Blog Archives

Revising Fiction: Character Viewpoint

by Kirt Hickman

Revising Fiction

Every scene must be shown from the viewpoint of one of your characters. In general, you should show the events from your hero’s point of view. The more you show from her viewpoint, the better your reader will get to know her and the more your reader will care about what happens to her. Choose an alternate viewpoint character when:

  • Your hero isn’t in the scene.
  • Another character is in the hot seat. Show the scene from the viewpoint of the character who has the most to lose if events go badly.
  • You must convey some overwhelmingly important piece of information your hero doesn’t know.

Viewpoint Violations
Make sure your scenes don’t express something your viewpoint character wouldn’t know, like what’s happening someplace else or the cause of a phenomenon he doesn’t understand. Don’t express the thoughts, emotions, or motivations of other characters, except as they are interpreted by your viewpoint character.

When you must convey pure information, include only facts being observed, heard, or considered by your viewpoint character. Doing so makes the information immediate and important. If you provide information your viewpoint character is not experiencing, it creates either a viewpoint violation or a digression. Your reader will recognize both.

Viewpoint, however, is not just about what your character knows or doesn’t know. Your character’s viewpoint must permeate every aspect of your writing, from the portrayal of her thoughts and emotions, to setting descriptions, level of detail and specificity, narrative tone, and even your word choices.

To do this, you must know your character’s likes and dislikes, hobbies and interests, attitude, age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic circumstances, and background. The more you know about your character, the more real she will be to you and to your reader.

Describe your setting in a way that reveals your viewpoint character’s attitude and emotional state. Is the room cramped, or cozy? Is it cluttered, or lived in? Consider this passage:

General Chang reclined in the womb of his stronghold with his feet propped on the conference table.

What does the word womb tell you about how Chang feels when he’s in the control room of his stronghold? Later I describe this room from the perspective of my hero, who has been brought there as a prisoner. He’s not going to think of it as a womb. Your word choice must reveal the attitude and emotional state of your viewpoint character.

Let character viewpoint define how many and which details to include in your descriptions. A character who’s interested in architecture would drive down a street and notice the buildings. A character who’s more interested in cars would notice those. A cop looking for a suspect or informant would focus on the people.

When Chase, an accident investigator in my science fiction novel Worlds Asunder, approaches a crash site, he has time to take in the details that are important to his case:

Chase’s first view of the Phoenix was a mere glint of sunlight on the horizon. As he drew closer, the fuselage came into view, jutting skyward from the flat terrain like a solitary tombstone in a field of glittering metal. The effect gave a surreal beauty to the desolate scene.

The pod came to a stop at the boundary of the debris field. The ship was close now. The fuselage, largely intact, rested at an odd angle at the end of a long scar in the landscape. A debris field stretched out to the northwest. Dents and cracks that marred the hull suggested that the ship had tumbled into its final resting place. The aft section, the cargo hold, was mangled.

Chase not only notices the details but also assesses what they tell him about the crash. Contrast this with the following passage, which takes place during a gunfight inside the enemy stronghold:

Two terrorists moved before them as they wound their way through the labyrinthine passages. The defenders stopped at each intersection to fire a few odd rounds, which slowed Chase and his party, but the men never stayed in one place for long. Twice the terrorists fired through a window to bring down isolation doors and seal off part of the complex.

Here you get only a vague sense of passages, windows, and pressure doors. I left out the details because Chase has neither the time nor the inclination to notice them.

Character viewpoint should also determine the language you use. People from different age groups, regions, countries, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, levels of education, time periods, and even genders speak differently. Write your narrative in your viewpoint character’s natural voice.

WorldsAsunder125_2Kirt Hickman is a technical writer turned fiction author. His books include three sci-fi thriller novels Worlds Asunder (2008), Venus Rain (2010) and Mercury Sun (2014), the high fantasy novel Fabler’s Legend (2011), and the writers’ how-to Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness (2009).

This article was originally published in the July 2010 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

About Character and Setting Development

By E.H. Hackney

Image “Cracked Diamond” courtesy of George Hodan / PublicDomainPictures.netMost books on writing advise us to construct complete, detailed descriptions of our major characters before we begin writing. This is worthwhile, but I believe it is easy to overdo. Yes, I put together character sketches in advance. The protagonist in my fantasy novel is a wizard and a dwarf, and I definitely needed to know that in advance. But my beginning character descriptions are not extensive. If I go into too much detail, they are often wrong and must be rewritten or, worse yet, they constrain my character and limit his behavior.

Consider a friend who wants to introduce you to someone, say a potential employee or even a blind date. They might start with a description of him—height, hair, eye color, build, where he is from. Do you know him? No. Well, suppose they expand on his resume—include his education, experience, what he does for a living. You still don’t know him. Your friend might even add that he is a great dancer and makes all of his own clothes. You know something about him but you still don’t know him.

It’s not until you meet the person and see how she walks and moves and uses her hands that you begin to get a sense of her. Do her eyes meet yours or keep sliding off to the side or to the floor? Does she continue to look around the room to find someone more interesting—or to see who is looking at her? Can she tell a joke? Can she get a joke? How does she treat the server? Now you begin to know the person.

The same is true with your characters. You can go into an extensive description but you, and your reader, don’t begin to know a character until you see him in action and relating to others and the setting. If you want to really see what your character is like, give him something to do. Better yet, give him some crap to deal with. Let us see the worn tips of his shoes kicking out from under the tattered hem of his wizard’s robe with each short, quick stride as he rushes to a house call. Then your readers, and you, will begin to know your character.

The same holds for setting. It has been argued, after all, that settings are really characters. You can build a detailed description of a region, or town, or living room, but you don’t really know it until you are there.

In a previous life I interviewed for a job in Seattle, Washington. I did some research beforehand, of course. I knew something of the economy, climate and geography. I had heard all of the stories about the “constant” rain. But it wasn’t until I saw snow-capped Mt. Rainier reflected in Lake Washington that I knew I wanted to live there. And even after living there for years I was still discovering more of its temperament and personality.

So let your readers explore settings through your character’s eyes. They will discover the nature and disposition of the wharf as your character strides there to meet a friend for an ale or to treat an injured prostitute. Through your character they will hear the creak of the hulls rubbing their fenders against the dock, see the skeleton of the ship’s rigging through the fog, hear the call of gulls and the laughs and arguments coming from the taverns, taste the salt in the damp air and smell the tangy scent of tar and rotting fish.

Why is this so? Because I don’t want to expound my story from a lectern. I want to be, at most, a guide as the reader and I explore the tale together. Because writing fiction is not a process of invention but a venture of discovery.

ByTheBloodCover125E. H. “Hack” Hackney is a retired engineer turned fantasy writer who lives on the east slopes of the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. His articles and essays have appeared in East Mountain Living magazine, Albuquerque the Magazine, East Mountain Telegraph, The Independent, and SouthWest Sage. He published his first novel By the Blood, Book One: Revelation in 2013 under the pen name Geoffrey Ganges. You can find Hack on his websites at and, and on Twitter at @ehhackney and Facebook at E. H. Hackney, writer.

This article was originally published in the May 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Image “Cracked Diamond” courtesy of George Hodan /

Sign Up for Elerts  Stay Connected

SWW YouTube Videos

Search Posts


More information about SWW Programs can be found on WhoFish.