Over the years, I’ve come to believe the viewpoint control is the most important skill a writer can have. Viewpoint affects the writer’s voice, it allows the writer to get the characters onto the page—viewpoint connects readers to the characters.
I’m going to be teaching a workshop on point of view this August, and I’ve just finished up my Show and Tell workshop, and the two are closely connected. I’ve seen writers struggling with how to show more in a story—and what they really need is deeper viewpoint.
If you write as if you are a character who is experiencing something, you will naturally show more and tell less. This is because the description is immediate, and the focus is on sensor experience. You won’t be telling the reader things—writers only do this when emotionally distanced from the scene.
It is like that scene in Romancing the Stone when the main character is sobbing as she writes—that is because she is that character. She is experiencing that moment—and getting it onto the page.
If you don’t have mastery over this skill, the reader will know you aren’t experienced and aren’t in control. This means the reader no longer trusts you to deliver a good story—the reader is going to bail on you.
So how do you learn better viewpoint control, which in turn gives you better control over your story (and a better ability to hook readers)?
Here are a few tricks that can help.
1-Know your viewpoints. This is a basic, but it is surprising how many writers start off without really knowing their craft. Different viewpoints do different things in a story—you want to know the advantages of first person or third person or omniscient (let’s not get into second person here).
2-Know what the point of every scene is. This means you need to know what is the main conflict—and who has the most emotionally at stake in that scene. Picking the wrong viewpoint for a scene is going to give you a flat scene. So if a scene isn’t working, try changing the viewpoint character.
3-Write in first person. This is one of the best ways to learn how to master viewpoint. You don’t have to stay there, but if a scene or a character is giving you trouble, switch to first person. This forces you to go deeper into your character.
4-When writing in third person, stay in that viewpoint for as long as possible. In other words, stop jumping around with your viewpoint. In the first book I ever sold, I stuck to one viewpoint character per chapter to make sure I was getting the reader connected to the character and to the emotion. Staying with one character will get your reader more deeply attached to that character.
5-Treat any viewpoint change like it is a bomb ready to explode—and needs careful handling. Any transition—in time, viewpoint or even place—is a moment when the reader might decide to put down your story. And might never pick it up again. So when you change viewpoint, have a good reason for this change AND use some techniques to smooth the change (go for names, not pronouns, and use action to hand off the transition).
6-Only use omniscient viewpoint if you want to distance the reader from the scene. Think of omniscient like a long-shot with a camera—it gives you a huge view, but from a long way away. Now omniscient can let you go into anyone and everyone’s thoughts, and that can be used for humor. But beware—it can also leave your reader outside the story.
7-Know your writing voice strengths. If you don’t know if you’re stronger at first person than third person, or if you have a voice that is perfect for omniscient, it’s time to find out. Write the same scene in first person, third person and omniscient—that’s good practice. Now give those three versions to three different reader friends—ask which one stayed with them. That’s the viewpoint that will work best for you as a writer.
Above all else, work at improving your viewpoint control—it’s essential to a great story that pulls the reader into the story and keeps the reader wanting to know what happens to your characters.
Shannon Donnelly Bio
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes the Historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire. Lady Chance, her latest Regency, was awarded the Indie BRAG Medallion.