On Point of View

I’ve been tossing around different ideas lately having to do with point of view. To put a finer point on it, I’ve been trying to figure out if there are any examples in successful literature of something that I can only think to call “first-person omniscient” storytelling. The idea that one person is telling a story, but that person is privy to (and therefore able to relate) conversations and situations that occur outside of his or her presence. All the fiction classes I’ve taken have been very strict about adhering to the “rules” of fiction writing, while also occasionally mentioning that there probably aren’t really any hard and fast rules. (But to those who venture outside of the norm — you’ve been warned!)

My idea is that a narrator is relating a tale of her past. As a result, she knows much more about what happened than she would were she telling a story in the present tense. I’ve found lots of discussions around the web that suggest that there is no such thing as a first person omniscient narrator except in very specific situations. These can include:

  • A supernatural narrator (The Book Thief – where the narrator is CAPITAL D Death, The Lovely Bones – where the narrator is a ghost)
  • God (don’t have an example for this one…)

And as far as I can tell, that’s pretty much it for ways to stay inside the confines of traditional rules and still have a first person narrator describe things that she doesn’t actually see for herself.

But then I found a ridiculously smart essay written by David Jauss. You can read the essay titled “From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance & Point of View in Fiction Writing” here. Jauss proposes that using “person” to categorize narrative technique is limiting in itself and not very useful. Instead, he suggests that we use technique. In his words:

In my opinion, classifying works of fiction according to their person tells us virtually nothing about either the specific works or point of view in general. As Booth has said, “(W)e can hardly expect to find useful criteria in a distinction that would throw all fiction into two, or at most three, heaps. To say that a story is told in the first or the third person. will tell us nothing of importance unless we describe how the particular qualities of the narrators relate to specific desired effects.” In other words, we need to focus on the techniques a narrator uses, not his person. And as Booth has pointed out, all narrative techniques are available to all narrators, regardless of person. For example, first- and third-person narrators can, and do, tell us the thoughts and feelings of other characters.

He goes on to say:

In short, despite what the textbooks tell us, the technique of omniscience is not the sole property of third-person narrators. The only difference between first- and third-person omniscience (and it can of course be a crucial difference) is not in the narrator’s technique but in the reader’s response: we never question the truth of a third-person narrator’s statement, but sometimes we do question a first-person narrator’s statement.

Jauss points out that this technique is used in some classic literature often held up for others to learn from and admire:

  • The Great Gatsby (Nick Carraway describes this story using exactly the technique I was considering – a past tense retelling. He goes a step further, describing feelings of other characters.)
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Madame Bovary

What do you think?

An Inspirational Story

I’d heard that good things come to those who wait. But that might not always be the case. It’s been a long weekend. Pbtht. And that is all I’m going to say about that.

The fact that it is snowing is doing little to improve my dull brown miserable mood. The fact that I’m working double hours this week to make up for taking last week off because my little guy’s preschool took spring break (not during the same week that my elementary student has break, mind you)? That’s doing even less for me.

So I thought it might be best not to write about me today. I want to write about someone else. Someone who I like more and more as I get to “know” him better. I want to write about a humble and talented writer named Hugh Howey. If you follow self-publishing at all, and assuming that you haven’t been under a rock, you have likely heard of him. He wrote the increasingly popular serialized “omnibus” Wool. This book – available altogether on Amazon – is actually five parts to one story. And Howey’s rise to fame began with the first one. A 12,000 word short story, or novelette, which he published on Amazon. He published subsequent versions to appease his fans, and ended up with the Wool Omnibus.

He also ended up selling foreign rights and finding himself in talks with some of Hollywood’s biggest names to produce his post-apocalyptic story. I’ve read only the first one myself, and am hungrily beginning the second now. And I’m smitten — mostly because Howey is a fantastic writer. This is no sci-fi Shades of Grey. The writing is beautiful.

Anyway, there have been lots of other things written about Howey. This article is from Huffington Post is my favorite.

I’ll leave you with this today… keep the faith, writers. The world is full of possibilities. Go outside yourselves – don’t believe everything you see through the windows. (if you’ve read Wool, this might make sense. Or it might seem like I’m telling you to die. I’ll have to read more to understand the full implications of what I’ve just said.)

Always Waiting

So, as usual, I find myself waiting for some things to happen. And this is the clear difference between self publishing and working with a publisher — even an indie publisher. A lot of things are out of my control. That could actually be a good thing. I benefit from the wisdom of those who produce books for a living (rather than from my own experience of having read a hell of a lot about it and actually done it once). But as a person who has, on occasion, been described as a control freak, this is hard. I wait for edits to be requested, I wait for feedback on revisions. I wait for the day the cover is revealed to the world, I wait for the book to hit Goodreads so I can start actually promoting it (no, not yet.) And in the midst of feeling like something so important to me is so far out of my control, I realized something: It doesn’t help to worry about this.

Instead, it’s time to focus on the things that I CAN control. (Yeah, I’m forty, and I have learned this lesson HOW Many times??? Shut up.) And those things include: trying to be a nice person so my whole family doesn’t hate me. (when I’m stressed about things that are out of my control, I have a habit of being just the teensiest bit tough to live with. Ahem.); WRITING — it’s easy to get wrapped up in focusing on the thing that is almost done, instead of on the thing that I’m meant to do. And I’ve got lots of half-done and in-progress things to keep me busy.

I’ll be honest here, too… the contract aspect of publishing is stressful. There’s been a lot of back and forth on that, and we’re still agreeing and disagreeing on things, though it will work out fine. But until the thing is signed, I don’t know exactly what limits may or may not be placed on the other things I’m working on and where they might be able to go. But again – out of my control to some degree. I have to trust the agent to listen to my concerns and work with the publisher for the best deal.

And in the meantime, I feel like Through a Dusty Window is just kind of hanging out there… there’s a blog tour for that book coming up in a couple weeks, so it’s time to focus on that again for a while. So that’s what I’ll be up to this week. What are you doing?

A Review of The Ninja

As an author who self-published a book of short stories on Amazon, I spend a good amount of time trying to solicit honest reviews of my work (reviews on Amazon help sell books on Amazon, as you know…) Anyway, since it is often kind of a struggle, because – let’s face it – we’re all busy, it’s so nice to receive a review that comes completely as a surprise.

Christopher T. Garry, a new writer that I’ve just discovered (mostly because, I guess, he discovered me – thanks, Christopher!), reviewed my recently published story, “The Ninja,” on his blog. You can find his review here!

The piece is up on Bartleby Snopes now, if you’d like to check it out!

Cover Reveal for Men and Martinis!

I cannot tell you how excited I am about the cover for Men and Martinis being revealed!!! This is the first book in my novella series for Swoon Romance, Girlfriends of Gotham.

It’s a New Adult series about six girlfriends living in Manhattan in the late nineties, during the dot-com bubble. Check out the tease for book one:

Candace Kanie wins at every game she plays. From the boardroom to the bar, she’s confident, clever, perhaps just a tad overbearing. It’s not easy for a girl like Candace to admit that love may be the one game she can’t win…at least not until she’s willing to change her strategy. In Of Men and Martinis, Candace Kanie will learn that sometimes to be at the top of your game, you have to hit rock bottom.

You can be among the first to see it, if you join me for a chat on Swoon Romance’s Facebook page: Thursday, March 14th at 9pm ET (yes! That’s tomorrow!)

Here’s a link to the page.

Will you join us? There will be two other announcements in addition to my cover reveal, and the chance to win some awesome prizes!