Monday, November 14, 2016

Viewpoint and Narrative Distance

"Keeping the Reader Reading," Part 5

For a writer, viewpoint is more than the standard list you learned in English. We not only have to choose from first, second, third, and omniscient viewpoints, we also have to choose narrative distance.

The standard viewpoint for genre fiction is third person where the viewpoint character is referred to as "he" or "she." 

First person “I” is acceptable in some mystery fiction and romance, but it's not seen as often in sf and fantasy with the exception of urban fantasy.

In omniscient viewpoint you read the thoughts of all or most of the characters' heads. It has fallen out of favor in the last twenty years, and you will only rarely see it in genre with the exception of Regency romances where the writer is attempting to mimic the style of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. It’s also used in some epic fantasy.

Why is it out of favor? Narrative distance. The current trend in writing is for warm or hot viewpoint in popular fiction, and omniscient is by its nature cold.

The simplest example of cold viewpoint would be a novel written from Spock's viewpoint. Emotion doesn't cloud the events seen by the narrator. Books of high epic fantasy like THE LORD OF THE RINGS are primarily in cold viewpoint because the books have a sense of a great story being retold, and the individual is less important than the story itself.

Warm viewpoint allows emotions from the viewpoint character, but the emotions aren't always center stage. Most sf, fantasy, and mysteries are written primarily in warm viewpoint.

Hot viewpoint is most often seen in romance, and I'm not talking just about the sex scenes. Hot viewpoint allows the emotions to be emphasized. What the viewpoint character feels is just as important as what is happening.

Even romances are not told only in hot viewpoint which is reserved for scenes of emotional importance.

All three forms of narrative distance can usually be found in a novel. In my novel, STAR-CROSSED, for example, I wrote the heroine primarily in hot viewpoint because she's a loving and giving person who thinks as much with her heart as her scientist's brain.

The hero was written primarily in warm viewpoint because he's a guy, dang it, and guys tend to think in cold or warm viewpoint with occasional careful forays into hot. He also doesn't trust his emotions so he keeps them in check.

My villain I wrote in cold viewpoint because she was emotionally cold and frightening in a reptilian way, and, frankly, I had no desire to get that deep into her sick psyche, and I knew most of my readers would feel the same way.

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