..."

So I instantly got an image of a military unit parachuted in to develop innovative literature, deliver realistic painting & sculpture and debate humanism with the enemy.

It's almost Xmas, my brain is giving up....
 

ShotokanXL

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#17
I had a bit of a mind spasm and read the start of the second sentence as: "The unit had been on renaissance there, scouting out the enemy lines..."

So I instantly got an image of a military unit parachuted in to develop innovative literature, deliver realistic painting & sculpture and debate humanism with the enemy.

It's almost Xmas, my brain is giving up....
Culture at gunpoint... HAHAHA!
 

Denise Tanaka

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#18
I guess it's been pounded into me for so many years, to avoid info dumps at all costs, that I have worked to invent alternative ways of giving cultural or historical background.
  • You could have your characters sit around the campfire (or hearth fire) and tell stories to each other. Alternately, a theater troupe might put on a play depicting some historical event that is relevant to your current story line.
  • Characters can have strong opinions and argue/debate things.
  • It's been mentioned to have your wide-eyed visitor get an explanation from a local, or you could have a parent explain to a child.
  • The setting can work for you, too, if your characters attend a religious service with lots of icons or if there are any monuments. For example, I live in California which is fairly barren in terms of historical landmarks. I become a wide-eyed tourist if I visit other parts of the USA, particularly Washington DC or the southern states. It's remarkable to see the difference "over there" of the statues in honor of Revolutionary War guys or the bronze plaques that mark the site of a Civil War battle. Don't get me started on my culture shock of visiting Japan, wow!
  • A more subtle technique is to use naming conventions in your society, such as, a character named Benjamin Franklin can be teased for having the name of a historical figure. Or, a descendant can be named after a famous ancestor and the character could either be proud or ashamed of that.
Overall, I feel like the 3rd person omniscient POV is quite cold for both the reader and the author. It's a lot more fun (and challenging) to weave the info-dump background material into the story in a dynamic way. When you're having fun writing it, the reader should hopefully have more fun too.
 

HareBrain

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#20
Overall, I feel like the 3rd person omniscient POV is quite cold for both the reader and the author.
I'd question "cold". I've often found the opposite, when omniscient is done well. Taking three wide-ranging examples off the top of my head -- Hilary Mantel's Fludd, Stephen King/Peter Straub's The Black House, and Tolkien's The Hobbit, I'd say the use of authorial voice directly addressing the reader gives those books a rather warm tone (even the horror) and helps draw the reader in by a kind of friendly engagement with the author while the engagement with the characters develops.

No denying it's hard to do well, though, and best avoided unless you have a strong authorial voice and know exactly what you're doing.
 

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