Saturday, January 7, 2012

Third-Person Omniscient

Technically speaking, any third-person style is omniscient (i.e. "knowing all," not limited to a single point of view), but I would like to make a distinction here between Third-Person Omniscient style without an explicit storyteller and Third-Person Storyteller style where there is an explicit storyteller who is not a character in the story itself (for the storyteller as a character in the story, see the First-Person style page). In this page, I will focus on the Third-Person Omniscient style and its many advantages compared to other styles of storytelling.

Sometimes writers are attracted to first-person style because they like the idea of writing in the voice of a specific character, and they assume that there is something "impersonal" about third-person style, that it is lacking in personal voice. That does not have to be the case at all! In fact, third-person style can contain the voices of ALL the characters, unlike a first-person story that is limited to a single voice. In a third-person style, characters can speak to one another in dialogue, and you can also share the thoughts and feelings of characters either directly in quoted thoughts or indirectly by describing their thoughts and feelings. As a result, there does not have to anything at all impersonal about third-person style; it's all up to you and what you want to do with the options it provides.

So, as you ponder the different third-person options, here are some specific styles to think about that can help you take an existing story and make it your own:

News Reporting. Okay, reporters are not omniscient (wouldn't it be great if they were?), but they do write in a third-person style which aspires to be omniscient. It's a great writing style for conveying the plot of a story while also bringing in the voices of different characters who are quoted in the story. See this page for more information about newspaper style.

Quests, Mysteries, and Adventures. Quests are one of the oldest story traditions in the world (the quest of Odysseus to get home, the quest of Gilgamesh for immortality, etc.). Mysteries, meanwhile, are one of the most popular storytelling genres today; you can think of mysteries as a quest for the criminal, a quest for the truth. You can also create a Storybook that tells a series of adventures that are set in motion by some dramatic starting event. See this page for more information about creating quests. mysteries and adventures.

Modernizing and Futurizing. With the power of storytelling, you can take ancient stories and pull them into the present, or you can even push stories into the future. This page gives you some tips on strategies for modernizing and futurizing traditional stories.

Time Travel. The time travel genre is another way in which you can use the power of your imagination to overcome the traditional limitations of time; see this page for some advice on writing time travel stories. Another possibility is the alternate history genre where you imagine how things would have turned out if history had gone in a different direction!

Postscripts and Prequels. Using the power of your imagination, you can easily extend a story into the past (the prequel) or into the future (the sequel), developing the plot and characters in completely new directions.

Twist the Ending. There's no magic rule that says the story has to end the way that it ends. You can use your own power of imagination to come up with a completely different ending: the fate of the characters is in your hands!

Magical Books and Manuscripts. One way to add to the power of a story is to show us that story as being part of some kind of magical book or manuscript, some long-lost tale that has just been rediscovered. You can even make the discovery of the book or manuscript into a frametale that wraps around the stories contained in the book itself.

Story and Settings. Sometimes the setting is actually the most important part of a story. By creating a special setting, you can then bring stories into that setting so that the separate stories are united by the setting:
  • stories set on the OU campus
  • stories set in a haunted house
  • stories set in a famous historical location

Poems and Songs. You are not just limited to prose when you write a story; you can also write in verse or use song lyrics.
  • you can tell an entire story in the form of a song
  • you can mix poetry and prose together to create a story
  • you can mix song lyrics and prose in the form of an album review

Mixed Genres. Stories do not have to stand alone; instead, stories can sometimes serve as a commentary on an image or on some other text:
  • show us a painting or sculpture of a mythological or legendary subject, and then tell the story that is depicted in that painting
  • start with a photograph of a geographical feature, and then tell us the myth that explains how that geographical feature came into being
  • start with a photograph of a historical monument, and then tell us the story behind the monument
  • give us a food recipe or a drink recipe, and then tell a story that is prompted by some ingredient in the recipe

For an example of a third-person Storybook that is about food and about a quest, and modernized too (this Storybook combines all kinds of techniques!), you can go food shopping with Sam, a modern-day Odysseus: Odysseus Goes Shopping.

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