Lecture #4: Viewpoint and Q&A β€” Brandon Sanderson on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Brandon Sanderson
21 Feb 202062:22
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TLDRThe video discusses different narrative viewpoints and structures such as first person, omniscient, epistolary, flashback, cinematic, and limited. It analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of each, explaining how first person allows great character voice while limited provides more credibility. It also covers how epistolary builds in mystery and immersion while flashback lets readers know the character survives. Overall, it explores using different viewpoints and structures to match the tone and needs of your particular story.

  • πŸ˜€ There are 3 main viewpoints - omniscient, first person, and second person. Second person is rarely used.
  • πŸ“ First person narratives can be told through epistolary form (diaries, letters), flashbacks, or immediate/cinematic.
  • πŸ”Ž Each viewpoint and narrative form has advantages and disadvantages that suit different story needs.
  • πŸ€” First person allows you to get away with more because the character's engaging voice can cover weaknesses.
  • πŸŽ₯ The cinematic first person style is common in YA books and makes you feel embedded in the protagonist's mind.
  • ✍️ Third person limited is the most credible perspective and allows tension between what a character sees and reality.
  • ❓ Mysteries and hidden information work better in first person narratives than third person limited.
  • ⏳ Flashback stories let you contrast the past and present version of a character to show their changes.
  • 🎞 Omniscient perspective works best for tension based on anticipation rather than mystery.
  • πŸ“š Studying narrative forms that aren't commonly used can help you stand out as an author.
Q & A
  • What are the three main viewpoints that can be used in writing, and which two are most commonly used?

    -The three main viewpoints are omniscient, first person, and second person. The two that are most commonly used are omniscient and first person.

  • What is an advantage of using the epistolary form of first person narrative?

    -An advantage of using the epistolary form is that it has a built-in sense of mystery, since the reader doesn't know if the character telling the story will survive to the end.

  • What is one limitation of using multiple first person narrators in the cinematic or flashback forms?

    -One limitation is that the more first person narrators you use, the harder it becomes for readers to keep track of which character's perspective they are in at any given time.

  • How can the flashback form help signify to readers that something a character experiences will be important later in the story?

    -In the flashback form, the narrating character can directly tell readers that something will be important later, in a way that doesn't feel like cheating.

  • What advantages does third person limited viewpoint offer over first person perspective?

    -Third person limited offers more credibility and trustworthiness. It also allows for tension between how a character sees a situation and how it is actually described.

  • Why is omniscient viewpoint more difficult to write effectively compared to other perspectives?

    -Omniscient viewpoint is difficult because the author can't rely on mystery or suspense around what information is revealed to readers. Tension instead must come from anticipated events that the reader already knows about.

  • How did the video say the frame story is structured in The Name of the Wind?

    -In The Name of the Wind, the frame story with the chronicler visiting Kvothe is in third person limited, while Kvothe's first person narrative of his history is in the flashback form.

  • What was the example given of a 'present narrator' viewpoint, where a first person storyteller jumps into omniscient at times?

    -The video gave the example of The Hobbit, where Bilbo pretends he isn't writing the book even though he is, and at times jumps into other characters' heads omnisciently before coming back to Bilbo's perspective.

  • What was the key disadvantage given about using a late story twist that undermines the initial promises and expectations set up for readers?

    -The video warned that undermining initial promises risks disappointing both readers who wanted the expected story direction and readers looking for unexpected twists, since neither gets what they hoped for.

  • How did the video say Name of the Wind is able to be so character-focused in its plot progression?

    -Using the first person flashback structure allows readers to be highly invested in the main character's voice and persona. So events feel meaningful based on how they change or develop the central character.

😊 What is too long for introductions?

Sanderson discusses how long is too long for introductions in novels. He explains it depends on factors like genre, reader expectations, and author fame. Generally, introductions should establish tone, conflict, and interest in the character as soon as possible while still fulfilling the author's goals.

πŸ˜€ Balancing story goals and reader expectations

Sanderson emphasizes focusing on the story you want to tell rather than eliminating all potential reader complaints. Some elements may turn off some readers but attract others based on personal preferences. Genre sections in bookstores acknowledge this variability in interests.

