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Article: A LATERAL LOOK AT VIEWPOINT

A LATERAL LOOK AT VIEWPOINT

By Margaret Pearce

Bring a protagonist to life, without telling or describing age or cultural backgrounds.

Teenagers live by the alien beat of their peer group pressures and attitudes. Their acceptance of whatever happens around them, no matter how weird, offbeat or off the planet as normal is shown through viewpoint.

Every human being has a unique viewpoint through which they filter their perceptions and interpretations of what is happening around them. Viewpoint reflects back a character's age, gender, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses.

There was once a film buff who wrote of how sorry she felt for the pretty young girl married to the stodgy old man in the film MR SKEFFINGTON, and then several years later felt so sorry for that lovely man married to that empty-headed silly girl in the same film. This becomes a perfect example of revealing personality, age, gender and changing attitudes through viewpoint.

Look at the children's stories of the foxes and the chickens. Those written from the viewpoint of the tragic hunted fox, struggling to reach the safety of his den ahead of the hounds arouse single-minded sympathy for the fox. Just as the same stories written from the viewpoint of the worried chickens, his natural prey arouses the same single-minded sympathy for the chickens.

VIEWPOINT 'SHOWS' CHARACTER, AGE, SEX, CULTURAL ATTITUDES, ENVIRONMENT AND ACTION, ALL WITHOUT PAGES OF 'TELLING' TO MAKE YOUR TEENAGE CHARACTER CREDIBLE, OR BOGGING DOWN IN PAGES OF DESCRIPTION.

Any interpretation of events, people and the environment is affected by the unique viewpoint of your character. Observations are softened by love, darkened by hate, bigotry and fear, and blurred by wariness and distrust. The description below could just as easily be unpleasant and repulsive, but it is shown through the viewpoint of love and acceptance.

"She decided he was the most wonderful father in the world.

The sleeves of his loose white shirt were rolled up to show thick muscled arms and his one tattoo, the tiny yellow and blue butterfly. The shirt hung loose over his patched jeans, firmly belted under the bulge of his stomach. His thick legs were planted like two trees under the table. The twinkle came back into his eyes as he looked at her.'

Rilla and the School Play (Scholastic Books 1997)

Dislike and hate have pejorative undertones that filter through viewpoint. I could have written -

I could tell he disliked me from that first look..

Through viewpoint the description is a lot more immediate.

"For a few seconds his eyes stopped darting, and stared into my face. They were flat, dead black eyes, as venomous as any snakes. A dark flush rose under his whiskers

Caught in Willaburra, (Millennium Books 1992)

Sensory input is also viewpoint, and another way to handle timeslip. Again this is grounding the environment, this time firmly back in the twentieth century, and the reader with it.

'The house smelled of stale warm air, of disinfectant, chemicals and air freshener. . . . The sense of loss became stronger.'

(c). M. Pearce

Sensory input produces conditioned responses to emotions interpreted through viewpoint. It can trigger emotions of stability and security and set the environment firmly into a particular time frame.

'The familiar smells of her home enfolded and welcomed her: lavender floor polish, fresh starched curtains, and the savoury odour of stew simmering for tomorrow night's dinner. She drew in a welcome breath, and the knot in her stomach untied itself.'

The Bolton Road Spycatchers. (Millennium Books 1993)

'Telling' gets the message across, but without the immediacy of 'showing'. I could have written -

"He was shocked by the retard, but Michael had such a happy smile that he changed his mind," the reader would know of the protagonist's acceptance of a Downs Syndrome member of the gang, but 'showing' from his viewpoint creates more empathy.

"He wondered at Gonnie's lack of embarrassment at having to introduce a retard and decided to keep his distance. However, Michael gave him a happy smile which crinkled his broad face into dimples. It was such an infectious smile that John had to grin back."

The Weekend of Herman John (The MacMillan Company of Australia 1989)

IF IT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR READER TO KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON, AND YOUR CHARACTER NOT TO, TRY TO AVOID THE OMNIPOTENT AND AUTHORIAL OVER VIEW, AND USE THE VIEWPOINT OF YOUR CHARACTER'S ASSUMPTIONS, AND ATTITUDES.

Through the viewpoint of the narrator can be shown the stress and growing tension of the villain, and the gradual buildup to something nasty about to happen, even if the narrator doesn't see it.

"Honest Bob got out of his car and strolled over to us. My uneasiness vanished. Honest Bob had the usual genial smile on his face. In the bright sunlight, which spotlighted his bald patch and the dazzling whiteness of his shirt, it was ridiculous to associate him with anything more sinister than winding back speedos and forging roadworthy certificates."

.. ...

"The silence lengthened. The hot sun had caused beads of sweat to form on the thick-set man's shiny forehead, and there were darker patches showing under the arms of the white shirt."

The decorative admired female turns dangerous. Viewpoint is to cue in the shock and disbelief.

"April gave us her brilliant smile and raised her right hand as she leaned against the car. The plunging neckline of her sundress revealed the perfection of her tan. Not that we were looking of course!

We were staring like hypnotized rabbits at the gun barrel she had lifted to place to snugly against Lou's head."

Weekend Territory (Longman Cheshire, Clipper Series, 1993)

Do your protagonists go through life accepting a smoothly run background behind them without noticing the tension between their parents, or wearing expensive clothes without any interest in where the money comes from in a house with unemployed parents? Do they recognize the smell of their favourite dinner cooking without noticing the hand clenched too tightly around the saucepan handle or the tension of tapping feet?

You create a personality so carefully and painstakingly that you want it to live, breathe and survive. You don't want to lose credibility through long-winded descriptive passages.

So create a believable personality. Try a lateral approach through viewpoint to show the dimensions of a real human being behind your created character.

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