What is viewpoint?
Our viewpoint (point of view) characters are the filters through which we tell the reader the story. Once we have decided on a character, we need to choose a viewpoint for him or her. We have three choices: first person, second person, and third person.
It is important to know which viewpoint you are going to choose when you tell your story. Most authors prefer third and first person. It is unusual to use second person, but it can be effective.
How do we know which viewpoint to use?
Using third person is the usual way of writing a novel. Readers, agents and editors like this format because it is flexible, accepted and easy to use. It is used in most genres and it is good for action-packed plots, particularly in the crime, family saga, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Multiple viewpoint characters in third person offer the author many plotting options and this technique has been used in countless best-sellers.
However, I become irritated when I do not know which filter the author is using. This usually happens when the characters are too similar, or when the author head-hops (switches viewpoint) in one scene, or when the author has not made the change in viewpoint clear. All of these problems show an author’s inexperience. How do we prevent this from happening?
Six Simple Ways To Ensure That Viewpoint Changes Work
- Limit the number of viewpoint characters in a book. As a rule, you should have three or four viewpoint characters in an 80 000-word novel. There is nothing that annoys a busy reader more than having to get used to 15 viewpoint characters who are not vital for the telling of the story.
- Rotate the viewpoint characters regularly. The most important characters get the largest number of scenes; the minor characters get the others. Make sure that you do not leave a viewpoint character out of the book for so long that we wonder who it is when he or she reappears.
- Introduce your viewpoint characters in the first chapters of your novel. I will abandon a novel if a new viewpoint character is introduced more than a quarter of the way through the book. I have spent time getting to know everyone and I am emotionally invested in the story. Then the author throws an amateurish curve ball into the mix. Do not do it.
- Show viewpoint changes by a chapter break or a scene break. Give your reader a chance to breathe and adjust to the change. The start of a new scene or chapter will do the trick. There is little chance of confusion if you stick to this.
- Show which viewpoint character it is within the first few sentences after a break. You can do this by naming the character or having someone name him or her. If you are writing in multiple first person viewpoints, you can simply put the character’s name at the start of the chapter or scene.
- Make sure that each character is unique. I want each viewpoint character to act as a unique filter for your story. If they are too similar, I will become confused. As a reader and writing teacher, I will wonder why you have not bothered to make this clear. Try to imagine the story from each character’s perspective through their five senses, their backgrounds, their motivations and their goals.
Once you have covered these six points, you should not have problems with changes in viewpoint.
If you enjoyed this post, read:
© Amanda Patterson