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Cephus
September 5th, 2003, 07:32 PM
I started working on a new project and, due to the nature of the story, it really only works from the first person omniscient perspective, the story basically told as a giant flashback with only 2-3 pages at the end happening in 'real time'. The problem is that I've rarely seen this used to good effect.

What's the general consensus on this? Does it work? Should I even care and just do my own thing?

Rocket Sheep
September 5th, 2003, 08:00 PM
Yes, it works. Read someone who does it well and see what methods they've used... Nick Earls springs to mind...

... and you should always do your own thing... imitators are a dime a dozen.

Cephus
September 6th, 2003, 04:01 AM
Thanks. I actually can't imagine the story being written any other way, it simply wouldn't flow in third person. It really needs to be told from this particular perspective, but as we all know, publishers don't necessarily buy what's good, they buy what sells, and usually that's more of the same.

KatG
September 6th, 2003, 03:29 PM
First person semi-omniscient is a doable format, though the examples I can think of are not sf/f. "Charming Billy" by Alice McDermott is one of the best examples of this format and won the National Book Award.

In first person semi-omniscient, the first person narrator serves as sort of an omniscient narrator. However, unlike a third person omniscient narrator, the first person narrator cannot read other characters' minds and offer up their inner thoughts and feelings. What the first person "semi" omniscient narrator can do is present what other characters are thinking and feeling if he has been given this information, by the characters themselves or by other characters who have knowledge of them. So the first person semi-omniscient narrator is not psychic, but does know a lot of information which can be presented as another character's thoughts as events occur, learned of after the fact. If that makes any sense.

This is somewhat different from regular first person, which often has a flash-back viewpoint, the first person narrator telling what happened to him or her in the past. But the first person narrator then sticks only to what happened to him or her and does not present scenes occurring and what other characters may have been thinking during them unless the first person narrator was present during those scenes.

And then of course, you could have a first person narrator who was psychic and therefore, truly omniscient, but I haven't seen that one yet. :)

One other option you might want to consider is revolving first person. In this format, you use first person but when you start a new chapter or part of the story, you might switch from one first person narrator to another character who then becomes the first person narrator. Sort of like third person limited but in first person.

Rocket Sheep
September 6th, 2003, 05:23 PM
Originally posted by Cephus
Thanks. I actually can't imagine the story being written any other way, it simply wouldn't flow in third person. It really needs to be told from this particular perspective, but as we all know, publishers don't necessarily buy what's good, they buy what sells, and usually that's more of the same.

Exactly! Same point springs up at all writers chats. They want more of the same but they want it done in a new way. No one said writing was easy.

Nick Earls has explored new ways to write first person in a couple of his novels... he was given grants to spend a year writing them so why not?

I understand the lure of first person, it is my favourite viewpoint, but what are you hoping to achieve by being omniscient?

Cephus
September 6th, 2003, 08:43 PM
Originally posted by KatG
And then of course, you could have a first person narrator who was psychic and therefore, truly omniscient, but I haven't seen that one yet. :)

Well, you're about to see it because the main character actually does develop the ability to read minds, etc. during the course of the story. While he's not going to be telling what everyone else is thinking most of the time, he certainly does become omniscient.


One other option you might want to consider is revolving first person. In this format, you use first person but when you start a new chapter or part of the story, you might switch from one first person narrator to another character who then becomes the first person narrator. Sort of like third person limited but in first person.

The other people aren't really all that important in the scheme of things. The story asks the question: what if you woke up one morning and were god? You had all the power, knowledge and abilities to do anything you wanted, you could destroy the planet on a whim, very little was really beyond you. Now what would happen if you were a normal teenager with normal teenage thoughts, maturity and ideas? At the end of the story is one major, culminating event and the whole story is a "how did we get here" tale. Therefore, telling it from the perspective of anyone else really isn't going to work.

KatG
September 8th, 2003, 05:47 PM
Interesting, but tricky. I think what you're talking about would maybe be considered a mixed format. You've got a third person omniscient set-up, but the omniscient narrator (usually the storyteller,) is speaking to the audience in first person. This isn't entirely unusual -- some third person omniscient stories employ an omniscient narrator who is a character in the story or a character outside the story, like the innkeeper who tells the story in his pub. But it's definitely not a common set-up, either.

One book you might want to take a look at is William Goldman's "The Princess Bride." He isn't doing a similar thing to yours and it's comic, whereas I'm not sure if yours is or not, but it might be useful because it's third person omniscient with not one but two intrusive omniscient narrators, one of them a version of Goldman himself, actively telling the story, and the other the supposed original author of the story. Be sure to read the Prologue where he sets it all up. You're doing first person omniscient, but it might give you a framework. "Charming Billy" which I mentioned earlier, is a literary novel but brilliantly uses first person semi-omniscient and might still be helpful too.

Chlestron
September 9th, 2003, 10:38 AM
I've seen that and tried that myself as a sort of flashback style. My first person character wasn't omniscient, but he HAD experienced the thing and has the benefit of hind sight to provide him the details that he would have missed on the first go around. He's remembering it, not living it so he has the ability to "jump forward" a little bit to put things in better perspective.

One of my current WIP's, the sort of backstory behind everything that sets up the universe and some of the plot is told from that perspective while the rest of the story is in 3rd person where that character is a minor player.

KatG
September 9th, 2003, 06:07 PM
If a first person narrator is telling about things that occurred in the past, it's fairly easy for the first person narrator to be semi-omniscient. Being psychic, god-like and truly omniscient sounds like a harder hat trick.

Publishers don't have a problem with unusual formats. But you have to convince them that you've done it well, which is a subjective thing.

Tasnek
September 25th, 2003, 02:59 AM
I myself write in first person...even though I have three seperate characters in the novel. One might think it doesn't work, having three first person characters, but it works quite well...in my opinion. But I'm not a professional writer, so I'm just giving my opinion. I write in first person because it's easier to channel thoughts. To me it sounds odd to say, for example, "This was a troubling desicion, he thought". to me it sounds like the narrator can read minds or whatnot...