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Playing with Point of View

Today I taught a class on point of view at The Loft Literary Center for their Teen Novelist Conference. Not a super sexy topic but one that’s been on my mind. It’s a very powerful part of the fiction-writing process for me, I guess. A lot of things that bother me about novels seem to come down to point-of-view. Also, you can revise with it. Or get to know your characters with it. Or experiment with perspectives with it.

It’s very fun when you’ve just begun and don’t know quite what direction you’re going, too.

I just like it, okay?

Anyway.

The class whoooooshed by super fast and we didn’t get to do all the activities I’d hoped to do. So here are few more ways to play with point-of-view.

1) Write a descriptive scene about a wedding or a funeral. Then, take that same description and use it from the point of view of an unreliable narrator.

2) Take an activity you enjoy or a skill that you possess and describe it. Then give that skill/activity to a character the opposite gender of you and use it in a scene.

3) Change the sexual orientation of a character in a scene. Do you actually have to change anything on the page? How does this change feel with this character – does it matter? Does it add anything to the plot?

4) If you are struggling with an opening, try changing either the tense or the point of view. Present tense can make things more urgent. Past tense can slow things down if you have a lot of action and need more reflection.

5) Tell the villain’s side of your story, from any point of view.

6) If you are working in 3rd person, have each character write something in first person – a letter, a journal entry, an email – to get a better feel for his/her voice. If you are working in 1st person, try having other characters tell the story in their words.

7) Have all your characters write letters to each other. Even if they don’t actually interact on the page.

8) Try telling the story from the point of view of an inanimate or nonliving object (think A.S. King’s pagoda in Please Ignore Vera Dietz)

9) Similarly, try telling the story from the point of view of the setting (think Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse). This works well if you want to have a summarized passage of time.

10) If you get stuck, try using the omniscient unlimited point of view (god voice), even if your story doesn’t use it. Tell from way up on high, with all your Authorial Authority, all that you know so far about the fictional world you’ve built. Sometimes this change can shake loose something that will get you back in the groove.

11) Pick a movie, book, song or piece of visual art and write from each character’s point of view how they react to it. You can do this with anything, really: a picture of lolcats, a maxi-pad commercial, a pile of dog crap on the sidewalk.

12) Select a favorite scene from a favorite book. Then try rewriting it from a different point of view (from another character, or changing from unlimited to limited internal or limited outer and vice versa).

If you try any of these, and they work, let me know! (Same thing if they suck, I guess, too; wouldn’t want to inflict crappy activities on future students…)

One Comment

  • Meagan Mac on Oct 18, 2012 Reply

    I love those first two and think I’ll try them out. Will let you know how it goes. And I take full responsibility for any suckage.

    Thanks for sharing!

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