Viewpoint is a tricky beast. I like reading both single and multi-viewpoint novels. If an author has done her job, I’m happy. But when it comes to writing, I go for multi-viewpoint because it gives me the opportunity to tell it how it is – for him and for her and for him and for her… Everyone sees things differently and this is pretty fascinating, I find.
But. How many viewpoints should an author use? Is there a rule? (No – and if there was it would only exist to be broken…) Is there even a guideline? Well, I’d say that every story has a ‘right’ number. I’d also suggest that we can have too many. Too many viewpoints, like too many timelines could be sooo confusing. Instead of allowing a reader to empathise with a different perspective it could have the opposite effect and a reader might end up not empathising with anyone. The story might become too jumbled, too disparate, too unfocused.
So. Who should be a viewpoint character? Definitely the character whose story you’re telling. (Unless you are using omniscient narration and that’s a whole new subject!). And anyone else who might have a (albeit slight) story of their own which you (the author) fancy exploring. It could be a sub-plot of your main story or another angle/ aspect of your main plot. Question: What do you want your reader to know? Answer: If you want her to know what someone is thinking and feeling, then that someone has to become a viewpoint character. (You could use dialogue to express their feelings but do we always say exactly what we mean and feel…?)
And then. How to decide which character should be the viewpoint character in any specific scene? This is easier. Questions: Where do you want the emotional impact to lie? Whose thoughts and feelings, reactions and responses need to be experienced first-hand? Whose motivation should the reader be trying to understand? Answer: This will tell you who should be the viewpoint character.
So now we’ve made three big decisions, we should be ready to make the author-leap. Go. Leap into your viewpoint character’s head and heart. If you do that so completely that you even forget to have lunch, then you won’t be making any viewpoint ‘mistakes’ (like changing viewpoint in the middle of a scene). You are there, really there in their skin, and that, in the end, is most of what matters…
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