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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Monday, 31 August 2009
This is a really big subject which needs more than a blog to deal with it, I’ve tried to make it as simple as possible but if you need help then I’m happy to be of assistance. Go to my web site: www.anitaburgh.com and leave a message. One of the biggest decisions you make for your novel is whose story are you going to tell? Who would you rather spend an evening with? A boring, self-obsessed wimp, or, an intelligent vital, giving, person. It’s the same with your book. It’s a big decision because, this person or persons have to be interesting enough to appeal to the reader for the length of the book. And so it’s time to consider viewpoint (VP). There are rarely used ones such as the omniscient – when it is the narrators VP only – the classics are a good place to find this. But for today let’s look at the most common used in modern novels – the first and third person VP. Viewpoint is critical. The famous editor Jane Wood said that she turned down more books because of poor control of VP than any other reason. The dangers she talks of? Switching VP in the same scene. Suddenly changing the main VP during the novel. Forgetting that the VP is that of the character and NOT the author. Some of the people I’ve taught don’t understand VP. Others didn’t know it existed. Others think it unimportant. Some are afraid of it. And the lucky few just do it without thinking. How many viewpoints are you having? That’s the next important consideration. You can have as many as you want - it’s up to you. However, the more you have the more complicated and difficult it becomes. First person singular. Often new writers think this is the easiest. In fact it is very hard to do for several reasons: it is one person’s POV only. Nothing can happen without that person being present. It is necessary to make this one person interesting enough to sustain the reader’s interest throughout the whole novel. There is a real risk that the writer becomes the narrator instead of the character. There are advantages: one can get to know this person in depth. There is no difficulty in introducing thought processes – such as looking in mirrors, using prods to introduce thought. People worry that the ‘I’ will dominate the page and irritate but in a good book one is not aware of it. I’v written only one novel in 1st person – Clare’s War. I did not intend to but started in 3rd but it was not working, when I nervously switched to 1st it worked. (Inner voice, you see.) 3rd Person Singular. We have the same disadvantages as 1st. and, there’s the risk of other characters being more interesting than the main. And the same advantages. . Less risk of author becoming the narrator. The book I’m writing at the moment, Returns, is in this VP as was The Family and Distinctions of Class among others. . Multiple viewpoints. This is the most popular for a very long novel, and in so many ways the easiest and yet be careful, too many and you make your life very difficult. It is hard because it’s easy for the reader to become confused – and it’s easy for the author to get confused too! Lets look at the disadvantages. Getting the balance right – it is too easy to concentrate on one and not the other. If you do this ask yourself why do I want, or need, multiple VPs? There’s a risk of the reader favouring one over another and skimming those they are not interested in. And you may prefer one character and risk unbalancing your writing. Take care not to switch POV in the same scene. If you have two of your characters, who you have honoured with being VPs, in the same scene it’s very easy to slip into using both. (we’ve all done it but if anyone notices oh dear, dear me!) There are advantages: You can have as many as you want. Each plays off the other. Which helps with the development of character. The book can move into other places, your venues are not restricted . Others opinions can be stated which adds interest. Spreading the load – which lessens the risk if you character isn’t really up to being a VP. I’ve had people say they will put in as many as they want, and switch in scenes. Of course you can but if you do you are making life far more difficult for yourself. A good tip is to take the first few paragraphs of work in progress and switch the VPs and see how it reads and how it affects the characterization, the mood, the sense of the novel. As always this is how I see it.

5 comments:

  1. Another great post. This year when I ripped August Rock apart I pulled out the hero vp and I think the story bacame much stronger with just the heroine and the ghost.

    In A Cornish House I did the same in the first rewrite - I pulled the hero's vp and left it with just the heroine and her step-daughter.

    In the current work it is just 2 again.

    I have only ever used first person in the blog experiment, The Dickens Challenge where I wrote a chapter a week of Explosive DReams) it was such fun - very freeing and for that story it didn't limit me but I can see how it would a straight jacket.

    lx

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  2. Excellent post, Annie. Very helpful.

    Lesley x

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  3. Hi Anita. Excellent post. I tend to stick to just 2 VP's - H/h otherwise I confuse myself never mind anyone else reading my ms! Take care. Caroline x

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  5. An excellent point which sums up the territory and the problems very well. I HATE changes of VP in one scene and don't think I've ever done it. All the problems/advantages you list are the ones I'd have mentioned too. What I have done in my adult novels is have, say, two MAIN pov characters and then each of these has sort of satellite characters attached to him/her. I change pov a lot but hope I always make it clear who's seeing the scene unfold. I use a lot of what the call in the USA 'Deep third person' which basically means; third person with a lot of internal thoughts going on in the VP character's head. I don't do first person very often but parts of my WIP are turning out to be that! I have one narrator ( the first person voice!) who is in her thirties and my other MAIN character is in her 70s and a third person pov for her. I think! So far....Thanks Anita for your post.

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