At the end of last year I wrote a post titled 5 Incredibly Simple Ways to Help Writers Show and Not Tell. This week I want to discuss Tip 1 – Choose a viewpoint character – in more detail.
How Choosing A Viewpoint Character Helps You Show And Not Tell
‘Show, don’t tell.’ becomes easier when you are in one character’s viewpoint. Often beginner writers use, for example, an omniscient narrator without being aware of the pitfalls. Look at these two examples.
Alex and Esmè slid over the dance floor with sequins glittering and feathers bobbing. Their smiles firmly fixed. They were fluid, graceful. The crowd was hushed in anticipation. The tango beat spurred the dancers on. The big move was next. He lifted her over his head and turned in a full circle. It was flawless. The crowd jumped to their feet. The couple stilled and turned to the judges: A nine point four average.
Hank took Cheryl’s hand. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the dancing couple. She let go of Hank’s hand as she walked towards the dance floor trying to avoid Alex, her ex-partner. She hoped her injury wouldn’t act up and that Hank wouldn’t mess up.
Cheryl took a deep breath and turned to face the dance floor. She could handle this.
Alex and Esmè were sliding to glory under the spotlight. Their sequins glittered like their smiles. They completed each move with precision.
Dammit, she thought.
The crowd leaned in, hushed; they held their breath for what was coming next.
Alex moved into position, Esmè was in the air. They turned full circle. They smiled.
The cheers engulfed the cavernous arena.
Esmè slid down Alex’s body as they tuned to face the judges.
Hank moved closer, he took her hand and they shared a brittle smile. She closed her eyes and prayed for strength. For her ankle to hold. For Hank to get it right this time.
Cheryl shook off Hank’s hand as she strode towards the dance floor. She swallowed her tears as she watched her ex-partner move into first place.
Hank scrambled into position.
Let’s break it down
In the first example, your brain is telling you what is happening. You are experiencing the emotions second hand. You are probably thinking that you know nothing about ballroom dancing and that is why you are struggling to relate. Using an omniscient narrator like this often leads to telling, and to huge information dumps. You don’t judge. You don’t use emotion.
In the second example, you are much closer to the emotions. Even though you might not be a ballroom dancer, you can relate to the envy, jealousy and nervousness of the characters, because you have experienced these emotions, regardless of your ability to Foxtrot or Tango.
You also use judgement. When Cheryl is nervous and envious, it makes her real. No one is immune to these emotions. The same goes for positive emotions like joy and love. If I had to write it in Alex’s viewpoint, he could gloat. If I was in Hank’s viewpoint, he could be nervous or jealous. If I were writing about a serial killer, he would justify his actions.
That said, there are authors who are brilliant at an omniscient viewpoint. I am not and it is tricky for beginners. But try it; you never know you might be one of those authors too.
[Remember that there are times when you should tell and not show. Follow the link to read more: 5 Instances When You Need To Tell (And Not Show)]
If you enjoyed this post, you will love:
- Five Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell
- How To Use The Senses To Show And Not Tell
- How Choosing a Viewpoint Character Helps You Show And Not Tell
- How Being Specific Helps You Show And Not Tell
- How To Avoid ‘Telling’ Words
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