Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

I wrote this for my own use a while ago, and have now revised it a bit:

If there is a viewpoint character, description should show what that character would notice. A farmer who looks at a field of grain will see a particular grain -- not generic "grain". A professional soldier will see possible hiding places; a forester will notice kinds of trees.

In first person, the viewpoint character is telling the story. (Or, with multiple viewpoint, a portion of the story.) "I saw a frog in an obviously-fake uniform."
In tight third person, the viewpoint character is the one whose eyes the writer and reader look through: "He saw a frog in an obviously-fake uniform." In second person, the viewpoint character is the character the reader is supposed to be: "You see a frog in an obviously-fake uniform." (For some reason, second person tends to go together with present tense rather than past tense.)

For some forms of third person, there's no focus on any character _in the story_. But the "author" can be an implied narrator or authorial persona quite different from the actual writer. For example, a 25th-century romance author writing about the gentler, simpler, times of the 23rd century.

Description should also show:
What you want the reader to notice.
What the reader needs to know.
What the reader wants to know.

If the viewpoint character takes it for granted that women have webbed feet and taxis are driven by cats, this can be a problem. Why should it mention things which everyone takes for granted?

One solution is to have the viewpoint character encounter the unusual: a woman with hooves, a taxi driven by a snake.

If the implied narrator is a historical novelist, it can simply explain to the reader that women used to have webbed feet rather than hooves, and snakes weren't allowed to drive.

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