Writing from within
Here are two ways of writing about a person:
Horrified, Geordie watched the rope snake past him, down, down… until the weight of it tugged on his harness. He looked like a tiny spider hanging onto the cliff face. His fingers were like the claws of an anchor as they desperately grasped tiny crevices in the rock. Beads of sweat were visible on his brow, and his legs trembled.
Horrified, Geordie watched the rope snake past him, down, down… until the weight of it tugged on his harness. He felt like a tiny spider hanging onto the cliff face. His fingers were so rigid they hurt as he desperately grasped tiny crevices in the rock. Sweating, trembling with tension, he asked himself, Why did that rope come loose?
What’s the difference?
The first version is clearly from the point of view (POV) of someone watching Geordie. The only indication of his inner reality is the first word. The rest is a description of what he looks like.
The second version is what Geordie experiences. Here, you are invited into his reality, to BE the person on the rock face with the rope now tugging him down instead of holding him up.
Does it matter?
As you read a story in the outside view, you are continuously given subliminal messages that this is only a story, something someone is telling you. You are given information to allow you to see the character from the outside, as in a movie or play.
In the inside view, you are given the tools to go far beyond that. A book in words can be very much more compelling than a movie, because the potential is there for receiving information that camera and microphone cannot capture: bodily sensations, smells, tastes, thoughts, emotions.
In fiction writing, the author’s job is to specify a reality, a cast of characters, and a progression of events. The reader needs to be supplied with enough information to imagine that all this is real. Ideally, the writer is the director. The reader is the audience, but also the character whose point of view is currently being used, and the creator of the reality of the story. That’s right. The author doesn’t do the act of creation. The reader does. This is why no two readers ever receive the same story. This is why seeing a movie of a book you enjoyed is almost invariably disappointing — someone else has done the creating, and will have done it differently from your version.
Reading something written in the inside view allows you to live the experience of the story.
Is there a place for the outside view?
Yes, it has two uses.
First, the journalist, the historian, the biographer necessarily tell their story from the author’s POV. Reporters cannot read minds, so can only state their own thoughts, insofar as these are relevant. For the rest, they need to state the words and actions of the people they write about.
Second, in any scene, there will be the person whose POV we are using, for example Geordie in the snippet I started with. While that person should be presented from the inside view, any other people cannot. Geordie can’t read minds either. When he looks up and sees Sam looking down with an evil leer and waving a knife, he doesn’t know Sam’s thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, motives. He automatically deduces some of them from Sam’s words and actions. In this, he may be right, or completely mistaken.
So, if we make Sam the current witness, then the outside view example is just right — as long as we delete the first word. Sam cannot tell that Geordie is horrified, although he may hope so.
A good author will deliberately use inside view for the witness to the scene, whose POV we are in, and outside view for all other people. I hope you’ll now be aware of this in your reading, and more important, in your writing.
This is from my newsletter, Bobbing Around. The specific link is https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/bobbing-around-volume-14-number-5/#within
Dr Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller with 15 published books, 5 of them award-winners, and a freelance editor. However, his most important activity is as a professional grandfather. You can check out what this means at https://bobrich18.wordpress.com