How To Avoid Viewpoint Slips


Sit back, and imagine what it feels like to be you. Now that shouldn't be too hard - you've lived in your own skin for a long time.Now think about how you know these things.

You have various bodily symptoms that accurately represent your feelings. "Happiness" feels light and contented. You might be sitting there quietly humming a tune. You might be suffused with a quiet feeling of well being.

"Sadness" is different. If you're sad, the world suddenly seems a grey, cheerless place. There's a heaviness in your chest, and maybe even a silent cry of despair that you're aching to let go. Perhaps you have a lump in your throat from trying to hold back the tears; trying to keep a stiff upper lip.

That's what it FEELS like to be you when you're happy or sad.

Now imagine you're going to nip across into someone else's body for a moment. Someone standing across the room looking at you. How can that person tell that you're happy?

They might see a slight smile tugging at the corners of your mouth. You just can't help showing your happiness. They can hear you humming softly. Your eyes sparkle. Your voice sounds upbeat and happy.

How might they know if you're sad? They can't, after all, FEEL that heavy weight in your chest. They can't know that you're so, so close to letting out a wail of despair. They can't know about that lump in your throat.

But they know you're sad. They can see the dullness in your eyes; the slump in your posture. They might be able to detect a quiver in your lips as you try not to cry. They can hear the despair or flatness in your voice.

In short: you, the viewpoint character, know what it FEELS like to be you. You're looking at the world from the inside.

The onlooker can put together information only from what they can SEE. They're looking at you from the outside.

1. Reap the Benefits of Deep Viewpoint

Every writer wants readers to become deeply immersed in the characters they invent. In effect, when someone reads, they 'become' the main person in the scene. The deeper inside that person's viewpoint you can help the reader go, the more convinced the reader is that this character is 'real'.

The easiest way to achieve this reader identification is to help them experience what it feels like to be that person - not to tell the reader by looking on from the outside.

2. Some Examples: (1) In Deep POV And (2) As An Onlooker

Here are a few examples to help you remember the difference.

1. HAPPINESS. In deep POV: a surging feeling of joy or quiet happiness; a desire to smile at everyone you see; talking to people with a smile on your face. The onlooker sees: a cheerful face; a ready laugh; a light, quick walk; humming or whistling a happy tune.

2. ANGER. In deep POV: your chest feels as though it might burst with fury; you breathe in short gasps; you want to punch or hurt someone; you feel like bursting into tears of rage; you feel the blood rush to your head. The onlooker sees: eyes glaring; a red face; lips thinning, words uttered in haste or a shout; a punch being thrown, objects being tossed aside; an aggressive stance (hands on hips).

3. What About Describing A Character's Features?

This is where a lot of writers run into trouble. Torn by the need to 'show' the reader what a character looks like, they hop in and out of the main character's mind at dizzying speed.

If you start out in a character's mind, it's best to stay there for the duration of the scene. (Yes, I know there is debate in literary circles about this, and there always will be. What you have to decide is what is best for your character.)

Why is it best to stay in your character's mind? The single most important reason is that your reader will identify more closely with your character. They more or less become that person. (Well, they will if you write well enough!)

At this point I'll return to what it feels like to be you. That's where we started, remember? You're the only one who knows what it really feels like to live in your skin and in your mind. That's what you need to aim for when it comes to your character. Become that person!

Therefore, if you are living inside that person's skin, then you can't know what he/she looks like from the outside. (Not unless your character walks around with a hand-held mirror all the time. And is vain enough to keep looking into it.)

So... resist the temptation to write something like this:

Viv sat on the rocks, her hazel eyes on the gulls swooping down at the water. It was decision time. Should she go with Chris's squad or not? He was dynamic and encouraging. His team would do anything for him. But he didn't get the same results as Blake. Blake could reduce her to tears with his scathing comments, true - but she knew it was all so she'd dig deep for that extra bit of effort that would earn her the win. She sighed, and ran her fingers through her short blonde hair. It would be a heck of a lot easier if someone would just tell her what to do. Idly, she tossed another rock into the lapping waves, not realizing that the frown on her face made her look exactly like her mother in one of her uncompromising moods.Have you picked out the parts that pull the reader out of Viv's body, thus giving the impression of an 'onlooker' present? There are three.1. "...her HAZEL eyes...". Viv can't see the colour of her own eyes - only an onlooker would be able to see that. Nor is she likely to be thinking about the colour of her eyes at a time like this. By mentioning the colour, you make the reader aware that 'someone else' is in the scene looking AT Viv, rather than 'being' her.

2. "...and ran her fingers through her short BLONDE hair." It's entirely possible that she would be able to feel that her hair is short while she performs this action (although it's not likely she'd be thinking about it) but she can't see the colour of her hair. If she had *long* hair, and the wind was blowing it in front of her eyes, you could perhaps say 'she brushed aside the strands of blonde hair blowing in her eyes'.

