Picking the Right Viewpoint
There are a lot of different ways to develop a novel.
Some writers start with a character, or a vague idea for
a plot. Others start with a setting and work from there.
No matter how you begin, at some point you have to decide
who is going to tell your story.
is your 'viewpoint character'.
Your VP (viewpoint) character can tell the story in first,
second or third person singular. The second person
approach is very difficult to write and doesn't work for
most stories. Though, it can be used effectively in an
interactive story were the desire is to draw the reader
deeper into the story. The most common forms would be
first and third person, in either omniscient or limited
should your viewpoint character be?
Choosing a VP character can be confusing. Many writers
assume that he/she should be the protagonist and the main
character. While this is often the case, the main rule of
thumb to follow is that the VP character should be the
person through whose eyes we see the action. If the story
is written in first person, he/she should be the
character telling the tale. If it is written in third
person, he/she should be the person the reader follows
most closely. Seeing not just his actions but why he
behaves the way he does and how he interprets events
If the VP character is not the main character or the
protagonist, he/she must be someone in position to see
and respond to the major events of the story. It rarely
works to have a VP character that is always hearing about
the major events after they have taken place. Also, most
readers will feel cheated if the end of the story does
not resolve the VP character's problems.
Guidelines for your viewpoint character:
VP character must be present at main events.
2) He/she must be actively involved and not just a chance
3) He/she should have a personal stake in the outcome of
the story even if the outcome depends on the main
While it is possible to break these rules, caution is
advised. The story can slip into tedious prose rather
quickly. The reader needs a reason to read your story.
Give them someone to care about or you risk having your
work set aside for more entertaining reading.
There is far more room to explore our creative options
when the VP character is someone other than the
protagonist (the hero) of the story. By alternating
between the protagonist's and the antagonist's viewpoints
in a novel, we have the opportunity to build sympathy for
both sides of the conflict. When alternating, keep in
mind one character should carry the story through a
section or chapter. 'Head hopping' in the middle of a
scene can leave the reader frustrated and confused. (And
it isn't very popular with editors.)
When don't you want your VP character to be the
protagonist? If you're writing a mystery and the point of
the story is to discover who committed the crime, it is
traditional to use the detective's sidekick as the VP
character. The reason is that the detective will usually
know the identity of the culprit long before the end of
the book. For example: Sherlock Holmes was always several
steps ahead of Watson. If the reader knew what Holmes was
thinking the suspense would have been lost long before
the novel ended.
The argument can be made that many mysteries have the
detective as the VP character. If you take a careful look,
most of those have moved the conflict away from the crime
itself to the other character's reactions to the crime.
The focus lays not so much with 'who did it' as with how
the main character is going to reestablish his/her life.
If you are having problems completing a story, whether
long or short, take a look at your VP character. Ask
yourself a few questions:
you chosen the best person to tell the story?
Is this character in a position to see the main events of
the story? Will they be affected by them?
Are this character's problems going to be resolved by the
end of the story?
What if Charles Dickens had told his story, "A
Christmas Carol" from Bob Cratchit's pov? Yes, his
problems would have been resolved at the end, but he
would not have been able to see the spirits visiting
Scrooge. He could have reacted to Scrooge's change of
heart and heard the story second hand, but that wouldn't
have been as interesting as reading about it through
There is always more than one side to any tale. Take the
time to develop your characters, then determine who can
best tell the story you want to write.
Copyright 2001 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved