Writing Tips Season 2 (Writing A Novel) Episode 2: Viewpoint

Hey all

It’s been a long week. I hope your writing has been going well. I hope you started your three documents from last week. You’re really thinking about the world, the characters and the story/plot. If it helps, check out some of the season 1 advice on building characters and things like your attack/mid/low points to help build story. This week, we’re going to talk about narrative viewpoint with the hope that it’ll also make you think about the tone of your novel. Next week, we actually start our first draft. Before we do, though, let’s make a decision about the lens through which your reader will experience your work.

As ever, these are free but there are ways you can show me some love. One is to buy one of my books and tell social media about it and leave it an Amazon and/or GoodReads review. Another is to petition Marvel to let me write a Spider-Man comic. And the easiest is to buy me a coffee through this freelancing site, >> ko-fi <<. It’s a super-easy site that uses Paypal to give freelancers coffee money. This newsletter took me two coffees to write.

WRITING TIP: VIEWPOINT

Who is telling this story? Why them? Why them now? All of this is down to you. You know what you like to read and which voice will tell your story best. It’s important to be consistent. At no point do you want your reader to lose confidence in you. The easiest way to lose their trust is to not be purposeful in your decisions. Purposeful and consistent. For example, if you have multiple narrators and one voice is in first person present tense, and another is in the past and another is third person, and so on, the reader is going to find it jarring, unless you make it clear why you’re doing it the way you are. If you jump around the viewpoints of different narrators in the same chapter, your reader will lose track of what’s going on to who and by who. There are many ways to write a novel, many voices, many reasons to use one over the other. Here are the easiest ones to start with.

First person, present: I am narrating this novel as it happens to me right now. Everything that happens is stuff I experience or is told to me, all the information I possess or discover, the reader possesses or discovers alongside me (unless I am a clever-clogs writer).

First person, past: this is my story. I remember when this important thing happened to me years ago and it’s the reason I am who I am now. I have the benefit of hindsight. I have the benefit of experience, of knowing better. I have comparisons to draw between now and then but most of the action takes place then.

Third person, close: She knew this was a good technique. Because while it was in a distanced third person, she could still delve into her character’s head. She was careful to not dip into the heads and viewpoints of others. She felt good about this.

Third person, distant: It was a style he had grown up reading. He wrote relentlessly, stopping only to drink water and text his mum. The world knew about him only what was projected. And because he didn’t say much, all the intention was in his action, or lack of it. The advantage here was authorial omniscience.

There are different viewpoints on offer, obviously. But you have to pick one and stick to one. It’ll give you consistency in the narrative voice and help you make decisions about tone. There are advantages to each. I like the first person present tense as a writer, because it puts my work on its feet, immerses the reader in the moment of the prose. Other writers employ other viewpoints. I guess, the main thing is, make that decision and stick to it.

So I ask you again. Who is telling this story? Why them? Why them now?

WRITING PROMPT: FOUR VIEWPOINTS

Have a go at writing about a typical morning for your character using one of the four narrative viewpoints suggested above. Make sure you include an interaction with another person in this scene you’re writing, and perhaps some dialogue. These will help. If it’s the same few lines of dialogue, you can really see how each sits in each of those viewpoints. Really think about the differences between each and the opportunities and disadvantages you’re given. About 500 words for each. Just to try it. You’ll find one more natural than the others. Why is this?

WRITING LIFE: NOTES

Last week, a great comedy producer I’m working with sent me some notes. The first one was that the script was way too sweary. I thought about it and I was like, I love swearing, swearing is often funny and for some characters a hilarious bit of punctuation, or consistency of voice. But he was right in what he was saying. Swearing has to count. Swearing is like the big bad monster in films. Once you’ve seen it properly, it loses all impact. Which is why the first 2/3s of any horror, you won’t see the ghoul at the heart of it. Because once it needs to be onscreen a lot, the viewer won’t see it as a threat as much. Same with swearing. If every other word is wanker, then the word wanker, which is a funny word, ceases to be funny. He was right. I replied and called him a cockwomble. I used the word once in the email. And it had the desired effect. He’s on to something.

Just a reminder to buy a book or buy me a >> ko-fi <<. Thank you.

Good luck.

Best

Nikesh