8. The Seven Deadly Perils of Style

Page 3 of 10 | Derivative Plots | Grammar and Usage | Viewpoint Wobbles | Viewpoint Transitions | Said-bookisms |
| AWAKS and Infodumps | Xblmrph | Out of Character | Bad Science | Taking Liberties |

Viewpoint Wobbles
We talked in the last section about the commonly used technique called third-person limited, in which the narrator or author's voice takes a limited role — generally only telling the reader what the characters know, and in particular telling only what the current viewpoint character knows.

This is a versatile and powerful way to tell a story. But it has a pitfall that even many published authors fall into — the viewpoint wobble, or a sudden, jarring shift in viewpoint.

Read the following short passage, which I have just made up:

Dennis had been thinking for a long time how to confront Sarah about their disagreement. They had not seen eye to eye on much of anything for the last two weeks. He had agonized over the words to use, the right tone of voice to keep from making her angry again, and most of all how to make her understand that he still cared about her in spite of it all. Even now, as Sarah walked toward him, he rehearsed it in his mind. "Can't we find a way to work this out, Sarah? You're too important to me to let something like this come between us."

Sarah greeted him with a cautious nod.

His carefully rehearsed words went right out of his head, as he blurted, "It wasn't really my fault, you know!"

Sarah glared. You insensitive lout, she thought.

Did you catch the viewpoint wobble in that scene? The viewpoint was clearly established in Dennis's head right up until the last sentence. We saw what he had been thinking, and heard his thoughts as he rehearsed them. When he spoke to Sarah, we saw her reaction: she glared.

So far, so good.

And then we heard Sarah's thoughts.

Not so good.

That's what's called a viewpoint wobble. The reason it's bad is that it breaks the illusion we have of being inside Dennis's head, and wrenches us without warning into Sarah's. It's jarring to the reader, and it breaks the spell, even if just for a moment.

 
 

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