Viewpoint query (long)

Sally Odgers sodgers at tassie.net.au
Mon Aug 13 11:58:11 EDT 2001


Delete the following if you don't want to read Much Twaddle!

Marcia said;

>what is
> the omniscient viewpoint and how is it different to what they do in the
US?


Well, the following is how I understand it. Maybe I'm incorrect, but this is
based on my own experience of what is and isn't acceptable.

Omniscient viewpoint is in use when the author is Omniscient Narrator. That
is, the author has both a wide-lens view of the action and is also privy to
the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Here's a bald, unedited,
example.

EXAMPLE ONE.
James and Teg had been apart for nearly a year. As they spotted one another
across the gate lounge, they exchanged slow smiles which widened into
banners of delight.
    She's grown up! thought James. Is that my little sister?
    Where the heck did he get that disgusting shirt? wondered Teg. But she
hurried towards him and gave him a wholehearted hug. Fawn shirt or not, he
was still her favourite brother. Her hazel eyes glowed as she looked him up
and down.
    James grinned. "Gotta hand it to you Teg - you can never make it in
time!"
    "That wasn't me!" she said indignantly. "That was the plane!" She cuffed
his bony shoulder.
    "It was you," insisted James. "Ouch! You were distracting the pilot."
    "Prat."
    "Bitch."
    They linked arms and marched away to fetch Teg's luggage from the
carousel. The Warring Factions were back together again and it was entirely
satisfactory.


That's omniscient viewpoint, maybe not Pure, Classical Omniscient, but near
enough. The authorial voice tells us the sibs have been apart. The author
observes and describes their grins of recognition. Quick visit to James'
thoughts, then to Teg's. The author gives the reader Teg's opinion of her
brother's shirt. Outside view of Teg, since her eyes are described, then
their further exchange of affectionate insults is observed and described.
Their actions are shown and their mirrored satisfaction affirmed.

The same passage in strictly limited viewpoint (Teg's) would read like this;

EXAMPLE TWO.
    Come on, James! thought Teg as she peered around the gate lounge for her
brother. They'd been apart for nearly a year, so couldn't he have come to
meet her? Then she saw him, and her exasperation melted at the sight of his
familiar, rangy figure. He was wearing a fawn shirt, which looked pretty
bad. Where on earth had he found that? She smiled at him, and saw his
answering smile widen into a grin. She hurried towards him and gave him a
wholehearted hug. Fawn shirt or not, he was still her favourite brother.
    Her cheek bumped his collar bone and she stood back to look him up and
down.
    James grinned at her. "Gotta hand it to you Teg - you can never make it
in time!"
    "That wasn't me!" she said with mock indignation. "That was the plane!"
She cuffed his bony shoulder.
    "It was you," insisted James. "Ouch! You were distracting the pilot."
    "Prat."
    "Bitch."
    Teg smiled inwardly as they exchanged the old familiar insults, then
linked arms with James and marched him away to fetch hers luggage from the
carousel. So, the Warring Factions are back together again, she thought
happily.


The reader knows how Teg feels about things, but all the information is
filtered through her viewpoint. There's nothing about her appearance (since
she can't see herself) and James' thoughts are concealed. He seems cheerful,
but that could be a front. In omniscient viewpoint we know it isn't. If we
wanted to hint that James' cheer *is* a front, while retaining Teg's
viewpoint, we could add something just before James' first comment.

Maybe -

James grinned at her, but she noticed, with slight unease, that his face was
thinner than it should have been...


Neither of the two passages would be likely to trouble an Aussie editor, but
there's a good chance a US ed. would say the first one was "bad" because of
the diffuse viewpoint. That's not to say an Aus ed. won't pick up on badly
handled viewpoint, just to say that Example One *isn't* badly handled. Badly
handled viewpoint from an Aus point of view would be if  Example Two had one
bit of James' viewpoint in what was obviously meant to be entirely Teg's.

We *do* use tight single viewpoint sometimes (obviously so when writing in
First person) but it's only one of the different options available.

Sallyo.


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