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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Dune and omniscient pov

   
Author Topic: Dune and omniscient pov
jcavonpark
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Herbert is considered the father of modern science fiction because he took complex concepts such as religion, politics, family drama, and plenty of other real world scenarios and molded them together to form an epic tale of a new world Messiah figure, hiding it behind the viel of a science fiction novel. He supposedly did this because it would be difficult to express so many complex scenarios and ideas into a modern day story. It's an intriguing premise and I admire the author's scope, but there's just one thing I can't get over when I try to read the book...

That annoying omniscient narrator who likes to tell the reader the thoughts of different characters, even in the same paragraph. I just can't get used to it.

How do you guys feel about this? Is it a viable way to tell a story effectively? Do you feel like Dune could have been better off if he had stuck to just one perspective, possibly switching perspectives between chapters rather than within the same paragraph? Or do you think it's fine the way it is?

I'll chime in with my detailed thoughts in a bit. Right now I'm just interested in seeing if anyone else noticed this and if they were as annoyed as I was.


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Robert Nowall
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I remember thinking when I first read Dune that it was extremely annoying to jump into the heads of characters within the same scene and write what they're thinking---this well before I became a writer and learned of writerly things. It's perhaps this above all that keeps Dune out of my "favorite" works, or even my "influential" works.
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redux
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I think you can just chalk it up to authorial style and publishing trends. If you take a look at science fiction/fantasy books published in the 60s you will notice that many of them are told in an omniscient PoV. Now limited third person is the preferred style.


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Wonderbus
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I read Dune for the first time years ago and still consider it one of my top 5 favourite books of all time.

Since I started writing I tried to read one of Conn Iggulden's Caeser books and found it completely unbearable because of the omniscient POV.


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JohnColgrove
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I personally loved the omniscient pov
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Robert Nowall
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I think the omniscient narration was fine...I'm sure I've used it myself, somewhere or other...it was the jumping from one character's head to another in the same scene that irritated me.
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Noctua
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It irritated me too but I read it and loved it anyway.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It's been ages since I read DUNE (even since I reread it, for that matter), and I don't remember even noticing the omniscient POV.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the story, or the reader, or the writing style, or all kinds of things. It worked for me then. I may have to reread it again to see if it will work for me now.


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Matt.Simpson01
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The thing that makes the Dune series such a hard read to me is all the little subplots going on at the same time. Every single character has their own little wishes that they want to fulfill no matter what. I've read all of the Dune books, including the ones by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson. They all are written in the same style, and sometimes stuff doesn't make sense until you read the next book in the order.
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LDWriter2
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As I understand it the omniscient narrator used to be more popular so it isn't just "Dune". But readers have supposedly turned from ON. It was and may still be my default writing POV. I had to force myself not to write in it because I was told by various sources not to. I think one reason it is my default style is that I have read so many books with it. Another reason is that it is easier to write in. I still would like to.

As to Dune; I liked the book even though it isn't my favorite. So the omniscient narrator did not bother me, as I implied, I was used to that narrator by the time I read Dune.


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JohnColgrove
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quote:
I had to force myself not to write in it because I was told by various sources not to.

The same thing happened to me. I love writing in the omniscient pov but I was strongly encouraged to do otherwise. When I get my first book out there and get more of a fan base going, I'll experiment with it. For now, I'll stick with third (I do believe that's what I use...heck I don't remember anymore haha)

[This message has been edited by JohnColgrove (edited May 20, 2011).]


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jcavonpark
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It is definitely frowned upon nowadays. I used to write in it when I was 16 (that was 11 years ago! Ugh!), but quickly learned to stop. I think it is probably more difficult to write a first third person narrative (is that what it's called?) where the narrator focuses on a single character. I think it's also more effective.

If you think about it, when you focus on a single character, you are giving more time and space for that character than you otherwise would. The reader is forced into their shoes, taking on their personality and learning more about what makes that character tick. If you have a lot of different internal voices going on at once, it no longer becomes personal. Think about Achilles (sp?) in the Bean series. Remember that chapter where we watched through Achilles eyes? How awesome was that? Now imagine the scene through BOTH Bean and Achilles' eyes. Somehow, I doubt it would be as effective. But that's my own opinion, and I could certainly be wrong.

