Monday, March 16, 2015

About Viewpoint

The learning continues.

In addition to the novel writing course, which I'm more than halfway through, I just started a sci-fi/fantasy writing course. Turned in the first assignment and received some encouraging comments from the instructor. We get into world building next, which is the main reason I took this course. What I'm writing would never be considered hard science fiction. It's more of a romance set in a futuristic world with some science fiction and fantasy elements.

But that's not what I wanted to discuss today. Today's topic is viewpoint. Should there be only one main character from whose viewpoint the reader will experience my story or can there be more than one viewpoint?

For a romance, that's a very hard question. Generally, the heroine is the main character. The theory goes that since it's mostly women who read romances, women can better identify themselves with the heroine instead of the hero. On the other hand, I have read novels that focused mainly on the hero's emotional journey. I've had no trouble myself being in his shoes for most of the book and that's what I've been writing lately. My heroines do have a role to play, but it's mainly the heroes that go through the deepest changes. As is the case with my current project.

After the lesson on viewpoint in the novel writing course, I toyed with the idea of writing this particular story in first person from the hero's point of view and even rewrote a part of a scene in first person. That's when I realized I don't know how to write exclusively in first person. I generally write from third person limited - one viewpoint per scene or if there are multiple viewpoints necessary, I start in one and end in another with an obvious break in the writing to indicate a change of perspective. Or I'll write the entire scene in each viewpoint then decide which serves the story best.

Before I learned about viewpoint, I did a lot of head hopping. After all, that's how it worked in the novels I was reading at the time. In reality, while the pros might get away with it, it's definitely not a good way for a beginner to start. From what I've read, head hopping is a strong indication that the writer is a beginner and can be the reason the manuscript ends up in a slush pile, never to be looked at again.

I have never seriously considered first person viewpoint in the past because I do find it limiting. Since first person means we are in only one head, we only get that particular head's thoughts, opinions, and action. There are times when I want to know what another character thinks about the situation. The only way to accomplish that with first person is for that other character to verbalize those thoughts with the main character present. I don't always want the main character to have all this knowledge. Sometimes, it's better that the main character is kept ignorant until time for this information to be flung at him.

Of course, there are well-known examples of stories written entirely from a single perspective that worked quite well. The Harry Potter series is a prime example. While the movies may have had changes in viewpoint, the books were almost entirely written from Harry's perspective. Something I never noticed as I read them but what I'll definitely be paying attention to when I read them again.

That's not to say that numerous viewpoints in a single story is that much better. In fact, my writer's group has been challenging me to write with fewer viewpoints than I have been. Not an easy thing when I've already written scenes from a secondary character's viewpoint that I feel needs to be there. Still, I have risen to that challenge, and I think I have succeeded in accomplishing the task. I speak of the previous project that I set aside in favor of the one I'm currently working on. This current project only had two viewpoints to begin with, and I see no need to make a change there. I just don't see how I can tell this story in a single viewpoint so I probably won't.

Now, to update you on the progress of my 10 hour a week commitment, I didn't keep very good track of my time last week so I can't say whether or not I met the 10 hours. If I count the time I spent on both writing courses, I probably exceeded the time limit. I'll keep better track this week.

Plans for this week: do back story for both worlds involved as well as the top five or six characters; build at least one of the worlds - I have to have a 500-word description of my world for the second writing assignment; start a preliminary outline of the changes that will be taking place for the third draft. That's a lot, but it's necessary. When you read a book where it's clear the author knows their fictional world inside and out, it's because the author has done all this preliminary work long before they began writing scenes.

To get a taste of what all is involved in getting to know the worlds and peoples you're going to be living with for the duration of writing your novel, I recommend a book written by Orson Scott Card, "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy". It's the textbook for my sci-fi/fantasy writing course. He details all of the preliminary planning that went into two of his novels, "Ender's Game" and "Hart's Hope". He literally worked years on the preliminaries before he began writing the stories.

I have also watched several interviews with J.K. Rowling as well as the movie that was made based on her experience with writing the first Harry Potter book and what she went through to get it published, "Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story". In one interview, she showed the piles of loose paper, notebooks, folders, boxes and boxes of material written all for that first book. Background stories, histories, even the names and some details of many of the other students at Hogwarts, what houses they were in, the level of magical power they had, that kind of thing. The reason the books read so well is because Ms. Rowling knew every minute detail about the world of which she wrote.

I'm not saying every writer should follow her example but it occurs to me that the times I get stuck in a story might actually be evidence that I don't know my fictional world as well as I should. Something to think about.

There's your update for this week. I'm off to do a little world building.

No comments: