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15 Minutes: Omniscience, Reading and Writing - Laura Wise

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August 9th, 2010


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09:01 am - 15 Minutes: Omniscience, Reading and Writing
Because I am still too red-faced (thanks to a walk-run this morning in OMG humidity) to go to the office, lest coworkers or similar think I am two seconds away from heat stroke or a heart attack, fifteen minutes on omniscience. :-)

Not, mind you, actual godlike omniscience. I have no information about that. Omniscient narrators, I mean.

Point A: I was playing with a more distanced omniscient narration in "Home and Glamour". (No reason beyond I thought it served the story.) There were points I went into Morgan's or Alice's POV, but not many; it was my task to use dialogue and occasional explanatory paragraphs to give the sense of a larger world, an ongoing story. I really enjoyed the writing experience that way, whether it worked for others or not. ;-)

Point B: This weekend, thanks to tiredness and storms, I reread Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades, a new edition of which I'd just picked up at the bookshop. Oh the joy of it! The eighteenth-century-pastiche JOY of it! Of course I love the characters and the setting and the plotty bits and the thickness of the world (if you know what I mean) as well as the lightness and romance, but I was also struck by Heyer's use of the omniscient POV.

One of the things I loved best -- it is a Narrative Kink of mine, not that you would know this, but anyhoo -- was the way she used supporting characters to comment on the main action, and the way she carefully kept the readers out of the Duke of Avon's head in the second half of the novel so that we know what he's thinking from outside, as it were. Loved loved loved.

Point C: Have just started (am a third of the way in) Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, a new fantasy novel set in one-step-removed Regency England. The author's note begins, "Allow me first to acknowledge the debt I owe to Jane Austen, who not only inspired the novel but has taught me much about the importance of small details." Kowal is using an Austenian omniscience in her novel, true enough.

What's great: the magic system is fabulous and beautifully described. However, it is not a comedy, nor is it witty -- a bad choice to read after Heyer, to be honest. I might have to put it aside for a while until I can enjoy her omniscience.

Do you like omniscient narrators?

Whether you do or don't, I hope your Monday is full of the best small details and big adventures. :-)

(19 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:anne_d
Date:August 9th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
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Oddly, I've been rereading my way through our library of Heyer, and making notes about which ones are in need of replacement (most of them).

Thank you for the heads-up on Shades of Milk and Honey. It sounds at least worth a look, and I've requested it from the library system.

Do you like omniscient narrators?

I have no firm opinion; it depends on how well the story is told, which pretty much applies to everything anyway.
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From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
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There are some nicely done new editions of Heyer out there right now. And, oh, how battered some of mine are/were. ;-)

Shades of Milk and Honey is worth a look, yes!

Good thoughts for your Monday, A!
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From:paratti
Date:August 9th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
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I think like anything it can be done well or not so much.
I think you did it well.

((Hugs))
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From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
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You're quite right that omniscient-narrator is just another tool; sometimes folk don't particularly care for it. (I tend to be less forgiving of 1st-person, for instance, although well-done first-person like yours can be a joy.)

Hugs and thanks, and a healing Monday for you!
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From:heron_pose
Date:August 9th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
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I used to love first person .... but despite always having to identify those things in school, I find I'm rarely conscious of them until I stop and reflect. Except in writing, where tight third seems to come naturally. Although if I were writing ocs, I'm pretty sure 1st person is my natural thing. Comes of narcissism, or sumat.

I love omniscient, of course, when it gives us the subtle winks as do Austen and (very differently, of course) Eliot. Um, George, I mean. At least I think that's what she does. But often omniscient feels too distant, and I have a hard time involving myself -- it even takes me a couple of chapters to really 'get into' an Austen or an Eliot, for me.

There. Can you tell I'm procrastinating? Just be thankful I didn't go on at greater length. Cuz I could. I'm just sayin'.

