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Sep
7
2021

Perspective Merits, Details vs Information, Overwriting vs Underwriting, and Weaving Info Dumps Naturally -- by Kevin McCalister

 

The Merits of Different Perspective Methods

Personally, I prefer 1st person writing. The benefits, I've found are that you can see the exact wording inside their head. 

 

After all, if you think, "I want to punch you!" No problem. 

If you think, "I want to cut you!"... Problem. 

 

You also see exactly how long they make their plans in advance. Unless the POV takes note of everything and is super observant, 1st can suffer in terms of setting. Like if they were a soldier with PTSD symptoms or a spy on a mission it can work. Maybe they're just naturally paranoid or super observant.

A good example I can think of 1st person with good setting is The Little House series. The story is being told by the MC looking back decades later. All the details included are important enough to be remembered decades later. I can't remember what I ate for lunch last week. 

An example for sci-fi could be that the MC plugs their mind into a computer. That then transcribes their memories into the story you just read. Do to the computer transcribing every conscious minute almost nothing could be left out. Of course, that's very situational. 

If the character is experiencing the events now but they are paranoid. 

The Death Note series works. 

If you don't want to describe the scene, trust me I get it. Maybe you could try for a book with pictures of the setting? Then you just have to describe smells, sounds, touch, thoughts, and tastes. 

Another way it could work in 1st person would be to switch perspectives during the scene. Keeping track by color coding dialogue and internal thoughts to match the current POV. This is quite difficult but well worth it if done correctly. However, I wouldn't recommend doing this with more than 2 or 3 characters. 

If all your POV characters were talking to each other it could get bogged down, but with the right internal thoughts and external words it could be quite thrilling. Again The Death Note series which has 2 POV MC's. Though translating all of this without any pictures could be quite difficult. 

 

2nd person is a bit freaky do to the unusual style of the wording. I've found it works best for creeping people out. From my research it's widely considered the most difficult form to write in and I agree. 

This very post is written in 2nd person as I am addressing You. Yes, that is a hint for You to find a good story in 2nd person. The strength is that You can put thoughts retroactively into scenes to make yourself or your character sound smarter. A fight scene told from 1st person might include lines like, I did this or that on instinct. 3rd person they did this that on instinct, but 2nd person You could throw in details there wouldn't be any time to think about in the moment. 

 

2nd, "You ducked down, presumably to use your superior agility to shove your attacker over when they over extended themselves. You were right and prepared for your next move." 

1st, "I ducked down instinctively and shoved the attacker over."

3rd, "They ducked down and used their superior agility to shove their attacker over." 

 

The weakness or strength is that it's only 1 characters perspective and is completely biased. The most important part is that You are writing this for a specific audience member or a specific person. The infamous You.

 

3rd person has its benefits mostly in regard to setting and info dumps. As it would be a little weird for a character to stand there and stare at stuff. Unless they had never seen it before. However, it makes complete sense for a disembodied narrator to describe stuff in a room.

3rd person limited could work best for a fight or battle sequence, as it would allow you to see all combatants and the setting without it seeming weird. 

3rd person omniscient might work for a fight scene but as it lets you hear the thoughts inside their heads alongside seeing them and the setting. It could get bogged down in details, especially if there are too many characters to keep track of. 

 

Overall, I think it depends on what you're going for in your story. Do you want a letter written to a specific person or audience? Try 2nd. Are you going for a character driven story or a slice of life type of setting try? 1st person. Maybe there's lots of characters and action or you want to describe the setting? With info dumps that make sense in context. Try 3rd person.

I've rarely seen 2nd person explained well. I think it's avoided because it's a letter to someone interesting enough that other people would want to read it. Someone other than the intended receiver... Unless the audience is the intended receiver?

 

Details vs Information

John sat alone at the table, his son had died a week ago. His wife came in and hugged him telling him to take all the time he needs. -Information. 

 

A man sat at a worn table his eyes red, his face streaked by tears. A woman enters the room. The man closes his eyes, holding his head in his hands. The woman slowly approaches and hugs the sitting man. She says, "It's alright John." John rubs his eyes and looks up at her. He sniffles and says, "I, I can't believe he's gone. Our boy is gone!" She kept hugging him and said, "I know it hurts. Take another week, take two, take a month, take as long as you need honey."  -Details.

 

The difference between details and information is the emotional weight conveighed to the reader. Ask yourself 5 questions.

