How Far Away Are You? Part Two
Several days ago, I wrote Part One of this post on distance in viewpoint. Rashly, at that moment, I promised a Part Two, complete with how-tos. The how-tos are the hard part, because as with all writing, they are difficult to explain and sometimes even more difficult to put into action. But sometimes not.
But never let it be said that I have backed away from a challenge. So here goes.
The goal at hand is to get deeply into the head of your viewpoint character. There are places in your novel when you might want to stay in a more distant, cooler viewpoint, but that is not the point of our discussion today. The point of our discussion is closeness, hot and intimate closeness. None of that Ice Queen distance stuff for us, baby. Its all about connection.
How to accomplish that, given that we're talking about on the page and not on the body? Here are some suggestions:
1. I Am A Camera. Or you are. You job as the writer is to be the camera inside the viewpoint character's head. Go deep inside your character (it is not as kinky as it sounds) and see the world through his or her eyes. What does he see, smell, hear, taste, feel?
2. Write Character Journal Entries. One of the ways you get a character's voice on the page is to know that character well–so well that you can write her viewpoint as easily as you talk. You don't always plan out what you are going to say, do you? No, instead you talk. Most of the time it is as natural as breathing. Theoretically, the same should be true of writing in your character's viewpoint.
3. Read Out Loud. The best way to find out if your character talks the way you hear him talk is to read your manuscript out loud. It makes a huge difference. You'll pick up phrases that don't sound right and dull lines of dialogue. If you character is the Duchess of York and you have her talking like Daisy from the Dukes of Hazzard, you'll hear it when you read out loud.
4. Interview with the Vampire, or at least your hero. Another way to get inside your character's head is to ask her questions. Make like Barbara Walters and find out what kind of tree she might be, among other things.
5. Ordinary Day. We all know there aren't any ordinary days, but just for the sake of your best-selling novel, let's pretend there are. Take your character through a typical day in her life from the minute she gets up until she hies herself to bed. Step by step. This sounds tedious, but it is not, it is fun, and you'll discover way more about your character than what kind of toothpaste he uses. You might get insight into what drives him (and also what kind of car he drives), what his day to day conflicts are, and perhaps even a taste of his motivation: what gets him out of bed in the morning ( and the answer has nothing to do with an alarm clock).
6. Put Her In Action. Have her do something. Write a scene with your hero mowing the lawn or driving across New Mexico or teaching a child to swim. These scenes will probably never make it into your book, but they will help you to understand who your character truly is as person. Make a list of activities (use your life as a starting point) and every time you have a few minutes, choose an activity and write your character doing it. Action defines character. Action is motivation in motion.
So, are we recognizing a theme here? Are we perhaps noticing that the common denominator in all these exercises is a sincere desire to get to know our characters better? Knowing your character inside and out is the key to being able to get inside his head to write in his viewpoint. If you're having a hard time making your character's viewpoint come alive, go back to the starting point–character. Ask more questions, delve more deeply, learn more about who you are writing about.