Point of View (POV): The Omniscient Drift

Use immediate scenes. That was a key learning point from Sol Stein’s book as I described in my earlier post. Readers today expect books to unfold with visual scenes of action.

Write like a movie script. But I took this advice too literally.

I love movies. I always have. I realized my appreciation for movies was part of what drove my desire to write. It’s tremendous fun to create a new world in someone else’s mind. Movies do that and so do books, at least the good ones.

When I started to write my story, I tried to tell it from the perspective of a camera lens. I played out the scenes in my head and I let the words describe what the camera saw. However, movies use multiple cameras in each scene. Even for simple scenes, like dialog between two people, the director will shoot the scene with two cameras at a minimum. This is great for the movie because you can see how each character delivers the line and then how the other character reacts.

To capture this effect in my writing, I wanted to show how each character reacted. Of course in writing, you can’t constantly describe facial reactions in detail. Boring! To convey what the characters are thinking, the writer can simply tell the reader or share the characters’ inner thought dialog. This ping pong view is common in movies as the perspective changes from each camera angle. Unfortunately my writing became very sloppy with respect to point of view (POV). I was switching from one character to the next, right within a scene.

Naturally, I was well aware of point of view. I had selected third person as my POV. But omniscient is a form of third person. My writing style drifted from normal third person to third person omniscient. It was subtle. The more I tried to write my story like a movie script, the more my POV drifted into the omniscient style. Such are first drafts.

The good news is that the technique allowed the story to flow from my head. The bad news is that my POV became sloppy. I knew I would have to fix it in subsequent revisions and that would be a lot of work. But the really bad news came when I received comments from my test readers. They said my characters were flat and single-dimensional. I realized the drift into the omniscient style terribly weakened my characters. I’ll share how in my next post.

Have you struggled with POV? What lessons did you learn?

So You Think You Can Write?

Fear of being a bad writer is probably at the top of my list of fears. I try not to spend a lot of time on such negative thoughts, but honestly, it’s a big one for any aspiring writer, right? One of my friends went off to start a publishing company. He’s getting his masters in fine arts (MFA). What right did I have to think I could become a writer? I didn’t have an MFA.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to write computer software. At the time, few people knew what software was—maybe they heard about computers from an episode of Star Trek. After entering college I witnessed the early success of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. So I decided to start a software company. Friends and family thought I was crazy. “Do you know the odds of a start-up making it to profitability?” they would ask me. I started the company in my dorm room. I had so much fun, I dropped out of college. I grew the company to over fifty employees and the company earns millions in revenue each year to this day. I’m not telling you this to boast. I’m telling you this because I simply pursued my dream and I made it. So this is why I think I can make it as a writer.

And I want your dream to come true too. And the dream after that.

So before I started writing my story, I started my research and learning to become a good writer. I want to fill this blog with posts about all the things I learned and all the great tips I want to pass on to you. So let me start with one: Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. The first theme that grabbed my attention from this excellent book was the idea to write the story like a movie script. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve. It was exciting to learn that this writing technique could lead to “good” writing.

This idea unlocked the floodgates of my creativity. The story flowed out of my brain and into Microsoft Word. Everything was going well. But when I finished the first draft, my test readers commented that my characters were flat and single-dimensional. After more research, I realized that the goal of writing like a movie script actually led me to start a bad habit in my writing, preventing the characters from coming alive. I’ll describe the bad habit and how I overcame it in my next post.

What book inspired you early in your writing?

Getting The Idea For Your Book

I’m looking at the notes I started for the first book of my trilogy No Such Thing As Evil. They are dated March 24, 2010. The notes are just a set of words. They make little sense. That’s because I wrote them after waking from a dream.

I wrote the next set of notes on March 15, 2011, nearly a year later. The idea for the book had been rattling around in my head that long. From there, I have entries of notes about every month or so. Some came in groups, only a day apart, probably because I was writing them over the weekend when I had several consecutive days.

I didn’t start to write until the following summer. In preparation, I had two concerns:

  1. Would the ideas flow? Did I have enough material in my head to create a fascinating story that readers would enjoy?
  2. Would my writing be any good?

I felt like I should just get the story out and worry about the quality of my writing later. But I’m too much the perfectionist. I think I also had sense enough to know that good writing isn’t just a switch you turn on. Just like writing software code, there are foundational principles to master, followed by endless practice followed by the gradual understanding of the subtlest aspects over a life time. Writers, like programmers, improve their craft each day and never peak; there’s just too much to learn.

So I kicked off an effort to begin a lifelong learning path to learn to write well. That will be the subject of my next post.

How did the idea for your book come to you?