Wednesday, January 30, 2008

omniscient narrator


I want to organize a few thoughts for a new short story, and reflect on points made by Jenny Dunning in her article "Reconsidering Omniscience in Contemporary Fiction Writing," published in The Writer's Chronicle, Feb. 2008. Most of my writing has been in first person or third person limited point of view, which is perhaps typical in contemporary fiction. Now, I'm interested in experimenting a bit more with a stronger, omniscient narrator.

As Dunning states in her article, all third person stories implicitly have narrators, but many contemporary stories veil this fact by employing third person narration in which diction and syntax belong to the character. The veiling of a narrator voice is most pronounced in "free indirect discourse," which takes place as the narrative's psychic distance to the character's consciousness falls away. It's an effective storytelling technique, but narration that moves between an overt narrator and character consciousness, or one that employs a degree of such omniscience, can also be a powerful strategy, Dunning says. The trick with omniscience is to use it with subtlety, to know when and how to tell. She uses a good example by Flaubert. Dunning also feels there's a difference when we locate a story as the character's story when it is actually the narrator's story; it affects the reader's understanding of the story.

I'll need to keep in mind the following points for the omniscient story. When the narrator speaks, s/he "tells"—but not in such a way as to close down the reader's involvement in the story. Also, I want to consider how the story might originate in the narrator, a storyteller who knows more than the characters, and who attempts to discover something about human existence in the telling of the story.

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