Some simple writing exercises can transform viewpoint and maybe shed light on what
I wonder what you have written today, or whether you are still mulling over ideas while doing something else? Your viewpoint is different to mine and is such a fundamental consideration we sometimes don’t even give it another thought.
When we begin a new project sometimes we don’t even consider it. Quite often we choose a viewpoint that just feels comfortable. Occasionally, I might suggest we must break those habits and try something new. Experimenting with a different viewpoint has a profound effect on how we develop a style and how a narrative might unfold.
How much a reader knows is the author’s decision and makes a fascinating mental conversation. I love Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Remains Of The Day because the reader knows so much more than the character Stevens. When Miss Kenton is sobbing in another room and he is listening, we can hardly bear his inability to comfort her. I was so frustrated knowing he was passing up an important opportunity. In 20 000 Streets under the Sky, three semi-autobiographical novels by Patrick Hamilton, the stories of three people are told separately and we see how each character is intertwined and each perspective allows us to understand how the other person’s actions are perceived.
What about considering a fly on the wall approach where the writer sees everything but is purely a reporter and remains outside the action? Or perhaps a close up shot where we inhabit the main character’s mind and feelings might be appropriate. Are we aiming for intimacy or might we simply focus on reaction. For example set up a situation for a character and decide how they might react, something simple like a spider walking across a pile of papers would do. What might your character do, say, think? You might even want to test your characters’ reactions and ask, what would happen if? How might I convey that? Am I going to use a journalese style, aiming for neutrality? That doesn’t mean the prose will be without drama and passion; the way a denouement is reached, after all, can be tantalising.
If you are struggling to write anything, pick out some interesting pictures from a newspaper or magazine, then give them your own caption. I am sitting here writing this with a drawing of a deckchair propped against the wall. How might I feel if I kept changing the caption?
The end of Summer
She had promised to return
The empty chair
Oh no, he thought he could see what was bound to happen as Aunt Maud approached the deckchair.
Gerald always sat on the same chair right at the far end of the pier.
It was a surprise to see the deckchair was still in a perfect condition.
I could go on, already this picture has assumed a different resonance and I can see Gerald, what he is wearing, that he lived in the East End of London and would go to Margate, Kent for his holiday each year and had done from 1928; it is now 1936. He went every year in the hope he might find a young lady………. Funny that, as he didn’t exist five minutes ago.
Choosing a small press photo and not knowing what was going on beyond the photo is also an interesting exercise, or you can focus on what was going on around that square. Certainly experimenting with viewpoint can shed light on a difficult situation in a novel for example. If you consider what you have created, imagine the story told from a different perspective. Do you discover something that you didn’t realise about a situation, a relationship or a character? Maybe your novel needs a change of location, perspective, time shift. Explaining everything that can be heard or seen while saying nothing can be powerful and might break through a creative block whatever you might be writing. Let’s face it, sometimes we are that desperate we will try anything.
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