Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Viewpoint - What it is and how to use it

Viewpoint - This is the point of view from which the story is told. Some people intuitively understand how to do this and others don’t. If you don't, there's no reason to panic. Anything can be learned. With the exception of flying like Superman. I don't recommend that. But writing from different perspectives? Totally do-able. Here are a few examples.

Omniscient viewpoint

While Jane dreamed of Luis, Shawn was back at the university looking for his secret stash of marijuana. - From Necromancer by Tracey H. Kitts

When writing in omniscient viewpoint, the author can go from character to character. Omniscient viewpoint was popular among 19th century writers and is often associated with literary fiction. You can go into the minds of any or all of the characters if you choose to. It’s not often used in modern fiction because the style is normally slow and doesn’t aid in reader identification with the characters. However, if done properly it can be very effective.

First person

I was looking forward to the end of another hot, miserable summer night as I drove home that evening. Hopefully, the local police would be able to cover up the night’s work without too much difficulty. God forbid they should be inconvenienced. I was only called out at eleven thirty at night to hunt down a rouge werewolf, but hey, why should anyone else lose sleep? - From Red, Lilith Mercury Werewolf Hunter, Book One

First person is a limited viewpoint. The story is described through the eyes of the main character. This has the advantage of encouraging readers to identify with the character concerned, and become emotionally involved in the story. It also helps create atmosphere and suspense.

In first person viewpoint, readers are shown the thoughts and feelings of the “I” character, and nobody else’s. There also can’t be any narration by the author.

First person is very good at getting the reader to identify with the character. It’s also good for humor and irony. One of the drawbacks, however, is that you can only show events which directly involve one character. This might limit some of your plot ideas.

Another drawback is that a single narrative voice could get old by the end of a long novel. But, good writers can do this and pull it off.

First person is becoming increasingly popular in modern fiction.

Third person limited

This is probably the most commonly used point of view. Harry Potter was told from this perspective. No one is referred to as “I” everyone is either “he” or “she.” The writer has greater flexibility with this style. You can skip from a scene in New York to one in Florida. However, every scene is still shown from the perspective of a viewpoint character.

Multiple viewpoints

This is a variation of limited viewpoint. In a multiple viewpoint story, each scene is still shown from a limited viewpoint – usually third person. Different chapters and sometimes scenes use different viewpoint characters.

If you use this approach, you will have to work hard to ensure that regular viewpoint changes don’t cause readers to lose interest. Also, look out for accidental "head popping." No, that's not a kung-fu move. It's when a writer switches too quickly from one character's thoughts to the next. When I say quickly, I mean from one sentence to the next, without warning. There are many examples of this online if you really want to look for it. However, as you read over your story, head popping can be easy to spot. When you suddenly don't know who's telling the story (whose viewpoint you are using) then you've most likely head popped.

Now is the time to decide which viewpoint you want to use in your novel and use it consistently in every scene.

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