Tuesday, May 20, 2008

POV: THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT


In a sidebar to the discussion last week on why people stop reading a novel, a commenter asked about the Third Person Omniscient POV and Al Guthrie responded that he almost certainly would find this a difficult book to finish. In the TPO, the narrator speaks for all the characters, knowing what's going on in each of their heads, knowing what's going on in their life at any moment. It has always seemed to me like the voice of God speaking. Or at least the voice of Morgan Freeman.
It's much less common than it used to be. A prime example is Anna Karenina according to a site I came on.
Can you think of a book today that used this POV successfully? Do you ever write in this POV?

12 comments:

Steve Allan said...

TPO is such an antiquated method today. There are some writers who do it, but it's more out of cheating than a conscious decision. It's one of the main reasons why I really don't read many novels pre-1900. But then again, issues regarding POV are something that writers obsess over and not the reading public in general.

If I've picked up a book recently that uses TPO, I can almost guarantee that I put it right back down.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The stiff formality of it would be off-putting I think. Hard to get it to sound like real people.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I'm fine with multiple points of view as long as it's one at a time. Head hopping drives me nuts.

Unless it's done well. And what defines that I couldn't tell you. Kind of like porn or art that way.

pattinase (abbott) said...

When it comes at you like a machine gun, I run.

Josephine Damian said...

More like James Earl Jones.

BEL CANTO is a more modern example I've seen sited. But I see a lot of author intrusion in books - I want the characters to tell me the story, not the writer - the last thing I want is for all my characters to come across as a tough talking Italian girl from NY.

I prefer to use a close/intimate third person narration - I try to keep my all omnitient self out of the way when I write.

Multiple POV can be deadly - diffused focus - I learned that the hard way in my first novel.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love third person tight. It allows the most freedom, I think. A little distance from the action is a good thing. I loved Bel Canto so I guess it can work.

kristykiernan said...

Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee is the most current example I can think of. It was initially disconcerting, but I quickly got past it and had no problem staying in the story. I thought she did it well, though I don't think it's a choice I would make. If it's not done well it comes off as a self-conscious literary device.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not familiar with that one but I'll check it out.

Graham Powell said...

Wasn't MYSTIC RIVER in omniscient pov? I remember us hearing the thoughts of several of the main characters.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can only remember it wasn't first person, Graham. You may well be right. I do know I loved it so maybe it can work in such capable hands.

Lee said...

The are tons of things - subtext, irony etc. - that you can do with TPO that you can't begin to attempt otherwise. Read Peter Carey. And though I don't have the necessary skill yet, it's the POV I'm most anxious to work on, and work on, and work on.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the sole book by Carey I read was Oscar and Lucinda--don't know if that was TPO or not but it was a rollicking good book. Hugely imaginative. Think I read it cause liked the movie so much. Was it Fiennes and Blanchett?