Thursday, February 23, 2012

For Writers - Point of View

Stay With the Dog

You’ve done this exercise haven’t you? Imagine you’re at the scene of an accident. You’re the reporter gathering facts about what happened. You madly scribble away as each eyewitness tells you what he or she saw and come away with mountains of notes regarding the incident as observed through many eyes. Some relate in-depth details and some focus on only one aspect of the event. A few may even make things up. But each has a point of view and so do you, the reporter.

What you have to do when you write your story is fashion it into a cohesive whole that will inform and entertain your reader. Now imagine telling the story from only one point of view and you have some idea of what your job as a storyteller is. The difficulty is in the choosing. Let’s examine what your interviewees said.

  1. The clerk at the convenience store – “I was just about to hand a lottery ticket to a customer when I saw the front end of a dinged up yellow truck coming right at me through the window!”
  2. The lottery ticket buyer – “The clerk’s eyes got huge and she screamed ‘DUCK’! I didn’t even have time to turn around when I heard an earsplitting crash.”
  3. The guy in the back of the store buying milk – “All of a sudden there was chaos. I had no idea what was going on.”
  4. The driver of the truck – “I’m so sorry. I thought I had the truck in reverse. Boy, I never saw glass shatter like that!”
  5. The little dog sitting next to the driver on the front seat of the truck – I’ll bet this means my supper will be late – again.

Which point of view are you going to go with? Probably you’ll want one with lots of detail, a dash of flare and …hmmm…an interesting quirk or two. Yeah, I’m going with the little dog, too. The kid in me wants to know what that dog knows. The clue here for an intriguing point of view is in that little word, again. So this has happened before, huh? Tell me about it little dog. Give me the who, what, why, where and when of the story. I want your unique point of view. Let me know the story through your quirky dog eyes.


Now that you’ve chosen the little dog’s point of view, stay with it. You’ll see everything through the dogs’ eyes. Be the dog. This doesn’t mean that you can’t describe a scene or introduce another character, but the dog’s character will be the one that your reader will identify with and that’s where your primary focus will be. The dog is the one that your reader will care about. Think of it this way – it’s a story about a truck crashing into a convenience store window told from the point of view of a little white terrier.

You Can’t Do That!

There are a few things that your dog will not be able to do and you need to know what they are if you want to maintain point of view. He can’t know what another character is thinking. He can’t see what’s happening out behind the store or what the clerk did on her way in to work. But scenes and actions can be included in your story as long as you, the dog, would be naturally privy to the information. Here’s an example.

Mr. Flopbot opened the truck door and slid the cold carton of milk across the seat. The little white terrier, his constant companion, popped awake and yawned. The cold carton was snug against his sleepy-warm body. As the truck engine roared to life, the little dog, giving in to the urge to stretch his front legs, suddenly found himself scrambling to simply stay on the seat as the truck plunged into the plate glass window of the convenience store.

"That’s the third time this month!” he thought.

You’ll notice that every detail in this paragraph is something the dog could have observed or felt. I did not change the point of view, for instance, to let the reader know what the driver was thinking or why he hit the gas instead of the brakes. Neither did I say how much money he had in his pocket or include any other details that the dog couldn’t possibly know about.

You Can Do This     

So what do you do with all the other notes you took at the scene of the accident? There’s no reason to let them fall by the wayside. You can incorporate them in a way that maintains point of view and can actually be fun. Did the dog see the clerks face at the last minute? Did he see the glass shining like diamonds on the floor of the store? Did he hear it shatter or notice the hundred candy bars that went flying? Those notes aren’t wasted at all. It’s a matter of how you use them.

Point of view can be tricky. Even the best writers have trouble with it. Of course you have an advantage over them because each time you lose your focus there will be a reminder. Yap, yap, yap! That little white ball of fur will be right there, letting you know that all you have to do is…stay with the dog.   

Image: nixxphotography                      

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