I love to read.
I’ve been a bookworm for most of my life. Lately, I’ve been catching up on fantasy novels. Makes sense, since I write fantasy, right? I need to have a good idea for what the genre can and can’t do. That’s the idea, anyway.
And hey, it’s a plan I enjoy. There are so many books in the genre I haven’t read–just at the library alone–I’m going to be at it for years. I’m having fun, and I’m learning a lot. Not just what the genre is capable of, but also what makes a good story.
Or a bad one.
Recently, I ran across one such book that, I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. Knowing that fantasy novels are often slow going, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. But the further I went, the more things I saw. Blame that on my years critiquing writers’ works in progress.
Granted, not all of them mistakes, either–just annoyances so glaring I couldn’t see past them. Things that could have been said or done better.
I can’t say whether or not this novel got better the further I got in. I didn’t finish it. But honestly, as a reader, I shouldn’t have to wait until half-way through the book in order for it to get interesting.
So, young writers, let me tell you what things I saw so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
Omniscient Point of View
Let me be straight with you. Writing in omniscient point of view is not wrong. It is just not popular at the moment.
Writing in this point of view gives writers a lot of different tools with which to tell a story, the number one being that the narrator (silent or not) is essentially God. You know everything about your story world and characters. You know what they are thinking and feeling, why they do things, and what they’re going to do. You know how the story is going to turn out, and what things are going to come next.
Done right, these tools can serve to enhance a story. Used wrong, and mistakes creep up. For example, head hopping and info dumping.
In first person or third person limited, it’s a big no-no to head hop. That means jumping from one point of view to another without warning. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t–it’s just advised you keep the number of heads low and switch point of views in such a fashion as to not confuse the readers.
This is not true for omniscient point of view. You are allowed to head hop whenever you want.
But the question every writer should ask themselves is, “is this confusing to the readers?” If it is, fix it. You don’t want readers to chase readers out of your story.
If you’re writing in omniscient and you’re going to head hop, be mindful of your readers.
Info dumping is the dumping of large amounts of information all at once.
This is a no-no, no matter what point of view you write. Unfortunately, omniscient point of view makes it so easy to info dump. After all, the narrator knows everything. And this little bit of information–about backstory, setting, or how-this-is-done–is so convenient. Let’s just put it here. And thus your reader is left reading five pages about how such and such city got established.
Now, information and explaining things to readers has its place. Sometimes it’s necessary to forward the plot. Just be careful how much you put in and how you do it. Too much and it’s boring. Not enough and your readers get confused.
To be fair, the author of this book tried not to info dump. He tried to limit it, or weave it in through narration. But I still saw it, and it was still annoying.
Passive and Telling
Hopefully, if you’re a writer, you’ve heard it’s better to show and not tell. This means it’s better to show what happens and not tell what happens. You’ve also heard it’s better to write using an active voice and not passive.
These mistakes have nothing to do with point of view and everything to do with lazy writing. I’ve notice that telling what happens and writing in passive voice often go hand-in-hand. Not always, mind you, but they do. And it leads to boring writing .
I’ll do a quick example of both, but if you want more information on telling and showing, or passive and active writing, there are plenty of places with more, better explanations than me.
Passive: The ships were launched from the docks.
Active: The ships sailed into the sunrise, leaving the docks far behind.
See how much more interesting that second one was than the first?
Telling: Adam saw the saw blades fly through the air and felt fear grip him.
Showing: The industrial mill exploded, flinging circular saw blades into the air straight toward Adam. Icy fear froze his limbs. Move! He shouted at himself, but it did no good. He stood like a frozen statue as the storm of debris overtook him.
Both these examples are written in active voice, but in the first, the writer tells us what Adam sees and feels instead of allowing the reader to experience it for himself. This not only puts you reader deeper into your character’s psyche, it allows for more detailed and expansive story telling–without the necessity of info dumping.
Really, when it comes right down to it, you want to write a story so gripping that readers won’t want to put it down. If what you’ve written doesn’t do that, you’ve failed.
But don’t despair. Keep practicing and keep learning. You’ll get better. Avoid these mistakes, and hopefully your readers won’t abandon your book–no matter what point of view it’s written in.