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Friday, June 05, 2009

Opening a Scene In a Character’s Viewpoint

As a follow up to my article about establishing the viewpoint character at the beginning of a scene, I also wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, on a few tips for how to continue with the scene from the viewpoint character.

Opening a Scene In a Character’s Viewpoint

Some Do’s and Don’ts For Establishing Point of View

There are a few things to keep in mind when establishing the point of view character at the beginning of a scene.

When a writer opens a scene, the viewpoint character should be immediately established in order to slip the reader into a character’s skin.

But once you’ve established the viewpoint character, there are a few things to remember in order to keep the reader interested.

Plant and Point Deliberately

Don’t waste the reader’s time by pointing out things that are insignificant to the story or that don’t somehow establish characterization.

For example, if the hero likes the color blue, but it’s not relevant to the story, don’t have the character notice his favorite color on the walls of the cafĂ©.

On the other hand, if the pretty waitress, the heroine, is wearing a dress in his favorite color blue, that might be worthwhile to keep in the scene in order to show why he notices the waitress in the first place.

On the flip side, plant things in the reader’s mind that will be significant later. For example, if the heroine’s fear of heights is going to play a large role in the climax, then by all means show her getting a little dizzy up on a ladder as she hangs Christmas decorations on the eaves of the house.

Don’t Allow the Reader to Assume Wrongly

Help the reader to make correct assumptions about the character, storyline, setting, description, time period, etc. Establish these things early and deliberately.

Here is where critique partners can help. For example, if your critique partner is confused at the opening of the scene about the time period, you can revise to enable the reader to better understand the setting right away.

Under false assumptions is the tricky area of red herrings. While writers need red herrings to create plot twists and turns, planting only red herrings and not planting hints or clues to the truth can make the reader feel betrayed or tricked. The writer can be as clever as possible, but make sure the reader has been given all the same information as the point of view character.

Show Characterization in Action

Since you’re slipping the reader into the character’s skin, utilize that unique vantage point by having the character doing something, being in action. A reactive character does not contribute to a dynamic scene opening.

You don’t need guns and explosions, but a character in pursuit of a simple scene goal is in motion enough to carry the reader along and keep the reader interested.

“Show” the reader what the viewpoint character is like by showing the character in pursuit of something, responding to external events that thwart the scene goal. A character’s response to obstacles “shows” the reader what her personality is like.

Don’t Crowd the Scene

Try to avoid too many characters introduced in the beginning of the scene or too much information dumped at once. This can confuse the reader.

Remember, the reader is in the character’s skin. A person typically deals with things incrementally or with some sort of organizational system. Try to avoid slamming your viewpoint character with too many varied conflicts at once.

Look at your scene openings. Are you planting information and misinformation deliberately? Are you showing the character in action? Are you keeping the conflicts in the scene manageable for the reader?

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