When I first started my contemporary fantasy Miasma, it was in a traditional third person. I’d written most of my stories in third, so I went with because that was what I knew. But as I writing the first fifty pages, something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite identify what it was, except that it appeared to be the viewpoint. It wasn’t the viewpoint character. He was right for the story.
Along came a viewpoint workshop. I took it, and the exercises had us write a scene in different viewpoints. Some were from different characters, but we tried third, first, second, and omniscient. Based on comments I got, I switched the story to first person.
Hated it. First was soooo bad for the story. It brought out the worst traits in the main character, put a magnifying glass on them, and waved a red flag. First was definitely not a good choice.
Then came omni. I went out and got the only omni author I could think of: Clive Cussler. How did he make the transitions when moving from person to person? How did he approach scenes? This time, I picked a scene I was about to start, where first and third weren’t giving me what I needed for it. By its use, the implication was that the main character was right, and that wasn’t exactly the case. Tried omni, and the story was magic.
Before I started to switch the story over, though, I came up with about eight reasons why I should use it. Over the years, all I’d heard was “omni is not used today” (an urban legend); that publishers aren’t taking omni (several agents said in the craft books, “Don’t even try omni. We’ll reject you.”); and omni is old-fashioned. So it was a risk when it came to submitting to agents.
Yet, I’d never seen an agent put “story written in omniscient” on any of their top ten lists of what not to do. Except for the two who published craft books quite some time ago, I’d never even seen any agent discuss omni. But it was best for the story, so my choices were:
- A viewpoint that worked well with the story and have a great story
- A more “acceptable” viewpoint and have a not so good story.
The choice was obvious. Other writers were not happy. I tried a critique to see if I was on the right track. I didn’t ask for a critique of the omni, but merely mentioned it was in omni. Bad. Very bad. The writers jumped all over me for use of the viewpoint. No one said it did it badly or did it well — they just plain hated omni. They made dire predictions and said no one was using it any more. One person even said, “I’m sure you know your story, but here’s how you’d write it in third.” The critique was so negative that I took six weeks off the story to reassess, and still felt omni was the best choice. All the reasons I’d picked it were still valid.
Now that I’m in final draft of Miasma, the reasons are now blurred. But I’ve found where other writers naturally jump to first person as their first viewpoint choice, omni is mine. I feel like I’ve always been writing in it and considering it for my next project.
I hope you’ll check on my article “Critiquing for Omniscient Viewpoint” on Vision: A Resource for Writers.