Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The omniscient narrator

Tim Martin profiles Neil Gaiman at the Independent:

On the process of writing, meanwhile, he is clear, inclusive and infinitely courteous. "I remember when I was about seven," he says, "reading C S Lewis's Narnia books and discovering the concept of the parenthetical aside to the reader from the omniscient author. And going, I want to do that. I thought, wow - look, you can chat directly to the reader! You're God!"

Gaiman's blog, a Web tool of frightening power inspected daily by a devoted readership, expounds his resolutely clear-headed attitude to the process of creation. "I think writing is the coolest thing you can do," he now says, "and I think it's a craft. I think being a writer is magical, and it's like being someone who can make a table. I don't think those two things are contradictory, but I think you do people - especially people who want to be writers - no favours if you lead them to believe that what you do is unattainable. The writing that helped me become a writer was people like Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock occasionally: these guys who would write about the nuts and bolts of becoming a writer, and let me understand that I could do that: all I had to do was write a really good short story."


When I was little I read the Narnia books again and again (as I have said before, one of the things I find coolest in the world is that my dissertation supervisor Claude Rawson was a student of C. S. Lewis--I am the student of the student of C. S. Lewis!), and aside from the other things I loved about them it was true that the striking idiosyncrasies of the narrative voice were extraordinarily different from the other books I had read and loved to date--those amazing moments of direct address...

One of the things I love about teaching a semester-long seminar on Austen is that each time I do it I find myself obsessed with a new theme. I've always been fascinated by the relationship between first- and third-person voices, it's not that I don't always think about that when I teach Austen, but this time round it's a complete obsession; I think that drafting and revising (multiply) Dynamite No. 1, which is written in a third-person limited voice, gave me an entirely new perspective on the set of questions raised by voice and point of view, and that it opened my eyes to all sorts of other distinctive features of Austen's narrators.

I have often and loudly been saying that my affinities are all with first-person or third-person limited point-of-view, and that I will never write a multiple-plot omnisciently-narrated novel, but I am wondering if I have perhaps begun to protest too much: in the end it's a difficult challenge to refuse, eh?!?

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