Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Omniscient or head-hopping? What’s the difference?

The other day, after seeing a number of publishers calling for short romance stories, I decided to dig out some of my old favorites for some style refreshing. (Or brain stimulating. You know how it is.) As I read a few of the short, sweet stories, I found myself coming to a conclusion I didn’t know I needed to reach.

There was a time when I couldn’t read these stories, or books by certain authors, because of my own mounting frustration with changes in point of view. But now, I read these books again, with a more experienced, more objective eye. And I realized that what I believed was head-hopping (in this case) was actually an omniscient point of view, and it was done well.

But, you ask, what’s the difference?

My definition:

An omniscient point of view is one that appears to the reader as an entire picture. It gives readers the power to see through the eyes of a number of different characters, all during the same scene. Like watching a show on TV. But because we are not strictly in the head of one character, each of these characters is able to keep secrets from the audience, where in a tighter, closer point of view, that would be much more difficult.

Head hopping is taking that tighter, closer point of view (be it close-third or first) and giving voice to more than one character in a single scene. This tends to be disorienting, because it’s like looking at the same scene from several different angles, all at once.

It’s a very technical, hard to understand concept, and an extremely difficult skill for most writers to master. Personally, I prefer to avoid writing in omniscient simply because it is SO HARD to get right. (And also, that’s not how I write.)

So in going back and rereading these books that have been slowly gathering dust, I remembered that there really is a place for omniscient, and that I really enjoy reading it when it’s done well.

What about you? What recent reading discoveries have you made?


Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Omniscient is one POV I have not dared touch. Ever. First person used to be like that for me until I braved it in short stories, and now in a full-length novel. Not sure I've got it down yet, honestly. My friend Scott Bailey is absolutely brilliant at omniscient POV. I read his books and I'm mystified by how he does it!

Angie said...

I have read some good omniscient stories, but it's not my favorite. I like to really be deeply into one characters head and heart. One at a time anyway. I love multiple POV books.

Cindy Beck, author said...

I agree ... omniscient is hard to do well, which I guess is why so many workshops recommend against it. Still, it might be fun to try it one time, huh? After we've already had several best sellers? :)