Grenade in the Room – Part 5

Disclaimer: Posts in the Writer’s Desk Logbook are nothing more than personal observations about my exploration of the fascinating craft of writing. “Grenade in the Room” continues with Part 5:

Once again borrowing heavily from Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint, I have found it helpful to consider the following when it comes to deciding between omniscient or limited viewpoint and first or third person.

My first task was to decide whether I wanted a presentational or representational style to telling my stories. These terms refer to the method of relating to the audience. Card recommends thinking of it in terms of a stage play. Representational adds a “fourth wall” to the set. This one-way invisible barrier allows the audience to see through into the play, but the actors never interact directly with the audience. In presentational style, this fourth wall is torn down, allowing the actors to contact the audience.

In fiction, these terms relate to the storyteller’s relationship with the reader. Representational never addresses the reader. The narrator never expresses personal opinion, all focus is on events, and everything is presented through the viewpoint character.

First person is more presentational than third, omniscient viewpoint more presentational than limited. Readers will notice the narrator more. If I want readers emotionally involved with characters with minimal distraction, I would choose limited third.

Humorous stories require omniscient or first person for comic distance. Brevity covering time and space also requires omniscient. A sense of truth from an eyewitness account needs first person to feel factual, less fictional. None of these considerations applied to my current writing goals.

Limited third is clean, unobtrusive, and the writing can be more ignored by the reader. Omniscient viewpoint or first person, on the other hand, invite the writer to play with the language even as they can distract readers from the story.

Leaving the discussion of literary versus genre fiction for another time, suffice it to say that at this point in my writing effort, I’m most interested in telling a good story that entertains because I believe the majority of readers in my targeted audience want that. And for me, limited viewpoint and third person serve my purposes because the combination is the most common. As Card points out, It provides the flexibility of omniscient with the intensity of first person, doesn’t require the same mastery of language, seems more familiar and feels more natural to both writer and reader, and it is also the best reason for avoiding present tense. Past tense reads as happening in the present and appears invisible.

Another driving factor for choosing this strategy is my desire to tell stories from multiple viewpoints. I get to play more than one role with this approach. Weaving the scenes together presents an interesting challenge for me and offers readers the benefit of experiencing the tale up close and personal from more than one perspective.

So for now, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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