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  • P.D. Dennison

POV and the Modern Fantasy Author

I'm writing this post because I'm confused about the recent trend in fantasy writing to steer away from 3rd Person Omniscient point of view from here on out referred to as POV.

I've read several articles and blog posts about how authors should choose any POV BUT 3rd Person Omniscient.

I see there are some good writers, and I mean really exceptional ones, like Mark Lawrence for example writing in first person. I tried this and got myself a short story published which you can read here. I like most of the story but still couldn't get away from writing the beginning and ending in 3rd Person Omniscient so that's truly the POV the story takes over all. My point is, using first person seems to be popular and if well executed, again referencing Mark Lawrence, it can really allow a reader inside the head of the main character which will from here on be referred to as the MC.

Let's first examine the various POVs and their definitions to create a point of reference for my further rants.

First Person Narrative:

The story is told from the point of view of one character at a time. One chapter per character is common with 1st Person Narrative. The entire book can also be from the POV of one character with the POVs of other characters being expressed through the use of written letters, journal entries, flash back, etc.

Here are some novels from this POV;

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Empire of Thorns Series- Mark Lawrence, The Hunger Games Series- Suzanne Collins

Second Person:

2nd Person POV uses the word, 'you,' to address another person. This can be confusing for the reader and so this POV is seldom used for longer works of fiction. It is not the only POV that can address you the reader, but we'll get to that shortly. Some authors use this POV for the author to directly address their younger self in a work of nonfiction for example.

Here are some novels from this POV;

If on a Winter's Night Traveller- Italo Calvino, The Fifth Season-N.K. Jemisin, The Night Circus-Erin Morgenstern

Third Person:

Is the most widely used and most flexible POV comes in two forms;

3rd Person Limited, where the author tells the story through only one character's POV. Background information about characters other than the MC, can't be shared unless the MC learns the information first. It's like scenes where the video camera follows a character as if the camera is placed over one of their shoulders and it follows them around. The reader gets to see and hear all that character does but doesn't have the thoughts and feelings of characters the camera hasn't caught.

Here are some novels from this POV;

The Harry Potter Series-J.K. Rowling, 1984-George Orwell, Cloud Atlas-David Mitchell, A Game of Thrones-George R.R. Martin

3rd Person Omniscient, where the author is a narrator telling the story from their POV but may also include the POV of one, or more characters in the story. In 3rd Person Omniscient anything goes. Its best to keep POV changes to a minimum so as not to confuse the reader and when a POV shift happens make it clearly discernible to the reader. Some of the greatest works of fiction of all time have been written in 3rd Person Omniscient.

3rd Person Omniscient was a common writing POV used in the 18th and 19th centuries where the author often addressed the reader directly for dramatic flare. It's uncommon and frowned upon to address the reader directly in this way in modern literature. I for one, cannot understand why. Some of our greatest books came out of the days of the 18th and 19th centuries and I miss the campy way the author would address me directly. Folks say it pulls you out of the scene, but I disagree. I think it brings the reader closer to the scene and makes them feel a part of the action as if they are right there watching the book unfold. A great modern use of this style of narration in modern times is Allan Moore in A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

In September of 2016 the NY Times wrote an article entitled, The Return of Omniscience, in which they state there is a trend to return to this style of writing after a brief period where the literary community had discouraged new authors from writing in this POV stating that it made them look amateurish. While it can definitely be challenging to write from this POV keeping track of whose POV is occurring when, it definitely makes for an infinitely better book if it's written and edited well.

The effects of 3rd Person omniscience are influence and range. What I mean here is that the author has the power to influence you as the reader into believing anything they want you to, or transversely withholding any piece of information they choose to keep you in suspense. Range, in that the amount of information you can feed to your reader is limitless. J.R.R. Tolkien comes to mind immediately.

This, in my opinion, is the best POV for telling a fantasy story from as it allows for expansive world building for your reader. Some might call this 'info dumping,' while others view it as intriguing information that helps to build in the reader's mind a more complete image of the fantasy world the author is trying to immerse the reader in.

Here are some novels from this POV;

The Hobbit-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings-J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Flies- William Godling, Little Women- Louisa May Alcott, Good Omens-Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Crazy Rich Asians- Kevin Kwan, A Wizard of Earthsea-Ursula K. Le Guin, Middlemarch- George Eliot.

As you can see some of the greatest works of fiction of all time fall into 3rd Person Omniscient POV, which is my chosen style to write my fantasy series Legends from the Land of Shaarn in. I chose this style because it allows me to tell the story through the eyes of the MC and the villain as well as many other sub main characters. Some might say that this style of writing gives away too much to the reader. I say, it only does so if what's to come is exactly as what's given away. I like to give away what seems to be a vital piece of information and then twist the likely outcome of that little tidbit in a way the reader doesn't expect. The reader may know what the villain plans next, but the reader isn't given any info on how the hero will actually foil that plan, or when the hero foils the plan it's in an unexpected way. I also do this in reverse where I have the narrator tell the reader the hero's plan for victory, but have the villain or a secondary villain do something that arrests those original thoughts into an unusual outcome.

I like to break POV. I like to change it frequently so the reader can see what the other characters are thinking right along with the MC. I TRY to do this with changes in paragraphs which I hope my editor can catch any instances where this didn't go according to plan. I reference Tolkien again as an author who is widely celebrated and breaks POV using 3rd Person Omniscient. I'm not comparing myself to Tolkien for quality of writing, but I I use him as a benchmark to say that if he can get away with it and his books are widely praised and even taught as part of the English language curriculum here in Canada, why can't another author do the same? Why? Because a handful would say that it's an easy way out and its amateurish. Thank goodness the opinions of others didn't sway Tolkien from writing what his heart felt, or we'd never have been given the entire fantasy genre.

I'm no master of words yet by any stretch of the imagination. I'm still working on getting my first novel in a series of five published and having a rough go with my editor at the moment, but I am a published author, fiction and non-fiction both, have a good grasp of the english language and have taken several university level classes in english, along with that I've read a lot of classic fantasy, classic horror and thrillers and I understand why those books written in 3rd Person omniscient became so popular. It was because these authors gave not only life but voice and reason to main and secondary characters to create a rich, immersive, almost god-like reading experience for their readers.

Until next time,


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