Friday, April 01, 2016

Point of View

When our daughter, Michele, was a little girl she brought home a sheet of paper from school with her name written in perfect mirror image. She had beautiful handwriting.

I freaked. I immediately suspected all kinds of complicated learning problems. However, with this child I had already learned to ask for explanations. The world--from her point of view--was delightfully unpredictable.

Her explanation was that when the teacher handed out notepaper for them to practice cursive writing they were to begin at the red line and write to the edge. Sometimes the red line was on the right and sometimes it was on the left. It didn't matter to her. She wrote equally well in either direction.

Understanding point of view is an essential part of the craft of fiction writing. Originally I began the last sentence with "mastering point of view" but I don't think any writer ever does. Although there doesn't seem to be any connection between viewpoint in fiction and a school girl's acceptance of a teacher's whimsies, in a way there is.

In addition to the complexity of understanding first person, second person, third person, etc. when writing in third person or an omniscient viewpoint the story is greatly enriched by reaching into the soul of the character and using words and descriptions that reflect his or her view of the world.

The world outside can be "promising Spring. The tips of crocus bulbs are trying to break through the soil. A robin is spotted on a bare branch. And yes, there are geese overhead returning North. Splotches of color are everywhere."

Or a sour person might view the same scene as "winter still dragging down the streets like that homeless person shoving his foul-smelling carts through the crowded sidewalks. Old geezers hawking phlegm like they were competing with the honks of the hapless flight of geese flapping sluggishly through the grey sky."

Every word paints a picture of how one's characters sees the world.

I love to read books narrated in unreliable first person. Done well, they are immediately arresting. I think one of the greatest first lines ever is "Call me Ishmael." It's terrific! We are put on guard from the get go. Why would he want us to "call" him something instead of stating his name. Clearly, he's not to be trusted.

In other posts I'll discuss what is usually meant by viewpoint in writing. But for now, give some thought to how other people view the world. It's fun to write a paragraph or two from the viewpoint of a friend or family member who sees the world entirely differently than you do.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I like your writing exercise. Instead of family members, I think I'll try having all of the characters in my historical thriller describe the same event to see what I can learn.

Rick Blechta said...

A lovely story and great post. Thanks, Charlotte!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Well thanks Rick and Frankie. Michele still has the same pleasantly stoic outlook.

Roberta Gibson said...

Oh, I used to love writing backwards. Plus backwards with my left hand. I'm sure that says something about my poor brain.

I recently went to a writing workshop where the speaker discussed the unreliable narrator. It seemed like most people in the audience either loved or hated them. I don't mind if there are some clues up front, but dislike them when the fact the narrator is unreliable is only revealed in the last few pages.