March 1st, 2017


Writing Excuses 12.9: Q&A on Viewpoint

Writing Excuses 12.9: Q&A on Viewpoint


Q&A Summary:
Q: Third person omniscient is generally the norm in most fantasy/sci-fi. Do you have any ideas, tips, tricks to make this voice more interesting or unusual?
A: Give the narrator a personality, characterization.
Q: How can you make [third person] limited more interesting?
A: Make the character sing. It's not the viewpoint, it's the character.
Q: It usually takes me a few drafts/revisions to really nail down a character's voice. Is this normal for most writers? Any tips on how to discover it in other ways?
A: If it's working for you, don't break it! Try writing a quick scene that is pivotal and important to your character. Sample scenes, monologues, conversation, job interviews. Don't be afraid to throwaway writing. Let the character talk so you can figure out who they are.
Q: What is the most effective way to portray an unreliable third limited viewpoint in which the reader can still know what is actually happening?
A: Why do you have an unreliable narrator? To fool the audience? Dramatic irony, where we know something the character does not? Establish that this is the character's personality, they think one thing, even though something else is really happening.
Q: How does one thoroughly immerse themselves in a setting/person? I know it's very subjective, but what are the most effective methods you have found in feeling, for example, when a pregnant woman, a pious man, or a lost child might feel? It's so far eludes me.
A: Meditation, guided imagery. Primary sources! Find forums where people are sharing trials and experiences, and get the things people gripe about right. Method acting for writers – feel it yourself, then write.
Q: How do you choose between first and third person? What's your process? When you're preparing a story, how do you make that final decision?
A: Is the story about plot or character? If it's about character, do it first person. Check your genre – adult romance usually is third, YA first person. How can you best express the characters? Try a writing sample, a quick scene or paragraph, to see which works best.
Q: How do you pick the right character for a viewpoint in a scene? How do you choose whose eyes you're going to see through?
A: Who is in the most pain? Who's most interesting? Who has the highest stakes, the most emotional response? Who's going to be doing the most, whose protagging the most? What do you like to write?
Q: I'm writing my first novel. How do I choose to do first person, third person, it's overwhelming. I could do omniscient, I could do non-omniscient, how do I make this decision?
A: Which POV makes the words flow for you? First novel, just write it. Spot check along the way, "Is this still working for me?" If so, keep going. If not, try a test scene in another perspective and see if that works better. What do you want to accomplish? Grand in scope, lots of different characters, third might work better. But first and foremost, finish the book.
Q: I have a problem with transitioning between voices. A.k.a. How do you know when to cut, how do you smoothly transition from one viewpoint character to another, how do you do a chapter break, do you sometimes not do a chapter break, how do you decide this?
A: End on a phrase that resonates with the reader, that's impactful, and makes them want to keep reading. Look at the first line of the next scene, make sure the reader knows whose head they're in as quickly as possible. Beware the garden path sentence, where the reader doesn't know whose head they are in until they turn the corner. End on a zinger, something awesome to say goodbye to that character for a while. Answer a question, raise a new question, resolve a package. Give emotional closure.
Q: My characters start to sound less distinct the further in my story I get. How do you keep this from happening?
A: Give each character a high concept that's evolving out of the consequences of previous acts, along with a dialogue tic that's a result of the consequences. Check prepositional phrases and three syllable words to see if your characters are all using the same ones. Visual and verbal tics work because they remind you, the writer, who the character is. Remember the character's passion.

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[Brandon] I'm going to call it here. We have so many questions. I'm sorry we didn't get to them all. But, Piper has some homework for us.
[Piper] Oh, I do. My brain just died. I'm so sorry. So, my homework for you is to take dialogue, not narrative, dialogue, and take the characters who were involved in the dialogue… Probably works better with two or three, just a limited number of people in the dialogue, and swap them. So character A might say one thing, character B might say another. Now swap them, and how would character B say that first line, and how would character A respond?
[Brandon] Excellent. I really like that writing exercise. This has been Writing Excuses, you're out of excuses, now go write.