Monday, June 13, 2011

The Point of Point of View by Jodi Paloni

Greetings and welcome to the kick off to our VCFA blog initiative. Today's guest blogger is Jodi Paloni, followed by a Writer's Workout by me. Enjoy!

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, youĂ­ll 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

Writing Workout

     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 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.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing Jauss's book with us, Jodi. I'll definitely check it out. And thanks for today's guest post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Carmela and Jodi. I can vouch for David Jauss' book. It's stunning.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Thank you for this one. I always struggle with point of View.

Lia Keyes said...

I'll check out Jauss' book - thank you for that. Another one I've found helpful is The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley.

Also, the point of view you choose for your first draft doesn't have to be set in stone. For my very first draft, which I often call my discovery draft, I usually write in first person, then change to third for the second draft. It helps me wriggle more deeply into my character's psyche, especially helpful if he/she isn't the most extroverted type, anyway.

Then, there's a choice to be made about whose story it is—usually the person who changes the most, or for whom the stakes are highest.

So many choices to make! And each one radically changes the reader's experience of the same events. These are the challenges that fascinate me as a writer! Great post.

Anonymous said...

Great post and thank you for the recommendation to read Jauss' book. I look forward to checking it out.

I had a problem with POV on a story that I was trying to write in third, but it was so stilted and mottled. So I wrote it in first and then changed it back to third and the story started to come alive.

Wish me luck! Thanks again.