😊 Making side plots feel relevant

Sanderson advises making side plots feel connected to the main story by ensuring reader investment in side characters and their motivations. Showing how side plots relate to the overall story also helps, though less critical in epic fantasies introducing plotlines over volumes.

πŸ˜€ Episodic stories as page turners

Sanderson says episodic stories can have page-turning momentum by ending episodes on hooks that create interest in the next episode. Good hooks emerge naturally from the storyline rather than feeling artificially inserted.

πŸ˜‰ Is there always a twist?

Sanderson discusses plot twists, which generally escalate problems rather than just subverting expectations. Twists should expand reader interest and characters rather than undermine the storyline. A satisfying resolution is usually better than a twist.

πŸ˜• Fixing broken characters or plots

Sanderson differentiates writer's block for new writers from more fundamental story issues for experienced writers. For new writers, pushing through by continuing to write helps develop skill to fix problems. Experienced writers can diagnose issues using storytelling tools.

πŸ˜€ Accepting episodic, character-driven plots

Sanderson highlights how the first-person perspective's focus on a compelling narrative voice allows spanning episodic subplots connected by a central character. Readers trace the character's inner transformation rather than external events.

😊 Analysing different narrative viewpoints

Sanderson examines various viewpoint styles like first-person, omniscient, cinematic, and advantages of each. Limited third-person balances character closeness and plot reliability. First-person suits character-driven stories well.

πŸ˜€ Epistolary format advantages

Sanderson discusses the epistolary format, comprising documents like diaries or letters. It powerfully immerses readers and easily hides information. But stretching believability with highly detailed recordings can be a disadvantage.

πŸ˜‰ Present narrator style examples

The 'present narrator' style has an in-story narrator pivoting between first-person commentary and omniscient descriptions. Sanderson provides The Hobbit as a prime example, with Bilbo pretending he's not narrating events he didn't witness.

πŸ˜€ Summary of narrative format traits

Sanderson summarizes how first-person flashback and cinematic styles focus character understanding over plot reliability. Third-limited distances descriptions from internal perspectives. Omniscient relies on anticipation rather than surprises.

The perspective from which a story is told. The video discusses different types like first-person, third-person limited, omniscient etc. Choosing an appropriate viewpoint is crucial for effective storytelling.
πŸ’‘first person
A viewpoint where the narrator is a character in the story using 'I'. Allows for a more personal, immersive narrative but can also more easily have an unreliable narrator.
πŸ’‘third-person limited
A viewpoint that follows one character at a time from a third-person perspective. Provides some distance between the reader and characters compared to first-person.
A viewpoint where the narrator knows and shows everything about all characters. Harder to create tension but allows reader to know more than the characters.
A form of first-person viewpoint involving documents like letters and journal entries. Creates immersion and mystery but may strain believability.
A first-person viewpoint where the narrator tells a story from their past. Intimate understanding of the character but reduces tension since they survived to tell the tale.
A first-person immediate narration without any framing device. Similar to flashback but feels closer to the action as its unfolding.
πŸ’‘unreliable narrator
A narrator who actively misleads the reader. Easier to achieve with first-person viewpoints compared to third-person limited.
Raising stakes and conflicts in a story. More effective twists escalate rather than just subvert reader expectations.
Plots and stories focused on character development and change rather than events. Requires engaging viewpoint like first-person to keep readers interested.

The three main viewpoints are omniscient, first person, and second person

Second person is not commonly used outside of experimental fiction

First person has three main styles: epistolary, flashback, and cinematic (immediate)

Epistolary stories use documents and letters to build the narrative

Flashback has a character narrating their past to the reader

Cinematic first person shows events as they happen without a narrative frame

Omniscient viewpoint jumps between character heads fluidly

Limited third locks the reader into one character's perspective per scene

First person excels at building an intimate connection with the protagonist

Epistolary lends itself to mystery, unpredictability, and hiding information

Flashback provides context between a character's past and present selves

Limited third allows descriptive tension between a character's perspective and reality

Omniscient relies on dramatic irony and anticipation rather than mystery

The more first person narrators, the harder it is for readers to connect intimately with all

Choose a viewpoint style based on the needs of your particular story

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