Is it just me, or does it seem like too many characters are clamoring for their own viewpoints lately? I'm reading a book right now by a bestselling ABA author who is confusing the heck out of me. She's an excellent writer and the story is compelling, but when I finally sit down to catch up on my reading after a long day at work, I find that I can't easily jump back into the story. A day or two goes by, and the characters are like dropped threads in a tapestry. Get them mixed up, and you have a mess on your hands. I really want to know how it ends, so I flip back a few pages to see which character's name is conveniently printed below the chapter heading. Hmm...Poindexter. Which one was he again - the retired college professor with unmarked graves in his backyard, the bi-polar guy who paints the Golden Gate bridge for a living or the major league umpire who's on the take? It makes me want to pick up a different book that doesn't involve so much work on my part to read.
There are three basic options available for viewpoint which apparently can now be further defined (third person limited, close third, distant third-yikes!) but how do we know which one is the best choice for the story? Here are some that were obvious choices:
- The Time-Traveler's Wife alternates between the first-person viewpoints of both main characters. They are both fully invested in the story, present at the action, and labeled with name tags. It's a love story, so both their thoughts are vital to the story's development.
- Water For Elephants is told in the viewpoint of one main character as a sort of memoir, which is a logical fit for first person, single viewpoint.
- Bel Canto is told in an omniscient viewpoint since the story involves the fate of a group of people who are held hostage. It doesn't identify with one main character, but drops into the thoughts of several individuals to tell the story since they are all equally affected by the events. Stephen King also does this viewpoint well.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is told through the use of letters between acquaintances, which are by nature, first person. There is one main protagonist whose character arc is the longest, but the viewpoints of others are important to the story.
- Gilead is an elderly father's first person account of his life to his young son, which is also best told in single viewpoint.
- To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the first person single viewpoint of a child. As the powerful events are recounted through her filter, we see the issues distilled down in their simplest form.
- Gone With the Wind is told in third person and largely in the viewpoint of Scarlett, although other viewpoints are used. Again, hers is the largest character arc.
For our writers, what made you choose the viewpoint for the manuscript you are currently writing, and for our readers, which viewpoint do you prefer to read? We'd love to hear.