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Transcript for Episode 1.23

Writing Excuses Episode 23: Viewpoints

The episode was introduced as viewpoints and tense, but they grew too intense and didn’t have enough time to talk about tense.

The key points: 1st person and 3rd person limited are the current standards. 1st person means the story is told by ME, and I do everything. 3rd person limited means he (or she) is doing things, with the POV following one character. First person has easy identification (up close and personal). Third limited allows better handling of large casts and multiple viewpoints, plus making it easier to keep secrets from the readers.

Brandon assures us that this is vital. A lot of new authors get it wrong, picking the wrong viewpoint, not understanding viewpoint.

So what do we mean by viewpoint?

  • whose head the story is in. First, third limited, omniscient, cinematic, second person

what about tense?

  • it is happening yesterday or today? Past or present

the standards for most writing nowadays are first or third limited, past or present

So what does first give you?

  • a very personality driven narrator. Everything is colored through the narrator’s perceptions and emotions
  • sometimes you can trick the reader through a unreliable narrator
  • a danger of third person or an advantage in first person is that third person makes it easy to fall into the tell instead of show pattern
  • first person is better at narration. Blocks without action or dialogue can still have the personality of the narrator
  • first person is common in YA because it allows you extra personality
  • it sucks the reader in faster
  • identification
  • YA is usually shorter, it’s easier to stand on one charismatic character’s shoulders

if first person is so great, why do third person?

  • it allows the narrator to tell jokes that the protagonists can’t
  • it allows the story to be spread across multiple characters
  • you can handle multiple viewpoints easier
  • generally, the narrator is more reliable
  • it’s easier to write evocative prose and descriptions

Omniscient versus limited

  • omniscient used to be the standard
  • probably 70% is now done using third person limited
  • limited means you don’t jump into other peoples heads, only show or tell what the viewpoint character knows
  • third person limited is very structured — when you switch viewpoints, you make a line break. Some direct thought from the viewpoint character only, but mostly commentary
  • so when you write a scene you need to decide the point of view character and stick with it
  • [Some mention of talking about how to pick the point of view character later]
  • breaking viewpoint is a common viewpoint error
  • omniscient Dune does it with every paragraph in a different head, the hobbit does it with the narrator is a separate character

omniscient is very hard to write.

Howard: just to be sure, that’s what I do?
Howard, laughing: I didn’t even know I was doing it.

  • it’s harder to keep secrets from the readers
  • it’s often set up with conflicts not based on what will happen, but how will that heroes foil the villains’ plan. In omniscient, the readers know the villains’ plans. In limited, often the readers do not know the plans.

Why write in third limited?

  • easy to keep secrets from the readers.
  • immediacy

[garbled discussion of declaring this topic to be a COW, doing tense in another episode, etc. cut off by the bell]

Writing Prompt: we’ve talked about keeping secrets. Write a scene in third person limited where the viewpoint character has a secret that they do not want any other characters to know about.

Current Mood: hothot
Current Music: Startin’ With Me, Jake Owen