When I was a kid I HATED pizza. I’d go to school, and the teacher would ask us our favorite foods. Every kid in the class said pizza until the teacher got to me, and my answer was always mashed potatoes. My classmates called me crazy. I even remember getting an infection that required I wear an IV catheter in my right hand, so the teacher had to do some of my work for me.
That inevitable question came up on the worksheet I was working on. “Draw your favorite food.”
I told her to draw potatoes.
“Not pizza?” she asked.
She proceeded to draw baked potatoes, not mashed. I still remember those oval-shaped lumps on the page, and thinking how I would’ve drawn my mashed potatoes with artistic flair and much more deliciousness.
“But why do you hate pizza?” my friends would ask.
“Because it tastes horrible!”
But there was a reason it tasted horrible to me. The only “pizza” I’d ever eaten was the cheap frozen kind we bought from the grocery store. I’d never experienced the wonder that is Pizza Hut or Domino’s until I turned 12 and got a free coupon for completing a library reading program.
My mom took me and my siblings to Pizza Hut, and it was then I first experienced real pizza. I ordered pineapple, and it was pure heaven.
My opinion of pizza was forever changed.
What does this have to do with writing?
When writing characters, we need to keep in mind how they view the world, and how their experience colors their senses. This is the wonder of the written word, and why it has such power. By writing in a character’s viewpoint, we allow the reader to experience the world in a new and different light. You can show the flavor of food, the scents in the air, the aroma of spices or bitterness of raw emotions. All their senses mesh together to color their attitudes and perspective.
This is why it’s so important to stay in one character’s viewpoint and not head-hop. Once you go from one character’s thoughts to another, you not only confuse the reader, but you deprive them of the unique experience of seeing the world from that single character’s perspective.
“But how can my reader know how the other characters feel?” you might argue.
You show emotions the same way we as people perceive them, by facial expressions, dialogue, and physical cues. If you as an author intrude on a non-viewpoint character’s mind and TELL us how they feel, then you’re distancing us from the way a real person experiences the world. (Unless, of course, your character happens to be psychic or telepathic.)
So, next time you grab a slice of pizza (preferably NOT frozen), and sit down to write that bestselling novel, keep your character’s viewpoint in mind, and leave me a comment with what kind of pizza is YOUR favorite!