Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Voice and Viewpoint

At the last SCBWI Professional Series meeting, Elizabeth Hawkins talked about Voice and Viewpoint. Using manuscripts volunteered by those attending, she demonstrated how a story could be told in a different way by changing the voice and the viewpoint. 

Every writer has to make their own choice. It does depend on the book. No matter what the viewpoint you have to bear in mind the question: 'Is that my character speaking, or is it me?'

By changing a text into the present tense she showed us how it could be more immediate. We were able to compare this to a more traditional narrator style viewpoint. It was good to see how it subtly changed the feel of the story. The present tense is fashionable at the moment but, very tricky to bring off. 

Elizabeth explained that in an action-packed writing scene it is easier to use third person, as there is not so much reflection and interpretation to stop the flow of the action. The reflection requires prior knowledge of what is going on and tells the reader how they should feel about this. We need to avoid telling the reader what to think. A tighter viewpoint helps the reader to see and feel the action. The actions needs to go at the speed of the character - seeing what they see, in the order it happens. Strangely, the third person, even if it is written in the past tense gives the experience of reading it as it happens. In intense danger scenes, a tighter viewpoint adds more tension but, you can pull back this tension in other scenes to let the reader reflect.

With viewpoint it is better not to be original but, to let your story do the talking. A lot of teenage books are written in first person. When writing in the first person and present tense you have to consider how much you are supposed to know at any one time.

The omniscient narrator, such as the Victorian, 'My dear reader', can work in a different way. However, if you talk to the reader you distance them. The omniscient narrator where you don't even change scenes to change viewpoint can suit a big saga. But, it is important to make sure the character is mentioned before you change viewpoint.

Back-story can slow the pace. When adding back-story, the writer needs to seriously consider if it is really needed. It slows the tension and you may find you do not need all the detail. Ask yourself why you are putting it in, as it losses the ability to catch the reader early on. It is better to take out this narrator intrusion.

It is good to experiment with viewpoint within a story. Keep in mind it is the book we are really concerned about. What makes it great is the hard draft of the writing. You can read a book and not remember what person it is written in - it is the essence of the story you remember. You can do anything as long as your reader like it. Elizabeth suggested we ask the children what they prefer to read.

Elizabeth had many little gems of wisdom, which she conveyed to us during her talk Last week. Many of them I have included in my write-up. One of my favourites was: 'Write what is right for you, as you will write well what you like writing.'


kathryn evans said...

thanks for posting this Anita - don't feel like I missed out quite so much now ( though where's my wine?)

MC Rogerson said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this, Anita.

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Kathy I think I may have drunk enough wine for the both of us. :)

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Thank you, Mel. It is my pleasure. I hope you find it helpful.

Paula Harrison said...

Great food for thought here. Thanks Anita!

Tracy said...

Thanks for posting this Anita - very interesting.
And really helpful for all the members who live outside London and miss out on these events.
Tracy :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Anita. We non-Londoners miss so much!

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Thanks Everyone,
I'm glad I could be some help.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anita. Really helpful you've written this up.

Funnily enough, I was writing about the issue of how to get the right amount of back story in yesterday morning, without knowing you had given us all these considerations. I too have chosen present tense and am sticking with the story as it happens. First person helps me *not* to intrude on the characters voice or actions, but is there enough back story?? That's a good warning about it being tricky to pull off. I started in 3rd and changed to first. Hoping it was the right choice :-)

Good to have this here when I live so far away from London.

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Thank you Eleanor.
I am pleased it gave you food for thought. :)

Julie Day said...

Thanks for that Anita. Will copy and paste into a doc.

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Hope you find it useful, Julie :)