Updated: Jul 10
I read them all the time: stories where scenes disappear before my eyes, where the point of view is as slippery as a greased tadpole, where authors play hard to get with vital statistics. Stories that should be memoirs, and memoirs that should have been stories—not to mention stories built on the quicksand of cliché.
While there are seven deadly first-page sins I commonly encounter (which I detail at length in my book Your First Page), there is one that’s most deadly of all: default omniscience.
A story or a novel is as much about how it’s told—by means of what structure, through what voice or voices, from which viewpoint(s)—as about what happens. In fiction, means and ends are inseparable: method is substance. You may have all the ingredients—a plot, characters, dialogue, description, setting, conflict—but if they aren’t bound by a specific, consistent, and rigorously controlled viewpoint, you have nothing.