Monday, November 28, 2016

Two or More Brains in Viewpoint

"Keeping the Reader Reading," Part 7

Another very common problem with viewpoint is writing a scene from the brains/viewpoints of two or more characters at the same time. We are privy to what each character is thinking. Here is an example.

"Did April come with you?" Austin asked. He whispered a prayer that his daughter wasn't in the hands of the children's kidnappers.

Pleased to tell the old man good news, Faith said, "No. The doctor wouldn't allow it. That's one reason I was sent."

"What do you mean the doctor wouldn't allow?" Alarms ringing in his head, Nick sat up. "What's wrong with April?"

Boy, he's not going to like this news, Austin thought. "She's pregnant."

In this short bit of dialogue, the effect of multiple viewpoints isn't too bad, but in a scene, it can be very annoying or confusing as it becomes a mental ping-pong match among multiple players. The reader ends up with mental whiplash or nausea from all that back and forth between brains.

Other viewpoints also take away the reader’s interest and emotional investment in the important character or characters.

When I point out the multiple viewpoint error, the most common comment I get from new writers is, "But I have to explain what the other characters are feeling about what is happening."

My answer is, "No, you don't. Give the reader clues by describing the physical actions of the characters, or their tone of voice, or by trusting the reader's knowledge of the character, then let the reader fill in the blanks. Filling in the blanks is an important part of the enjoyment for the reader."

If Nick's face goes blank with shock as if someone has slapped him unexpectedly when he hears his ex-wife is pregnant with her new husband's baby, the reader can figure out what is going on emotionally with him without being privy to his thoughts.

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