Congregations of characters followed me around to high levels of distraction until I hollered at them: all right already! You all know how it works. But I didn't. In my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I generated a pile of papers with various characters all telling the same story at the same time. POV were the three most frequently scrawled letters in the marginalia of my pages.
It's a simple thing; if you're a beginner, choose a point of view and stick with it. If not, then have a clear intention for shifting it and teach your audience how to read your story.
Of course, it's not really that simple. In fact, just about everything in a story is affected by point of view and point of view affects just about everything in your story.
In the remaining space I have, I will use it to plead.
Get your hands on David Jauss's craft book, Alone With All That Could Happen and study the essay, "From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction." In 33 pages of definitions, descriptions, and examples that cite the best work in the business, youíll receive a semester's worth on the topic. And ironically, just like your characters, the wisdom of Jauss's discourse will not leave you alone.
The take-away is this: point of view is not only a matter of person. It's a matter of the degree of distance created between writers and readers.
Jodi Paloni will complete her MFA in Fiction Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in July 2011. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories. Her book reviews on linked story collections may be read at Contrary Magazine. She blogs at Rigmarole. If you have questions about this post or the Vermont College MFA program, you may contact Jodi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can identify with Jodi's POV problems. Sometimes I have a story or scene...and I don't really know whose story it is. I will re-write the scene (and sometimes, gulp, the entire book) from three different points of view. I limit myself to three possibilities...the scene as viewed by two different characters (I find first person easier, but it can be done in limited third person as well), and then what I call the "Dragnet POV" ("just the facts, ma'am."). There are other possibilities--other characters observing, for instance, but I limit myself to three. I always learn something new about at least one of my characters and who the real main character is. This is also a fun exercise to use in the classroom.
To use in a classroom:
1. Have the students write down an actual conversation/argument they have had. (The "your-room-is-a-pigsty" argument is a frequent favorite in my classes.) Write it from the student's point of view.
2. Write the same scene again, this time from the parent's POV.
3. Write the incident as if you were presenting this as court testimony...no opinions or emotions allowed.
Just the facts.
Which was easier to write? Which makes the most sense within your story? What did you learn about your characters?
Workout posted by Mary Ann Rodman
There is more than one way to figure out what happens next in your story. Cynthia Newberry Martin, whose MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) is just a few weeks away from fruition, will share some useful tips here on Wednesday, June 15. Her guest post will be called "Decide vs Discover." Please stop by and see what she has to say.