Thursday, August 15, 2013

Viewpoint Question_writing tip

A Novel of New Zealand  by Barbara Adams

Marita made a wish that her mundane life would change. She lived above her hairdressing salon in a seaside village which she describes as "boring Beaconhead" because nothing out of the ordinary ever happens there.

Question from the e-mail: I'm told I MUST start a new scene every time someone else's thoughts are expressed.  They say all I have to do is throw in three stars every time someone else has a thought.  But I plan my scenes like small plays with  rising action in mind so each scene has structure, and it's own little climax. It's supposed to be a drama. Sometimes two people are in it and both are thinking. If I threw in change-of-scene asterisks every time someone else thought something, my carefully planned drama would fly out the window! Not to mention that one 6 or 8 page scene would have 16 scene breaks.  So tell me...IS this a hard and fast rule?

Answer: Depends on who you are asking.  If you ask any writing teacher, or reviewer, OR Book Critic, or English Professor, or lit major, they will all  say, yes, Yes, YES! It's a rule that no writer should ever break. 

If you ask a regular reader, one with no writing history, she'll say, "What d'ya mean, point-of-view?"

If you ask a publisher, you will be firmly told, there are only two rules:

1. NEVER confuse your reader.

2. NEVER make extra work for your editor **

   ** Thanks for this info goes to Alice Orr, who was an editor at the time she taught it to me.

Many new writers have no idea when they are getting into another character's thoughts/viewpoint (telling the reader things that only another character can know). Lord knows I didn't! Viewpoint was the single hardest lesson I ever learned. And if they read popular fiction widely, they will find many, many, examples of best-selling authors who slip viewpoint all the time. Scratch their heads and say, "If JR Rain does it, it MUST be okay."

It's quite simple to pick a viewpoint character for a scene: Just ask yourself,  Who's eyes are you looking thorugh? Who's mind are you thinking with? Whose body are you inside? So if you want the reader to know what she thinks, and not to know what the hero is plotting behind her back, then you choose her as your viewpoint character. But if it's essential for the reader to know about  HIS plots, then HE must  be the VP character so she can remain  unaware of her danger, but the reader will fear for her...

Here's the rub. MANY popular authors break this rule all the time! They just ignore it like it doesn't exist. So if you take your examples from what has been published, or even what is on the best-seller list, you will never understand this rule! 

Take the following sentence for example:

She thought he was the greatest-looking guy she had ever seen and he thought so, too!

Except for God, only she knows what she thinks. Same is true for Him. Only HE knows what HE thinks.  This simple sentence is a clear violation of the one viewpoint per scene rule.

Now that line is really not a terrible one. It is light, funny, and snarky, and gives a good clue to the self-centered guy's character, that may enrich the reader's enjoyment. BUT it changes viewpoint right in the middle of the sentence! It was also taken from the pages of a NY Times best-seller by a very well-known writer, back in1984.  (Trust me, things have not changed since then.)

If you read popular fiction, you will see the one-viewpoint-per-scene rule broken all the time.  As John Gardiner said, in his excellent book, The Art of Fiction, "First you learn the rules and then YOU decide when to break them."

Finally, if you want to convey another character's thoughts while remaining inside your original VP character, the best thing you can do is to use body language to SHOW that character's thoughts and have the VP character observe it. If your secondary character is angered by what your VP character said, you can easily show that if she crosses her arms firmly on her chest, shakes her head, turns away and swallows, while the two red spots on her cheeks grow larger and brighter. Well that's overkill, but you get the idea. She doesn't have to THINK anything, or even say a word.  Your viewpoint character can look through his own eyes and see all that.

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