The Right Perspective, Part One: Vanishing Points and PoV

Picking the right character to do something or show something is important, more important than I think we realize.  How do you know who’s the right person to narrate?  Should it be the protagonist?  Should it be written in first person or third person?  Should it be limited or omniscient?  How many narrators should there be?

Is there a right way to narrate?

I don’t think there’s “one” right way.  But there are wrong ways—and what those are depend on the story.

In the art world, there’s this fancy-sounding term that called “the vanishing point”. The vanishing point is where the lines of perspective meet up.  It looks like, as things get further away, they grow smaller and smaller until they become a single point.  I’m not sure how often vanishing points are actually visible, but in theory, they’re all over the place.   For example, if you stand in the middle of the street and look down at one end or another, the houses and the street seem to get smaller and smaller.  Now, unless that street is really long, and there are absolutely no bumps/hills, the vanishing point isn’t actually visible—but in theory, it should be there.

The purple lines follow the lines of perspective, and all meet down at the vanishing point. Not the neatest image, but it gets the point across. (Haha, get it? Point?)

Are the houses and stuff actually getting smaller?  Of course not.  If you walked down the street, those other houses on the end would actually be house-sized once you stood in front of them.  They only seem to be smaller.  That’s perspective.

VP0
This is the exact same image as before, but with no vanishing point and no perspective. See how different the two are?

Vanishing points aren’t strictly necessary, technically, but they add depth and a different perspective to the same image.  In fact, in the image that has no vanishing point, you can see a lot less things, and it all seems way more flat.  Of course, there can be more than just one vanishing point, and that changes it up even more.

This is a little bit sloppy, but if you follow the purple lines, they eventually lead to not one, but three vanishing points—one to the left, to the right, and up above.

Now, all of this was mostly to illustrate how perspective can drastically change the same thing.  (Let’s excuse the fact that the third image was of different buildings than the first two, because I think the idea is clear enough anyway.)  How does this apply to writing?

In writing, perspective usually refers to point of view—the PoV character, or the narrator.  And PoV is very important to perspective.  First person narration, someone described to me once, is being inside the character’s head.  We see what they see, hear what they hear and what they think, feel what they feel.  In a way, we almost become them, at least so long as we’re in their story.  Third person, meanwhile, is more like becoming friends with the character (unless, of course, the author wanted us to dislike them, but that’s irrelevant).  The difference between first person and third person is like the difference between being the character and being friends with the character.

You see how that affects perspective?

Now let’s talk about first-impressions for a moment.  First impressions are important with people.  How likely is it that that person will talk to you again, when the first-impression you made is that you’re a total dork?  Well, unless they like dorks, your chances are probably pretty slim of making friends with them.  In writing, first impressions are not much different.  It’ll shape the reader’s view of a character.   Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just that, and first impressions can be completely and utterly wrong.

But they still affect it, do they not?

So let’s say, you have a first person narrator.  She’s had a rough life, and as a result, she tends to not trust people.  When she meets this random new character, what is she probably going to think of him?  She probably will automatically not trust him.  He may do something to further that mistrust, or maybe it’s all in the narrator’s head.

What’s the first impression?  Assuming the first-person is written well enough that the reader is actually invested in the story, and that the reader thinks the narrator is reliable (I’ll get to that topic in another post), the reader’s first impression of this character is that he’s going to be untrustworthy.  Why?  Because that’s what the narrator thinks.

What does this mean?  Well, let’s take a look at who this new character is.  Let’s say… let’s say he isn’t trustworthy, and later on in the story, he’s going to betray the main character.  But let’s also say you want this betrayal to be a plot twist—and therefore to not be totally predictable.

If, from the very start, the reader suspects him, how predictable do you think this plot twist will be?

Now, what if we had a different narrator?  It’s the other character’s friend, who’s much more trusting.  When she meets this new character, she’s not immediately put off by him.  She doesn’t have to like him, necessarily, but she doesn’t distrust him.  So that means, when the reader sees the new character from her eyes, their first impression isn’t going to be as bad.

Are we going to distrust this new character as much?  Probably not, unless he does something really suspicious.

So if we want his betrayal to be more of a surprise, which narrator is probably going to help us out more?  The trusting one.  Because, to a point, the reader is going to feel what the protagonist feels, especially in first person.  Remember, first person is becoming the protagonist.  Third person is befriending the protagonist.

So if we’re being narrated by the distrustful character, her first impression, and therefore the reader’s, will be that the new character isn’t trustworthy.  The narrator’s friend might tell her that she’s being silly and he doesn’t seem untrustworthy, but that isn’t going to be enough to overpower that first impression.

