June 17, 2011

Choosing the Right Viewpoint

It's been quite a while since I've blogged about any kind of technical topic. But, I'm still chugging along editing my WiP and I've been noticing a somewhat consistent pattern of flaws in several scenes, so I thought while I'm addressing it in my novel I might as well discuss it here at The Lair. One of the problems I'm finding repeatedly in multiple places throughout my WiP is with viewpoint.
Recently I was agonizing over the big climax/finale scene, trying desperately to figure out why it just didn't seem big enough. It didn't feel immediate. It didn't feel there. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why.
Then it dawned on me: like most writers I know, I see my stories as 'movies in my head'. I'm the director, producer, screenwriter, choreographer, and camera crew all in one (and I occasionally jump in yelling 'Cut! Okay, let's try that again from the top...'). For the most part, it's a good thing; it enables me to see the characters' surroundings, study their interaction with other characters, and keep a handle on fast-paced action scenes.
Unfortunately, I've discovered, that same ability can cause problems with choosing the viewpoint for certain scenes.
Take my problematic finale scene, for instance: the scene revolves around an extremely significant ceremony. The building it takes place in is similar in design to a massive cathedral, with huge arched windows along one side, through which somewhat draconic supernatural creatures arrive to officiate the ceremony. The human participants of the ceremony are positioned on a dais at the front. The rest of the building is packed to capacity with onlookers.
Needless to say, there's a lot to see and take in. In my head, I see the scene from a vantage point at the back of the audience; that perspective allows me to take in the enthusiastic crowd, the huge cathedral-like building, and the dais where the ceremony is taking place. One of my characters happened to be standing towards the back of the audience, so I originally wrote the scene in her POV.
And therein was the problem. From her POV the reader got the widescreen view of the scene as a whole, but they missed the up-close-and-personal drama and intensity of what was actually happening on the dais as the ceremony progressed. My main character is on the platform making a commitment that will not only change his own life forever, but alter the history and destiny of an entire nation. But the readers didn't get to taste that for themselves because I showed them the scene from the wrong viewpoint.
So, lesson learned, I'm now re-writing the finale scene--from the right viewpoint this time. And would you believe it, it's working! The drama, the grandeur, the sheer weight of what is taking place in the scene, are coming through just fine.
Now that I understand this, hopefully I'll be able to avoid similar problems in the future. And I hope my mistakes can help all you other writers out there avoid the same pitfalls. Seeing our stories as 'movies in our heads' is a great blessing in a lot of ways; just be sure it doesn't carry over too far and cause you to write things that would work on screen but not on the page.


  1. I confess I got distracted from your point about viewpoints in wondering WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? WHAT life-altering decision? WHAT ceremony?
    When will we be able to read this book, huh?

  2. It's coming, Anna, I promise. : ) I've set a goal to finish this (hopefully final) edit by October 1. Sorry to keep everyone waiting so long, but I want to make sure I've really got it, that it's really good before I start pestering editors/publishers with it.
    Thanks for your enthusiasm!


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