[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
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Tight third is a default for a lot of 20th-century (and early 21st!) psychological realism, so it makes sense that it's a default. [nods] Of course, it's often more a limited-omniscient POV, because a lot of writers do include more details than Only Wot The Character Sees/Hears/Wotsits... but still. Anyway. Yes. :-)

For a long time it was also the POV of choice for college-trained creative writers. There is no earthly reason for me to tell you that, but there we are....

Anyway, H-P, I love hearing your thoughts! Thank you thank you! Plus hugs, of course.

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From:janus_74
Date:August 9th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
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I own a copy of These Old Shades...not sure if I've read it though. I found Heyer's stuff is hit or miss for me, some novels I love and wish there was more, others I couldn't get through the whole thing.

I like Omniscient narrators when I don't realize that's what it is.
[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
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I like Omniscient narrators when I don't realize that's what it is. Now THAT is a telling answer. :-)

I have a similar mixed reaction to Heyer, except it's more "Some novels I LOVE OMG OMG" and "some novels are okay." (Except for the mysteries, which I've never managed -- stevie_carroll is reccing one right now, however -- and some of the turgid Historicals.)

Thank you for brilliant answers, and a happy Monday to you!

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From:gwynnega
Date:August 9th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
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I love love love These Old Shades!

::hugs::
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From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
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Of course you do! Because you and These Old Shades are both awesome! :-)

Hugs and a good Monday, Gwynne.
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From:mobile_alh
Date:August 9th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
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I can only assume Miss Heyer loved These Old Shades as much as I do (oh, Leonie and Monsigneur!) since I believe it's the only novel that she wrote a sequel too, even if it was the next generation.

:Cudgels limp brain to remember the title of the other novel::

I have it! Devil's Cub!

::fingers crossed that I've remembered how lj defines italics::
[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
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You're mostly right, ALH -- oh yes oh yes, Devil's Cub, but Heyer THEN wrote An Infamous Army aka the Waterloo novel, which gives us Old Dominic and Mary and their descendants AND crosses over the central characters from Regency Buck. :-)

(I reread Devil's Cub and flipped through An Infamous Army this weekend too. [grin])

But nobody's as awesome as Leonie and Monseigneur. Nobody!

Hugs, Champagne, and sparkles on your Monday!
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From:mobile_alh
Date:August 9th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
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You're right, I completely forgot an Infamous Army.

Of course, I only read it once because there was too much about Waterloo for my adolescent self.

Hurrah for relaxed weekend reading!

::Raises glass of bubbly::
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From:laurawise
Date:August 9th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
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There IS a hellalot of Waterloo in An Infamous Army. Pages and pages and pages... SAD pages.

[hugs] Monday joys to you!
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From:wildrider
Date:August 10th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
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If the story is well-written, I really don't mind any kind of narrator, from tight first-person POV to the omniscient narrator.

I like, and I tend to write a lot of, a variety of narrators, shifting POVs through the course of the story--perhaps one of the reasons I like Dickens so much (although he could shake things up, like he did with the tight first-person narration of Great Expectations).

Anyway, if it's good, that's the important thing!

(I am shamed, I've never read any Heyer!)

[User Picture]
From:laurawise
Date:August 10th, 2010 10:31 am (UTC)
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[nods] I really do like that shifting narrative POV that Dickens could do -- but he's a master of omniscient voice too. (Bleak House! The opening chapter about fog! :-))

I don't know if you'd like most Heyer, but I'd guess you would like These Old Shades. :-)

Happy Tuesday, K!
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From:wildrider
Date:August 10th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
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I have to FIND my copy of Bleak House! It vanished during the home remodel (it was in the bathroom) and I had only gotten about halfway through -- when I finish Our Mutual Friend I have to try and find it (or get a new copy) and start over again! :-)

Happy Tuesday!
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From:stevie_carroll
Date:August 10th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
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Omniscient narrators have their place, although they're not my favourite for modern novels.

Shades of Milk and Honey is already on my To Read list, though.
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From:laurawise
Date:August 10th, 2010 10:28 am (UTC)
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I know what you mean about modern novels and omniscient, but I'm appreciating it more and more. :-)

Thanks, S_C, and a fabulous Tuesday to you!

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