If the trusting one is narrating, then that’s our first impression.  Her friend might tell her that she’s too trusting and that the new character is suspicious, but that might also not be enough to overpower the first impression.

It’s all the same information.  But how it’s portrayed—what perspective it’s shown in—will determine how the reader processes that information.  So who is picked as the narrator can be pretty important.

(Disclaimer: This is completely theoretical.  There are other factors to this whole thing, and it only really works if the reader is wholly invested in the protagonist.  If the reader just isn’t quite clicking with the character, for whatever reason, they might end up with a totally different view.  But even that you can manipulate.)

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Editing and All of the Things Stopping Me from Doing It

First off.  Notice the red bar on the right side of the page.  It’s full.  It’s also not even at 30k.

That’s basically how my writing is going.  I had expected that project to be a novel, but it just wasn’t going to do that.  Not enough story or something, I’m not even sure, but it decided to be novella instead.  When I edit it later on this year, perhaps I’ll figure out how to make it novel-sized…but then again, maybe this story needs to be a smaller size.  I’m not sure yet, but it really doesn’t matter so much, actually.  I’m not disappointed.

Maybe that’s just because I’m excited that I finished another project.  After almost two years of not finishing a single thing, I’ve now finished two decent-sized projects in a little over three months.

Speaking of other finished projects.  I’ve gotten a little bit overwhelmed with all of my world building in my other novel, and I decided…that should probably be enough.  There is one thing I still need to figure out, since it’s somewhat relevant to the story, but I can work it out later.  So for now, I’m going to actually start editing.

Gosh.  At first, staring my 100k novel, I wasn’t even sure how to begin the editing process.  I mean, what should you do first?  I know from reading other writers’ experiences in editing—and from a little common sense—that I need to edit the big stuff before I worry about the little stuff.  How much sense would it make to start correcting my grammar in a scene that might not even stay in the novel?

Yeah.  So.  I figured, I’ll start with my characters.  I have five viewpoints in this novel, and I noticed they were very much out of balance.  One character was the narrator for…twenty-something chapters, while another character had only six chapters in her PoV.  That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, especially since six chapters, in this case anyway, really isn’t much room to work with for her character arc.

So, I decided to start with character arcs.  I started writing outlines for each character, but started struggling with how they weaved together.  The five characters don’t always spend the whole novel all group together, but group up and split apart several times throughout the book.  So each character’s individual story depends a lot on how the other four go, so trying to write an outline for each is…not exactly easy.

Here’s the best part, though.  I realized that I actually can’t really figure out what their character arcs are because not all of them even have goals in the first place.  Hmm.  That’s problematic.

So I guess, I get to work on character development a little bit.  Some day, I’ll actually start editing this thing.  Some day soon, I hope.

Review of Camp Day #1

Today is a beautiful morning, with clear blue skies (but then, we almost never get anything but that where I live) and noisy little siblings. Today is April 2nd. But blue skies is not what I’m thinking about this morning. I’m thinking about what happened yesterday, the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo.

The day before yesterday, I was brainstorming to make sure I was all set for Camp and knew where I was going with the book. And I had a pretty fair idea. I had two main characters, a plot, some problems to be solved, some magic, and and half-developed villain. I even knew that I was going to write the book in tight third person, switching PoV between my two main characters and my villain. Why the villain? Because I thought it might be fun, and her story is important enough to the plot to be told through her eyes.

I wrote the villain’s chapter yesterday. Guess what happened?

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that I made some amazing discovery. A plot twist, perhaps. A new, better plot. Some new characters. No, I wish, and nope. What did I do? I lost my villain.

Let me explain.

My villain character has a troubled past, as all villains (and often protagonists) have. Her parents are dead (both her real ones and the ones that adopted her), and she hasn’t heard from her brother in six months, ever since they got into an argument and he left. She’s got a temper and her magic isn’t the most…awe-worthy, to put it nicely.

Sound like a nice villain? Guess again.

As I started to write her, her personality just fell into place. She immediately showed me who she was and who she was going to be. She wasn’t going to be a villain. She’s not evil, or even mean. Not in the slightest. She’s a little troubled, but not villainish. She likes giving people nicknames. She loves her brother a lot. She’s a good cook.

Still sound like a villain? I didn’t think so, either! She’s just not a villain, and I can’t force her to be one. She’s a very fun-to-write character who would make a far better protagonist than antagonist.

But…now I have three main characters and no villains! Hm. That sounds a tad bit problematic.

I haven’t quite decided what to do about this yet. At the moment, I’m just going to keep writing and hope a new villain pops up on his/her own. I do have another character who I know is crucial to the plot, though I don’t know how, and she doesn’t have a personality yet. She may be able to fit into the villain role—but then again, she might decide not to listen to me, either.

Wish me luck!