Viewpoint Basics for Writers

Recently, I came across some notes I made on viewpoint when I first started writing fiction. I made these notes after digesting a couple of very good books on the subject: How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean R. Koontz, Copyright 1981, Writers Digest Books, now out of print. (I understand if you own a copy, you can ask a small fortune for it on Ebay.)

The other book was Writing Novels That Sell by Jack M. Bickham which is available on Amazon. According to the late Mr. Bickham, a story is "the formed record of a character testing conflict, told from a point of view." As for viewpoint, he says: "All fiction begins with the technique we call viewpoint."

This technique, this viewpoint, places the reader in the mind and heart of a person at the center of the story's action. It allows the reader to identify with the central character of your story--to imaginatively become that character.

How to Establish Viewpoint

Force your imagination to see everything from inside the viewpoint. The viewpoint character never sees his own face unless he's looking in a mirror. He cannot know what is going on inside anyone else. The best he can do is guess--just like we do it in real life.

Movie Viewpoint vs. Book Viewpoint

When watching a movie, you see the action from several different eyes because the camera jumps around. That's great for movies, but in books you have to be careful not to do this. Why? Because believability is harder to achieve in print than with the visual medium of movies.

In movies, the visual medium is there on the screen which helps you identify with the central character. In print, the reader needs help to identify and believe and "become" that central character. This is done by filtering the story through the viewpoint character.

Choosing the Viewpoint Character

To select the viewpoint character, ask yourself these 4 questions.

1. Who will be at the center of the action?

2. Who will have everything at risk?

3. Whose struggle toward a goal is the fuel driving the story?

4. Who will be moved and/or changed by the outcome?

Changing Viewpoint

Can you change viewpoint within a book? Of course, but you change only because you have logically decided to do so. Not because you have simply run out of thoughts for your character.

Takeaway Truth

There's much more to viewpoint, for example choosing first, second, or third person as well as verb tense etc., but post gives you the place to begin.

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