3. "...not realizing that the frown on her face made her look exactly like her mother in one of her uncompromising moods". Ugh. This structure is B-A-D! For a start, the author has written '...not realizing that...'. If she doesn't realize it, then it's not in her mind at all - so why mention it? And there is no way that Viv can know that the frown on her face is making her look like her mother in one of her moods. Very clumsy!If you want to show what a character looks like, do it later in a scene from someone else's viewpoint. If someone is looking at Viv, they would be able to see things like the colour of her hair and eyes and the way her frown makes her look like her mother. But Viv can't see these things herself... so if you want to stay deep inside her skin, don't fall into the trap of showing them.

And that will make you a better writer.

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/


RELATED ARTICLES
Writing with a Sense of Adventure
We've all been told that we need to use all five senses to bring our fiction to life. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch all need to be invoked.
Extreme Research: 10 Snappy Rules For Success
So you want to learn to research well, and not waste any time. Let's do it.
How to Write Your Op-Ed Piece
Op-ed articles, also known as opinion/editorial articles, are a great way for aspiring writers to publicize their work and, in exchange, receive an amazing amount of publicity for free. You can write an op-ed piece and get it publicized provided you follow these simple rules.
Boost Your Income With Trade Journals
Why would anyone want to write for trade journals? Aren't the topics are dry? Don't they require specialized knowledge? Not necessarily. You may want to consider trade journals to increase the potential market for your articles - and for the money.
When Getting Stuck Goes Amuck
Many of us have always wanted to write. We have all gotten writer's block.
Write Your Life
Take out a white piece of paper and place it on your kitchen table. You now have two choices.
Writing Made Them Rich #1: JK Rowling
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born in Chipping Sodbury,England in 1965. She began writing at the age of 6 with astory called 'Rabbit', which she never finished.
Getting the Story Down
Questions and answers on writing life experiences for ourselves and others.Index of Questions1.
Hunting for Markets Over the Holidays
Chances are, you'll be busy over the next several weeks. Between preparing for, celebrating, and unwinding from the holidays it may be difficult to maintain your regular writing routine.
Essay Types and Modes Youll Need to Write for College
~TYPES~You Want Us to Write What? Understanding the Task AssignedWhich academic essay writing types we use depends upon which disciplines (or classes) we write for. Each instructor or professor will assign papers that invite us to reveal in writing what we have learned/what we think about the material for that particular class:* ANALYTIC-A classic style used in art, science, history, psychology, education, and most other disciplines across the curriculum to explore and investigate an idea, process, person, action, or attitude.
Top 10 Tips to Complete a Creative Writing Project Without Losing Your Creativity
Have you ever started a creative writing project with great excitement, only to have your interest dwindle as the process, itself, interfere with your creativity? How do you keep the momentum going and continue to enjoy the creative process? Follow these tips for high creativity, fun and success!1. Create a writing environment that inspires you.
To Tell If You Are A Literary Snob
"I don't know if I should put 'writer' on my business card," I murmured."Then don't," my wife said in her infinite wisdom.
You Cant Always Believe What You See On Your Computer Screen
You may not remember this, but in the early days of the personal computer, many industry insiders were predicting a paperless society.Of course, this hasn't happened.
7 Writing Muse Kickers to Fill Up That Blank Page
Nothing is more daunting for any writer than having to stare at a blank sheet of paper.When we stare at a blank sheet of paper, we often think, "What am I going to write?" A few minutes later, it becomes, "Oh my goodness, I can't think of anything to write!" And several minutes later, it turns into something like, "Write, dangnabit! Write! Write! WRITE!"Some writers call this writer's block.
Rules for Getting the Story Down
1. Write it fast, fix it later.
Does Your Theme Contain Character, Conflict, Resolution?
Creative Writing Tips -For a theme to work and the story, which will revolve around the theme, it has to contain three things?CharacterConflictResolutionWhat's the reason for this?If your theme doesn't contain these three essential elements, then you won't be writing a proper short story. It might turn out to be an essay instead.
Voice in Narrative and Dialogue - A Contrast of Writing Styles
One of the nice things about being an author is that we can breakany rule we want. (I just did.
Does Your Story Have A Theme?
Creative Writing Tips -It should.A theme is a one-line explanation of your story.
In Your Own Words
More Tips For New Writers (Part I)Explain in your own wordsFamiliar phrase? Yes, we have all heard it many times in many different situations. This little phrase is used to convey subtly different meanings depending upon the circumstances in which it is used.
Good Writing
Good writing is like sex. Two people are involved - the writer and the reader.