Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Point of View - a Study in Voice
I recently read a publisher's website that stated they did not want submissions in the omniscient voice and it got me thinking about that. Who does that? Would I like it? Maybe they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this one. Now, I understand about no head hopping in third person, handle with care first person (The Snowflake - my Christmas novella due out in October is my first experiment with first person) but what exactly is omniscient pov? And is there really anything wrong with it?
A few days later, down another rabbit hole, I looked up one of my childhood favorites - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and there it was . . . omniscient narrative:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled
Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at
her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of
pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy,
with an injured sniff.
"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth
contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened
at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly,
"We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time."
She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking
of Father far away, where the fighting was. (This appears in Jo's pov)
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,
"You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this
Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone;
and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when
our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can
make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am
afraid I don't." And Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully
of all the pretty things she wanted. (Now we're in Meg's pov)
"But I don't think the little we should spend would do any
good. We've each got a dollar, and the army wouldn't be much helped
by our giving that. I agree not to expect anything from Mother or
you, but I do want to buy UNDINE AND SINTRAM for myself. I've
wanted it so long," said Jo, who was a bookworm. (Jo's pov if she's the person we are in their head, if not omniscient)
"I planned to spend mine in new music," said Beth, with a
little sigh, which no one heard but the hearth brush and kettle
holder. (Omniscient pov)
"I shall get a nice box of Faber's drawing pencils. I
really need them," said Amy decidedly.
"Mother didn't say anything about our money, and she won't
wish us to give up everything. Let's each buy what we want, and
have a little fun. I'm sure we work hard enough to earn it," cried
Jo, examining the heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner. (Back in Jo's pov or omniscient)
"I know I do--teaching those tiresome children nearly all
day, when I'm longing to enjoy myself at home," began Meg, in the
complaining tone again.
"Don't peck at one another, children. Don't you wish we
had the money Papa lost when we were little, Jo? Dear me! How
happy and good we'd be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who
could remember better times. (Omniscient)
"You said the other day you thought we were a deal happier
than the King children, for they were fighting and fretting all
the time, in spite of their money."
"Birds in their little nests agree," sang Beth, the
peacemaker, with such a funny face that both sharp voices
softened to a laugh, and the "pecking" ended for that time. (Omniscient)
Okay, lots of head hopping going on here, but really it doesn't feel as if we're in any one's head. It feels as if the camera is zoomed out and giving us an overall view of the scene. I find I don't mind it. It gives me information about each character and what they think and feel, who they are. If we were only in Jo's pov it would be quite different, wouldn't it? How she views her sisters. But, wait a minute. That kind of comes through after all, with the way it is written. It's Jo we end up identifying with in Little Women as the main character/narrator and maybe that's because the omniscient view isn't really omniscient after all. Maybe it's Jo's way of telling a first person pov story. Now that's confusing! And interesting to me.