If a story feels like it’s not flowing, if the descriptions seem flat or if a character is not coming alive on the page, well, it could be that we’re using the wrong viewpoint for the type of story we’re telling or for the type of character we are writing about.
Let’s look at this sentence.
▌The young girl stood at the bus stop in the freezing rain.
This is OK, but it is a ‘flat’ viewpoint.
Look what happens when we move the viewpoint, but still keep the girl as the focus of the sentence.
▌From across the street, he watched the young girl as she stood at the bus stop in the freezing rain.
Now we have a new perspective in the sentence. We bring in another character and – voila -we get immediate tension. The character of the girl becomes more vulnerable. Why is he watching her? What is going to happen next?
Let’s take a look at another example.
▌ Jeremy Pearl lay back on a chaise lounge in the sunroom of his penthouse, with a poodle on his lap, having a gin and tonic, listening to some old records on a turn table.
We can agree the viewpoint is lacklustre, dry and – yes – boring.
Look when we open the setting and character and give it a different tone and deeper description.
▌Jeremy Pearl, interior decorator to the rich and famous, lay back on a long rattan chaise lounge in the enclosed sun-dappled sunroom of his penthouse, sipping a deliciously pink gin-and-tonic, infused with elderberry mineral water and soft blossoms, his last surviving poodle, the twelve-year-old and threadbare Mitzi, perched on the starched linen of his trousers, while Nancy Wilson warbled on the record player hidden among the profusion of ferns and delicious monsters in the corner.
We have a longer sentence, yes, but it is richer and more abundant. The character and his surroundings become more vibrant. The tone – so important in viewpoint – is very camp to match the kitschy setting and the character. If you have a ‘storyteller’ viewpoint, their voice must be compelling.
Let us look at another example.
▌ I really hope Nathan comes to the party tonight, Karen Sheldon thought, as she looked around the decorated garage. She’d planned her birthday celebration to attract the hottest guy in her class – and she’d spent hours putting up the tropical decorations. I had better get ready, she decided, before my guests arrive. She had bought a new dress just for the occasion.
Sometimes interior thought or dialogue can weaken viewpoint. But there are ways around this. The first is to avoid ‘tags’ altogether (Karen thought, she decided.)
Let’s change it and see if another approach works.
▌ The invitations had been sent two weeks before. The garage had been turned into a tropical paradise. The new red dress was hanging up in her bedroom. If Nathan didn’t come to the party tonight, then Karen Sheldon had gone to a whole lot of trouble for nothing.
Often, we simply don’t need the tags. We set up the story in a way that establishes the main character as the focus and the reader happily follows their lives, troubles, and thoughts. Less interruption; more flow.
If you find that you want more ‘access’ to your main character’s thoughts, it may be a clue. The viewpoint could work better in the first person.
▌ I hope Nathan pitches at the party tonight. I mean I’ve spent the whole afternoon transforming my dad’s garage into a freakin’ tropical paradise and I blew my allowance on a new dress. And it’s my birthday – it’s a big deal, right?
A few simple tweaks or changes in viewpoints can really lift a story and make a dull scene shine.
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