Viewpoint is a tricky beast.
I speak at a lot of writers’ conferences, and often gives sessions on point of view. Sometimes these are half-day workshops, which it takes to truly cover the topic.
And at all of these conferences, and indeed, almost daily, writers share their confusion with me.
Confusing, this element is. And it’s also of vital importance to your manuscript that you get this right.
First off, point of view is the spoke around which the entire wheel of storytelling revolves. Pretty much everything depends upon getting this aspect right. Mastering it will also cause you to refocus your book, and force you to show rather than tell.
While point of view is whether you’re writing in first, second, or third person, viewpoint is the eyes, ears, and perceptions of the character with whom we’re experiencing the events of the novel.
Sounds simple enough, no?
But of course, it’s in the weeds where we get tripped up.
This topic is so complex, to cover it all in one post would be impossible. Check out the entire viewpoint series for a broader perspective.
So let’s focus on the issue I see most, and quite often:
Because just about all new writers do it, and seasoned ones alike get trapped here as well.
If you’re writing a multiple third-person viewpoint novel, you of course have to balance the time in each character’s head. That’s straightforward enough, no? And of course, you want to spend most of your time with the Protagonist.
But then comes each individual scene, and from which character you’re going to create it.
And that can be only one.
Rule of thumb: One scene/one character viewpoint.
Now again, this sounds straightforward enough. But you have another character or characters whose thoughts and emotions are important in a scene, right?
And those have to be conveyed through words, actions, mannerisms, expressions. But remember—all of those are experienced through our viewpoint character’s perceptions of them. That’s how the reader experiences them as well.
Writers often balk at this. How much easier it is to just jump into another character’s head and tell what he’s thinking.
But easiest isn’t what we’re looking for. Best, strongest, most powerful is the goal.
Much of the reason for this one scene/one character rule goes back to plot, and how the character and plot weaves together. Although we speak of them as separate issues, learn to deal with them in that manner, they can’t be divorced in the end if you want one completed whole of a manuscript.
If done correctly, your book began with a Story Question, right? This is your inciting incident. It’s what gets the book going. And, it’s the thing that your hero answers in the end when he gets the job finished.
Every single scene has to have a piece of that question embedded in it.
And, every scene has to have that one character, in whose viewpoint we are, dealing with her part of the question.
If you change character viewpoints within a scene, you’ve just confused your reader as to a), whose piece of the question this is about, and b), what that piece is in the first place.
Plus, if you deviate in scenes from this story question, your reader gets bored as well.
Both of those translate to: the reader takes off on the tangent and doesn’t come back. Which means, he doesn’t pick the book back up. Horrors!
Since all secondary viewpoint characters think this book is about them, they must go through their own arcs of the storyline. But all of those are under the umbrella of the same Story Question.
The trick is, for you, the author, while having a true omniscient view (knowing everything about everybody), to stay in one head at a time. Because when you’re writing in Betty’s viewpoint, you also know what Tom is thinking and feeling.
It’s simple, really. Although nobody said simple was easy! But all you have to do is get behind Betty’s eyes. And stay there.
See through her eyes. Touch through her fingertips. Hear through her ears, smell through her nose. Feel from her heart.
Then staying in viewpoint will be a snap!