How to Write a Novel: Step 12

Character Viewpoint Synopses

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What are character viewpoint synopses?

Character viewpoint synopses are where you follow the story of your novel from the point of view of each of the major supporting characters, including what they do when they are ‘off stage’. This helps add texture and realism, as the supporting characters grow into their own lives, rather than just popping into existence when the plot demands it.

Why do character viewpoints?

There are several benefits to walking through the story from the point of view of each of your major supporting characters.

First of all, it can help highlight any impossibilities, such as a character being in two places at once, or knowing something when they shouldn’t.

But more importantly, it brings each of your characters to life in their own right, and can provide details about their existence which informs and enhances their behaviour and adds tension and conflict to the story.

How to write character viewpoint synopses?

Tell each scene from the point of view of each major character

In essence, you need to live each scene through the eyes of the supporting character.

For example, if the main character is riding at the helm of a great battalion, and the major supporting character is her lieutenant, write about what they see, hear, feel and do. Are they watching the back of the lead character? Have they overheard the whispers of dissent that the captain hasn’t? Are they considering making a run for it?

Get under their skin

Do your best to really get into each individual character; speaking as they would speak, noticing what they would notice and even using the metaphors that they would.

Does your character use a lot of long words or a lot of slang? Do they immediately scope out the decor of a room, the people in it, or the escape routes? Do they use a lot of sporting metaphors or sea ones, or sensory ones?

A technique I find useful is to imagine the character sitting on a stool in the middle of a room, being asked to explain in their own words what happened.

Refresh your memory

Before you write each character viewpoint synopsis, it’s a good idea to check over the notes you already have, to remind yourself of what you've already learned about your character. This will help you keep it consistent and also inspire the synopsis.

Stick to the current story

The character story synopsis should not tell the entire history of the character, starting when they were a child (unless that's relevant), but should start at the first relevant point to the story. This may be before the events of chapter one, but it shouldn’t be too far before.

Keep track of what they do ‘off stage’

For scenes where the character is not present, it’s especially important to note down what they’re doing.

Knowing more about the ins and outs of their lives in-between encounters with other characters and appearances in the story will really help you get to know your characters better, and that will come through in the writing. You don't have to know every single detail, but they should never vanish from existence.

For example, if you haven't thought about what a character has been doing immediately before your lead encounters them, they may tend to be in a neutral mood, and just hanging around doing nothing, or doing something vague.

Once you've walked through the story in their shoes though, you might know that they've just had an argument with their sister, or just received a long-awaited letter, or simply just stubbed their toe. How will this affect how they receive your lead?

For major characters only

Character Viewpoint Synopses are appropriate for as many major characters as you have the time and energy for, but it’s not necessary to do them for every minor character as well.

Your Task

In the Characters section, open up the profiles of each of your main characters and complete the Viewpoint Synopsis panel (coming soon).

Or, simply note down these details on paper on in your favoured word processing software.

This article is available in video format!