Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Within a given scene in your book, you must maintain the integrity of the viewpoint.

The rule of viewpoint is this: Within a given scene in your book, you must maintain the integrity of the viewpoint. You must stay in only one viewpoint at a time within a scene or chapter.
Sometimes you switch viewpoints without knowing it, and sometimes you know you've done it, but you don't realize how much trouble you've caused.
Remember that every time you change viewpoint you disturb your readers. A viewpoint change is not so jarring when it comes at the end of a scene.

Readers are not expecting to be moved, but at least they're expecting to see something different. When the viewpoint change comes at the start of a new chapter there is even less disturbance because your readers are ready to move on.
But when you change viewpoints in the middle of a scene while readers are entranced by what they are reading, you disturb them greatly. If you do it often they will stop reading your book.

You establish the viewpoint by seeing everything from the eyes and emotions and brain of the viewpoint character.
  • The viewpoint character never sees her own face, unless she’s looking in a mirror. 
  • If someone is sneaking up behind her, she certainly can't see that person.
  • If his expression changes, she cannot notice it. 
  • Also, the viewpoint character cannot know what is going on inside anyone else’s mind. The best she can do is guess. Which, incidentally, is the way we do it in real life.
The amateur writer of fiction will often write stuff that has no viewpoint, like this:

“Kate stood on the hill. Down below, a crowd was....”
“It was quiet. Then a sound...”
“Something crawled across Kate’s hand...”

The professional novelist will automatically take those situations and rewrite them to make it clearer where the viewpoint lies:
  1. “Looking down the hillside, Kate saw the crowd...”
  2. “In the dark, quiet room, Kate heard a sound...”
  3. “Kate felt something crawl across her hand...”
How else do we show viewpoint? By telling things, only the viewpoint character could know. Those are:
  • Sense impressions, like hearing a sound and feeling something crawl across her hand.
  • Thoughts, like “Kate wondered if Chuck was stupid all the time or only in front of women.”
  • Emotions, like “Kate felt as cold and isolated as an old maid.”
  • Intentions, like “Kate had to find out where the killer had left the postcard, it was the only clue usable in court.”
Consider this:
If you and I talk, there is no way for you to read my mind. Only I know what I'm thinking. So, when you, as a writer, tell me directly and precisely what a character is thinking [without using dialogue, of course] then you are, at the same time, establishing that character’s viewpoint because the only way we can know her thoughts is from her point of view.
Emotions and intentions are exactly the same.
I know. You may say, “Yeah, but I can often look at a person and know exactly what she is feeling.” Not true. What you do, when you see a woman crying, is observe the superficial clues and draw a conclusion about her emotional state. But you do not know. You can only guess.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews