Learning viewpoint is crucial

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Viewpoint is at the center of how fiction works. The primary viewpoint character is the focus of the plot's action and meaning. Every book should have a clearly dominant primary viewpoint character and it will be your protagonist.

Viewpoint is at the center of how fiction works. When it comes to the proper viewpoint in your novel, you want to keep things as easy as possible. The primary viewpoint character is the focus of the plot's action and meaning.

Every book should have a clearly dominant primary viewpoint character and it will be your protagonist.

Your novel should be told from a viewpoint inside the action. If the description is colored by the viewpoint of the protagonist who is doing the noticing, it becomes part of character definition and part of the action.

Your protagonist is the one who has the most at risk, the one who will be changed most by the story. The protagonist is also the one whose struggle toward a goal is the energy driving the story. They must solve the problems of the story, and they will be actively involved in the plot.

How do you establish viewpoint?

You establish the viewpoint of the protagonist by forcing your own imagination to see everything from the protagonist’s viewpoint.

Here, from my book Revenge in Reno, is how you let readers know who the viewpoint character is.

Veronica walked up the wheelchair ramp to her neighbor's porch and knocked on the aluminum door. She gazed at the Truckee River flowing through the center of downtown Reno. The drought had left the river much lower than usual and it saddened her.

Once I wrote, “she gazed at,” readers know all that follows is what Veronica sees, knows or thinks.

A beginning writer of fiction may write stuff, which has no viewpoint, like this:

"Veronica stood on the hill. Down below, a crowd was...."

"It was quiet. Then a sound..."

"Something crawled across Veronica's hand..."

An experienced novelist will take the situations and rewrite them to make it clear where the viewpoint lies.

"Looking down the hillside, Veronica saw the crowd..."

"In the dark, quiet room, Veronica heard a sound..."

"Veronica felt something crawl across her hand..."

How else do we show viewpoint? By telling things, only the viewpoint character could know.

•Sense impressions, like the protagonist, hearing a sound and feeling something crawl across her hand.

•Thoughts, like "Veronica wondered if Chuck was stupid all the time or only in front of women."

•Emotions, like "Veronica, felt as cold and isolated as an only child."

•Intentions, like "Veronica, had to find out where the killer had left the postcard; it was the only clue usable in court."

The viewpoint character cannot see their own face. If someone is sneaking up behind them, they can't see the person. The protagonist cannot know what is going on inside anyone else's mind. The best they can do is guess. Which, by the way, is the way we do it in real life.

Consider this. If you and I talk, there is no way for you to read my mind. Only I know what I'm thinking. You may say, "I can look at a person and know exactly what she is feeling." Not true. You can only guess. When you see a woman crying, you can only observe the superficial clues and draw a conclusion about her emotional state. You do not know. The only possible way readers can know a character’s thoughts are if we are in that character’s viewpoint.

The most popular narrator is several people.

Third Person Limited Multiple (3PLM) is the viewpoint used by most 21st Century novelists no matter what the genre because there are so many advantages. With 3PLM viewpoint, we discover more characters through their own responses. The characters can be viewed in different places at the same time. Chances for cliffhangers are easy to create. It also makes the novel more exciting.

The use of 3PLM viewpoint has these benefits:  Provides relief and variety for readers and helps you sustain their interest. Enables you to communicate more emotion to readers because they can vicariously live the role of each different narrator. Gives you greater scope in characterizing the narrators themselves and other characters as well, through the five senses of the narrators.  The major advantage 3PLM viewpoint has over first-person is the mobility of the writer's focus.

In first person singular and third person singular, any knowledge of other characters can only come from the protagonist. They can reveal what is happening only within their own vision, and can only assume what is happening to others beyond their vision.

With 3PLM viewpoint, the novel can develop greater variety through other fully developed characters. Multiple viewpoint moves with versatility into a greater range of character. When it comes to creating suspense, and providing cliffhangers and enriching the plot, multiple viewpoint is much more suitable.

