Dont Fail to Make the Viewpoint Clear

Let's suppose you're writing a story about bob, and you have decided that he is the viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be?

The first thing you must do is imagine the story as it would seem to Bob, and only to him. Here you really get to exercise your imagination.

As you write the story, you the writer must become Bob. You see what he sees, and nothing more. You know what he knows, and nothing more. You hear only what he hears, feel only the emotions he feels, plan only what he can plan, and so on. When you start a scene in which Bob walks into a large room, for example, you do not imagine how the room looks from some god-like authorial stance high above the room, or as a television camera might see it; you see it only as Bob sees it, coming in... perhaps first being aware only of the light from the far windows glaring in his face, then noticing how warm the air is, then becoming aware of the blurry sea of faces in the audience, then detecting an interior nudge of apprehension, then thinking, "I'll convince these people that my opinion is right. "

If you'll stop to ponder it a moment, you'll see that this imaginative linking with your viewpoint character not only makes the story more like real life, but also makes your creative task somewhat easier. You don't have to know what Sally in the back room is seeing or thinking. All that kind of complication is out of Bob's awareness, and therefore out of the story. All you have to do is track along with Bob, and make his experience of the scene as vivid and meaningful as you can.

Having once gotten yourself thoroughly into Bob's viewpoint, however, you need to go a bit further in terms of technique. You need to keep reminding your readers who the viewpoint character is.

To that end, you constantly use grammatical constructions that emphasize Bob's seeing, hearing, thinking, etc.

For example, you would not write something like, "The meeting room for the speech was stuffy". Instead, you would phrase the statement to emphasize that it's Bob's awareness: "Bob felt the stuffy heat of the room close around him and knew he had to make a good speech to hold this audience".

By using clauses like "Bob felt" and words like "knew", the writer is showing unequivocally that we are in Bob's viewpoint. Only Bob can know how he feels. Only Bob can know for certain what he is seeing or noticing at that moment. This leads to reader identification with Bob, which is vital if the reader is to have a sense of focus.

Notice, too, that by establishing a relationship between the environment (the hot, crowded room) and the viewpoint (Bob), the professional writer goes on to set up a cause-effect relationship between the outside world from Bob's viewpoint and his interior, feeling-thinking life. Bob goes in, makes some observations, and as a result realizes he has to make the speech of his life. Thus the setting isn't just a static thing being examined for no reason; it has importance; it affects how Bob is feeling; as a result, he is going to act somewhat differently.

This movement, from outside the viewpoint character to inside that same character, is at the heart of moment-to-moment motivation in fiction. It is also a very powerful characterization device. You the writer can show the outside world from a viewpoint; then, by relating that outside view to some internal reaction inside your character-which only your character can possibly know-you can share your first little secret with the reader as to what kind of a person this viewpoint character really is.

Does that make sense? Look at it this way: What if Bob's internal response, above, had been to feel amused? Abused? Frightened? Justified? Arrogant? In each case, this single shown response would change his characterization.

By picking a viewpoint and emphasizing it constantly, in other words, you do more than usefully limit your authorial problems, and you accomplish more even than making the story lifelike... and building sympathy for the viewpoint character. In addition to these benefits, you give yourself another powerful tool for showing your readers who and what your viewpoint character really is... in his heart of hearts, in that secret place within himself where there can be no lies or deception.

Of course the converse of what we've just been talking about is also true. You must not only establish and reiterate the viewpoint constantly with the proper kinds of constructions, but you must also make sure that nothing slips into your copy by accident that might lead the reader to assume the viewpoint has moved anywhere else.

If Bob is still your viewpoint character, for example, but you want to show that his boss, Max, is worried about the speech Bob is about to give, you cannot throw in a sentence like, "Max was worried about the speech. " That construction implies that we are momentarily in Max's viewpoint.

How do we get around the problem? Two possibilities come immediately to mind:

"As he walked to the podium, Bob remembered how worried Max had said he was about the speech. "

"Walking to the podium, Bob glanced at Max and saw the worried frown on his face. "

In either case, we've conveyed the information about Max's worry without risk of losing our reader's sense of where the viewpoint is.

You would do well, I think, to test yourself on how you handle viewpoint, since it's such a vital technique in fiction. Here's one way you can do it.

Select a few pages of your own fiction copy. Then go through it with colored pencils and mark it up as follows:

Underline the name of your viewpoint character in red.

Underline in red every statement that clearly defines that character's viewpoint ("He saw", "she heard", "he thought", "she felt", "he intended" and the like).

Look for any intended or accidental statements establishing any other viewpoint. If you find a second viewpoint, underline that character's name in green, and then underline in the same color all the words that establish his viewpoint.

At this point, if you have found more than one viewpoint, get it out of there\ Rewrite, if necessary, to make it all a single viewpoint.

Learning to handle viewpoint well is a crucial step for any fiction writer. It can be troublesome at first, but later it becomes second nature. That's good, because learning it is a necessity. For without good handling of viewpoint, your readers may forget whose story it is - and you might, too!

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