Viewpoint in any story is closely tied to the writer’s voice. This may be why writers struggle with viewpoint—they’re also working on figuring out their own voice.
It may seem easy to just say to someone—write your stories all in first person. But if that’s not working for the writer’s voice, those stories are not going to be great ones. Same goes for if you’re trying to do third person, but you’re really (at heart) someone who loves those light, omniscient viewpoint stories that manage to inject laughter because of all the different character thoughts. Or the reverse could be true—you could be struggling to do omniscient when your story actually needs deep third person to get the emotion onto the page.
Which brings us to the age old question—how do you find your voice?
Personally, I think this starts by looking at what you like to read. For myself, this was more than difficult—I read everything (even the cereal box). This left me wondering what to write, and how to write, and what was my voice. But I grabbed a clue when I looked at what type of books took up most of my bookshelves—that’s where I saw that I gravitated toward romance. And I tend to read more third person than anything else. (I’ve written first person, and I actually love doing that, but I also think you have to have a really strong character that can carry a book—or a series.)
Third person worked better for me, too, for the Urban Fantasy series I started—I wanted to be able to switch viewpoints and first person wouldn’t let me do that. I also wanted the type of Urban Fantasy I like to read, which is third person (and boy are they hard to find). But the voice is a little different in the Urban Fantasy series from the Regency romances that I write—however, the voice is a little different, too, in the YA horror stories I wrote. But only a little different—the core of my voice lies in lyrical narrative and snappy dialogue. I love both—and that’s what I want to write. No matter the viewpoint. The trick then is to make sure the viewpoint serves the characters (meaning the story).
There are other tips to helping you out with viewpoint—and voice:
- Use whatever viewpoint you need to tell your story so that is has as much drama, conflict and tension as possible. The only real rule is you have to make the scene work and the writing must be effective.
- Write first, and then edit your viewpoint. When editing, keep asking, “Who is thinking this?” And “Would this character notice this about themselves or another person?”
- Use the five senses to lock viewpoint more tightly in a character’s point of view: smell, taste, touch, sound and sight all contribute to both characterization and a rich story.
- Use viewpoint to manipulate the reader’s emotions. You want the maximum emotion on the page, so go for the viewpoint of the character who will give you this.
- Read your work aloud. You’ll catch mistakes, particularly awkward viewpoint shifts. If you trip, so will a reader. And every trip pulls a reader out of the story.
Above all, keep writing. The difference between a writer who has sold a book and one who has not is the one who sold kept writing.
Shannon will be teaching POV: It’s Not Just a Point of View Workshop starting on October 2.
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes the Historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire. And Lady Chance, her latest Regency in the Ladies in Distress series, has been awarded the Indie BRAG Medallion.
She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and offers editing and writing workshops. She lives in New Mexico where she is a certified EMT-I and volunteer Firefighter in a small rural area that offers quite, horses, room for dogs, chickens and sustainable building. Shannon can be found online at shannondonnelly.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.