Readers can be places the protagonist is not, and they can even overhear the antagonist plot their evil deeds. Readers can be allowed to know things the protagonist cannot know. It opens up your novel to adventures and intrigue. Even in a romance, readers can hear what the hot guy tells his friends about the protagonist girl.

In my first six books, most chapters were told from Veronica's viewpoint, in third-person, past tense, limited omniscience. However, I went to other characters' viewpoints when it served my purposes.

For example, I wrote the first two pages of Kill Cue, from the viewpoint of the guy being killed. Readers were able to be witnesses to the murder, which drives the plot.

I switched to Veronica’s viewpoint for the rest of the chapter and for all of Chapter 2. However, in the last scene of Chapter 5, I switched to the killer’s viewpoint like this:

He watched them walk along the concrete railing toward City Pier. Veronica and Glenn were both wearing blue and he was carrying a pink stuffed toy. Glenn was the target today. He would never get a chance to testify.

Be aware, when writing in 3PLM viewpoint, you can change viewpoints only if you change scenes or, better yet, change to a new chapter.

                                         [Repeating.]

Within a chapter or at the least a scene, you should stick with just one viewpoint. No switching viewpoints within a scene. They call that head-hopping.

In the first chapter of Option To Die, a body is discovered. Naturally, since Veronica can't know about it yet, I move to another character's viewpoint.

Here's how it worked.

Quentin Reese walked along Bay Isles Road on Longboat Key, a narrow but exclusive community between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, trying to keep pace with the music in the tiny earphones plugged into the cassette tape player on his waistband. Up ahead, he saw a lump of something.

(A few moments later, he encounters a dead body on the ground. That was his job in the story. He does not appear again.)

That’s one reason I recommend the third person limited multiple viewpoint (3PLM). It makes the book far more interesting to readers when they can see someone find the body or hear the antagonist’s plot his evil plans and be places that the protagonist cannot be.

Please don't do what my wife, ex-Los Angeles English teacher, Lori Crews, and Senior Editor of Petersen Press, calls Head Hopping.

Here's an example:

•Dennis Moss stood outside the small frame house holding his three iron and eyeing the golf ball. This time, he thought, (V1) I will hit it to the tree with one stroke.

•Diane McCarthy, standing at her window in the living room, wondered (V2) what Dennis was doing.

•Dennis glanced (V1 again) at his watch. Where was Mike? Mike was supposed to join him for this game of golf on the lawn. What had happened to Ernie?

•Mike was upstairs. He had finally persuaded (V3) the college girls to come up to his room, and now he had to do some fast-talking to impress the young ladies.

•Ernie Wallace was waist deep (V4) in a vat of chocolate syrup. The plant had closed for the weekend and there was no one to hear his cries for help.

•Cameron, the night watchman, was just outside (V5) the warehouse, but Ernie didn't know that. (V4 again)

Do you see what's happening here? Readers have been yanked around from one mind to another. Seven times!

Here’s how it should be done:

•Dennis Moss stood outside the small frame house holding his three iron and eyeing the golf ball. This time, he thought, I will hit it to the tree with one stroke. Dennis glanced (V1 again) at his watch. Where was Mike? Mike was supposed to join him for this game of golf on the lawn. What had happened to Ernie?

* * *       (signaling a scene change)

•Ernie Wallace was waist deep (V2) in a vat of chocolate syrup. The plant had closed for the weekend and there was no one to hear his cries for help. He yelled “I’m in the vat of chocolate syrup!” He hoped Cameron, the night watchman, might still be around.

That’s what happens when you head-hop.

Readers get settled in, involved in a scene from a particular viewpoint and suddenly are made to look at it from another direction altogether.

It's as if you took readers to a movie and as soon as they got comfortable you said,

"Let's sit over there," then when they were comfortable over there, you said,

"Hey, there are some great seats up in the back."

It’ll be your last group date.

Head-hopping makes it difficult for readers to identify with your characters and believe your fiction. Try to keep readers in one place as much as possible, and when you do move them, do it smoothly, for good reasons.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0189VGK32

 

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