Touching Your Audience Deeply through Viewpoint

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From Story Doctor Dave Farland:

Almost every time a book is made into film, you will hear the comment over and over, “The book was better.”

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of Christopher Paolini, whose novel Eragon was made into a movie, and some fans of the books were so disappointed in the film adaptation, that they actually sent death threats to the author. Sorry folks, but in this case, poor Christopher didn’t have any control in making the movie. Maybe there will be a better adaptation in a couple years.

There’s a huge reason why the book is better, or should always be better. The reason is that the book can transport you into the story better. But it only works if you do it right.

When you write a story, for each scene you need to choose your viewpoint character. Often this is the protagonist. Let’s call him Brad. As an author, you use your protagonist as something like a camera. You show the reader the world through Brad’s eyes, just as if he were a camera. You let us hear the world through Brad’s ears, just as if he were a camera.

But Brad is more than a camera. You show us through internal dialog what Brad is thinking. Now, a voiceover can do that on film, but the technique is not often used. You can also let us smell the world and feel the world—two things that cameras can’t do. You can let us know what Brad is feeling—something that the camera might reveal but only if the actor and the director are talented enough to catch it. You can report on Brad’s motions, give information on what it feels like to jump or run—things that cameras can’t do. You can report on variations in temperature or the texture of surfaces.

In fact, if you think about it, a novel allows you to transport Brad in several ways that a camera can’t, and that tends to make your book a better medium for storytelling than a film.

Here’s the thing. Readers subconsciously recognize the lack. Have you ever gone to the dentist and had your mouth numbed with Novocaine, then gone out to eat afterward? Even the best meal doesn’t satisfy your taste buds when they’re out of commission.

A film doesn’t normally convey the sense of smell, taste, touch, kinetic motion, or the character’s thoughts. Film can be poor at revealing a character’s interior emotions and intent. In other words, watching a film is like being anesthetized. The reader is cut off from so many senses, that really, it’s surprising that viewers get much from it at all.

But the thing that I want to point out is that the book as a medium for storytelling only works if you put it to use. For example, I’ve read a lot of stories where the writer won’t even commit to a viewpoint character. The writer won’t show us the character’s thoughts and feelings, their internal hopes and fears.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

2 thoughts on “Touching Your Audience Deeply through Viewpoint”

  1. What kind of moron sends death threats to someone because they didn’t like what they watched or read? Especially the author who usually has no say in an adaptation.
    People need to pull their heads out of their posterior orifice and act as if they possess intelligence. The race really does not need ignorant animals like that.
    How would they like it if someone threatened them with death because of something stupid they said, or because someone didn’t like the type of clothing they wore?

    I really despair about the race on occasion. I mean, have we always been this stupid as a species, or is it just more evident now due to the mass communication we enjoy?

    Mom really did have the best advice…. if you can’t say something nice (or constructive) keep your mouth shut.

    • “What kind of moron sends death threats to someone because they didn’t like what they watched or read? ”

      People convinced the masses share their belief system, that anybody who doesn’t slavishly kowtow to it must be destroyed. Do it often enough and even those that don’t agree will do nothing.

      Edmund Burke was right:
      “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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