1. What version of this made you feel more emotion?

2. Are these written in the same POV style?

3. What details were left out about the room, the characters, and the setting?

4. Were those left out details needed for a short example paragraph in a blog post?

5. Would those details be needed in an real story? 

Of course, it's technically true that all writing is information, but for me it's the emotional information that makes the difference. 

 

Overwriting vs Underwriting 

Overwriting means adding in too many details, but underwriting means having too few details to make a good story.

My first entry to critique circle was 600 words. I was told it was good and to add more to it. My last entry was over 4,000 words, but while it had a lot of information and details... I am grateful to all my critiquers as they have truly helped me improve.

1 critiquer told me, "I can see everything all the outfits, the decorations, the characters, I can see everything perfectly! Nice work! : )" But the rest informed me that I had spent the first 500 words describing outfits that didn't come up again. 200 words describing characters hair color and faces that again didn't come up again and some information didn't make any sense without proper context. 

I forgot to describe that 1 character was another characters sister-in-law rather than their sister. I also forgot to include anything about the food on the tables, the atmosphere, or the general mood of the party itself. All that can be important for a party scene but not always needed, depending on the size of the party. A party with just drinks and five people would be fine but a wedding reception with 50 people and a buffet it would take too long. 

Underwriting left the story bare bones without any flavor or meat, but over writing slowed down the pacing so much they got bored. That's when it hit me, sometimes you need both to make it work.

Now, this is just my opinion it could be completely different then your style. Your first draft should be bare bones so you can finish the overall plot and start editing. Re-write the first chapter and add more details. But word of warning if the first chapter isn't done after 4 or 5 drafts move on, you've done your best. Good job! : ) 

Keep going but remember if you wrote it once it could be useful later. Never be afraid to change stuff as time goes on and you write more stuff. Both can be good in the right circumstances. Be careful of both being bare boned and getting bogged down.

 

Weaving Info Dumps Naturally 

There's a lot of hate about info dumps as terrible but they have their place. Let's look at my personal favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

The Muppets version. In musicals the info dumps are primarily shown in the songs but this is ok. As they have visuals and music to distract you in a book... It's harder. 

I remember a story I read once where 1 character was new in town, so another character had to explain everything to them. It was funny because the character that had to explain kept thinking, "This guy's an idiot." And actually said it at one point forcing the new guy to apologize and ask them to continue but it made sense in context and it established the characters. 

Another way could be to sprinkle the information in between lines of dialogue but this relies on what POV style you're using. 

 

1st person 

She spun around and asked, "How do I look?" I looked her up and down. I said, "Let's see. 

Black dress, plus blonde hair, plus those stylish boots, equals better than perfect." She 

smiled, "Thanks!" She practically bounced with anticipation for the coming party. I was less 

enthusiastic but still looked forward to it. 

 

2nd person 

You spun around that way You do and asked, "How do I look?" I looked you up and down

but not for too long before saying, "Let's see. Black dress, plus blonde hair, plus those 

stylish boots, equals better than perfect. " You had no idea how much I meant it. You 

smiled in that adorable way you do and said, "Thanks!" You practically bounced with what 

I guess was anticipation for the coming party. Couldn't blame you, still can't. I felt 

it too but far less than You. 

 

See what I meant about it works really well for creepy?

 

3rd person limited external

She spun around and asked, "How do I look?" Her friend a red-haired tall man wearing 

a grey suit said, "Let's see. Black dress, plus blonde hair, plus those stylish boots, 

equals better than perfect." The first girl said, "Thanks!" She bounced with what looks 

like anticipation.

 

This style of 3rd person means you hear no internal thought but you can hear and see everything in a specific room or space. This style of third person was used in the opening of the 2006 movie Hannibal. The first minute or three isn't too scary, if you don't mind a man in a wheel chair with a facial deformity. This style of 3rd person gives information but explains nothing good for a mystery or hooking a reader. 

The secret with info dumping, whatever the style, is to tailor what information you dump and the style used to tell the kind of story you want. 

Writing is a craft but for me it's about three things. Making your readers feel emotions, communicating thoughts in your head into other people's heads, and having fun doing it. 

The list above was just my own opinions on different ways to achieve those goals. 

No matter what you do today make time for fun. -Thrax

Posted by Kevin McCalister 7 Sep 2021 at 01:13
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