Another challenge to new writers is point of view. No matter how many books you may have read, it does not necessarily stand out what this comprises until you’re confronted with it as an author.
So what does it mean? Generally speaking, everything, including all narrative, needs to be that as seen through the point of view (POV) character’s mind and eyes. This includes the vocabulary. If your protagonist is a child, don’t use big, complicated $5 words unless s/he happens to be someone like Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.” If you’re writing an historical novel, keep the terminology and vernacular, including any euphemisms, accurate to that particular era.
If he or she is a professional, then they should filter their environment and situations through those particular eyes. For example, if your protagonist is a psychologist, he will see things slightly differently than an engineer. When I was writing “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” I had to get into the head of an astrobiologist. This meant I had to learn a whole lot about biology, lab operations, and so forth if I wanted to keep the story authentic. This is what research is all about.
If you read the posting the other day about character building, I’m sure you can see how this contributes to that as well. Everything your character says or does contributes to his personality. I you can’t get inside your character’s head and know these things, then you don’t know him or her well enough yourself.
Yesterday I mentioned how understanding what constitutes a point of view character can be difficult for a new writer to grasp. A story that has one primary protagonist often does well with the story being told through their eyes, whether it’s told in first person or third person.
Omniscient viewpoint gets into all the characters’s heads simultaneously. This can confuse the reader if not done skillfully. Before resorting to this, make sure it’s really necessary and the most effective before using it. If you need to get inside other characters’s heads to describe their motivation and/or show their contribution to the plot, this can be done with separate chapters and/or sections. That way the reader can keep it straight more easily.
One way to get a handle on describing what other characters are thinking or feeling is to pay attention to what you see on television, whether it’s a drama or a sit-com. Very few get into their actual thoughts through voice overs. However, unless the actors are entirely incompetent, their expressions and body language tell you exactly what’s going on in their head. The next time you watch your favorite show, think about how you would describe in words the various ways the actors portray the character’s emotions. This is what you want your reader to visualize, what they would see if your novel were a movie or TV show.
Another thing that can be a real challenge for new fiction writers is the concept of point of view. Even if you’ve read a thousand novels in your lifetime, until you start to write a story yourself there are certain things that don’t come naturally. One of them is point of view, which is the person who is telling the story, or through whose eyes it is being observed.
Consider point of view carefully. If you really want the reader to relate to your protagonist, the story should be told through their eyes, even if you’re using third person narrative and not first person. If you have a single viewpoint story, then your main character is the only person whose head you can get inside for their opinion or feelings. The opinion or feelings of anyone else can only be expressed through what the main character observes, i.e. their physical reaction.
Point of view is all about staying inside the mind of a specific character. This means that all descriptions, vocabulary, speech, and level of understanding should be within the scope of what that person knows.
For example, if your protagonist or other POV character is a teenager or child, they are going to see the world through that filter. Thus their comprehension and word choice should be appropriate for someone of that age. The came principle goes for an adult who is deemed highly intelligent. They will see the world according to their assumed education and experience and use more sophisticated speech patterns.
It’s essential to understand the concept of point of view (POV), which is the character through whom the story is being told. This can be one of the most difficult concepts for new writers to grasp.
The basic categories are single, multiple, and omniscient. Single is used for a first person narrative, but not always. It can also be used for a third person story that only goes into the protagonist’s head. Multiple will get into more than one person’s POV, but in separate sections or chapters. Omniscient gets into everyone’s throughout the story. This can be confusing and is also least effective in connecting your reader with your characters.
When you switch to a new point of view, make sure the reader knows how the new person fits into the story. If possible, introduce or foreshadow the new character in the preceding chapter. This provides better continuity.
On the other hand, sometimes it works for a story to be pieced together like a mosaic, particularly mysteries. Getting into the characters’ respective heads can show their motivation.
Switching point of view can be risky. I’ve sent a book to the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile for alternating POVs that didn’t mesh or show where the story was heading. Once readers connect with your protagonist, they don’t like to change. It’s also important to establish some semblance of a plot early on. This one comprised two different people seemingly driving around randomly which failed to grab me since there wasn’t sufficient background to add the needed suspense so I’d wonder what was going to happen next. It was as if the author was trying to figure out what was going to happen next herself. BOOOOR-ING!
One way to check whether you’ve slipped out of a character’s viewpoint is to consider the subject scene as if it were written in first person. That will usually identify anything that doesn’t belong.
Bear in mind it can be confusing to the reader if you break viewpoint. Some slip-ups may go unnoticed, but others will throw them out of the story, the ultimate author faux pas.
Omniscient viewpoint can confuse the reader; make sure it’s really necessary & the most effective option before using it. If you really want to get inside the head of other characters in addition to your protagonist, separate chapters and/or sections might work better. Readers will relate more strongly to your character(s) if you present their thoughts one at a time, rather than bouncing back and forth. If you really want your reader to relate to your main protagonist, you should stick to his or her viewpoint as much as possible.
Consider your story’s point of view carefully. If you really want the reader to relate to your protagonist, the story should be told through his or her eyes only, even if you’re using third person narrative. Avoid slipping into an omniscient viewpoint by including something your character couldn’t possibly know, such as what the other person is thinking, unless, of course, he’s telepathic. Instead, describe what your protagonist is seeing in the other’s expression and body language. Another way around this you can use occasionally is to preface it with, “He didn’t know it at the time, but….” Break point of view carefully, deliberately, and sparingly.