I found Dune to be a great concept and a great story, but the narration destroyed it for me. Call it my years of experience reading a different kind of narrative. Oh well, maybe I can force myself to read through the whole thing. I've tried twice already...what's a third time? lol


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tripper
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I honestly can't remember when I read Dune last, but I remember it wasn't my favorite, probably due to the confusing nature of the story. I think I need to pick it up again and take a more critical look at it.

Kind of on topic, would you all consider Wheel of Time omniscient? He switches quite a bit, telling us what several different characters are thinking, but there are always obvious chapter/page breaks to make it obvious. It helps that it is usually a change of setting as well. Is this a case where ON works? I can't decide if instead we are dealing with multiple MCs; I'm about 70 pages into book 4, and we haven't even encountered Rand and his thoughts yet.


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Wordcaster
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I remember someone writing that the one advantage novels have over film is a limited viewpoint. It increases dramatic tension (can't read the thoughts of the antagoinist) and it creates a stronger bond between the reader and the viewpoint character.

While a fantastic novel, I think Dune falls short by today's standards. I commented a few weeks ago with a similar comment and was shot down.

Likewise, I could also say Ben Hur (the film) falls short by today's standards. The expectation is just different.

But I am not a classical sci fi fan. I could take or leave Heinlein any day.


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jcavonpark
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I agree with most of what you said Wordcaster. I'll take scifi post 1980 over the classic stuff any day of the week. It's just easier to get into for me.

Tripper, I wouldn't consider WoT omniscient. It has breaks between character POVs. Dune actually tells you the thoughts of two characters in the same paragraph. Give it another read and you'll see how big the difference is.


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redux
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@jcavonpark
quote:
I'll take scifi post 1980 over the classic stuff any day of the week.

Have you read any Bester? Heinlein? Burgess? Le Guin?

Or you simply didn't like their storytelling style?


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Robert Nowall
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I was afraid of that...the SF I liked to read is now on the other side of the generation gap...you younger types have grown up with a different frame-of-reference...
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jcavonpark
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quote:
Have you read any Bester? Heinlein? Burgess? Le Guin?

Or you simply didn't like their storytelling style?


I don't care for Asimov simply because he switches characters in his stories like socks. His stories are history books, and I don't care for that. Heilein is good, but he's not that great. He was way too into the incest stuff for my tastes (although Stranger in a Strange Land was pretty cool). Never read Burgess or Le Guin or Bester. Arthur C. Clarke is probably my favorite author of the big three, mostly because of his short stories. He had a wild imagination and could tell an amazing story in less than two pages (better than anyone else I've ever seen).

Still, my favorite books all came out in the 80's. I don't know why that is, but it's just how it happened. :P


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Wordcaster
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I really wanted to like Asimov and Heinlein, but they both bore me entirely.

On the other hand, Burgess, O Butler, PK Dick and LeGuin are right up my alley.

Never heard of Bester... will look up on amazon.


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jcavonpark
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I forgot about PK Dick. I've been meaning to read something of his, but I haven't decided what to start with...
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TMR Beste
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"Dune" was one of my favorite novels and a great inspiration. But It's funny, I don't remember the Omniscient POV. I wasn't paying attention for this kind of writing detail when I read this trilogy back in high school. I do remember the terrible movie that came out and now I realize they probably had a difficult time translating a book onto the big screen that mostly happened in people's heads.

If I remember correctly, the Omniscient POV may have been necessary because they could read each other's minds. How else could one depict that in writing?


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TMR Beste
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My ADD. To answer your original question, i usually despise Omniscient POV and when I run across anything written this way, I have to put those books down, after a deep shiver of disgust and a gag. I notice that many classics are written this way.

But as I said above, F Herbert may have used this technique out of necessity because the characters required it. I think they could speak to each other in their minds-not entirely sure about that. My memory is rusty.

I am not sure if FH might have done a better job writing this in third person for the reason listed above. I would have to read the book again. Obviously, his approach seemed to work for him then.


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LDWriter2
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quote:

I really wanted to like Asimov and Heinlein, but they both bore me entirely.


I was thinking of this the other day at work... while working odd thoughts sometimes come to mind as well as story ideas. I can't say if this fits you but I would think that Asimov turns off some readers because he doesn't have that much physical action. His conflict seems to be more the mental type.

His fusion stories drawing together detective and SF are great, if you like mysteries in any genre. For me his writing carried me through any spots I might have found boring.


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