Tips for aspiring writers – part 4

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Multiple viewpoints and second person narrator.

Using multiple viewpoints

Many contemporary novelists use multiple viewpoints to narrate their novels. This gives an opportunity for the reader to understand how more than one character views the world that the author has created. Using more than one viewpoint can be a vehicle for creating great tension. However, unless handled carefully, switching between viewpoints can be frustrating for the reader as they are left hanging while the narrator is switching to another character’s viewpoint. The best way to avoid this is to ensure all of the characters are interesting enough for the reader to get fully involved with them.

Before embarking on using more than one viewpoint, it is necessary to understand what is meant by ‘viewpoint.’ For example, say you wish to write a novel about John, who is a father, and Mary, who is his daughter, and you wish to switch between their viewpoints. First of all you must, as the author, have a full understanding of each character; that is imperative for the viewpoint to work. So if you decide to write Chapter One from John’s point of view, you, the author, must slip into the skin of the narrator, who is able to look down on the events as they unfold, as they occur for John. As the chapter is from John’s point of view, the narrator will have sole access into his thought; the narrator will know what John is seeing, tasting etc. and will know how his mind works and what he thinks of the other characters. As this chapter is written from John’s perspective, the narrator will not have access into any of the other character’s thoughts. The narrator will not know what is going on in Mary’s mind until you, the author, decide it is the right time for the narrator to unfold the story from Mary’s point of view. If you decide to write Chapter Two from Mary’s viewpoint, as with the first chapter written from John’s point of view, the narrator will only have access into the thought processes belonging to Mary. The narrator will only have knowledge about what Mary sees, feels, hears etc. The narrator will not be able to enter into John’s mind during Chapter Two.

If you decide to use multiple viewpoints, unless you have a valid reason for not doing so, it is probably best to switch to different viewpoints in chapters or large chunks of text. Some writers put the name of the viewpoint as the chapter or section heading. This is the choice of the individual author.

Second person narrator

A second person narrator is used when the narrator is writing letters or e-mails and they are addressing another character as ‘you’. The reader gets to know the character writing the correspondence and what their feelings are towards the character they are writing to. But as long as the narrator remains in second person, the reader has no access to the recipient’s point of view.

Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And don’t miss the next instalment on June 11th: The first chapter.


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