Point of View Shifting

The following snippet of a story is my contribution to the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge – Shift Your Perspective.  I chose the advanced option that asked for a piece of writing that shifts back and forth through more than one point of view. Halfway through the exercise, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have been so ambitious. It’s supposed to be a challenge, though – right?

Browne and King (1993), in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, describe the three basic points of view – first person, third person, and omniscient. In this piece, I’ve switched between first person, third person limited and third person omniscient. I hope I’ve been successful. I’ve also put most of the action in the present tense.

I find point of view one of the most challenging aspects of fiction writing. This writing challenge is a great opportunity to pay attention to the skills needed to work with various points of view. One thing I learned during the never-ending edits of my novel – changes have to be clear and smooth – like a well woven tapestry. The reader must be able to shift right along with me and that shift should never detract from the story. It should move the reader to those all-important “aha” moments without drawing any attention to itself at all.

“Stop, stop – I mean it – stop right there. She wouldn’t say it like that.” Carrie rises from the folding chair and begins to pace back and forth across the open floor in front of the stage. “She wouldn’t act like that.” Go right ahead, little Miss Perfect, butcher the entire play – you know there isn’t a frigging thing I can do about it. “Listen to me, Brianna – you’ve got to get in her head a bit – she’s an angst ridden teenager confronting a powerful authority figure – you’re playing her like a cardboard Disney princess buttering up Prince Charming.” Shit – I should have expected this. She’s doing it on purpose. 

The gym was quiet except for the distant whirring noise of the school’s furnace. Tiny motes of dust were caught and suspended in a shaft of light that flickered in from one of the upper windows. The suffocating smell of athletics hung in the air – the odor of sweat, rubber balls and teenage hormones channeled into team sport grudge matches. A dozen kids milled around the stage at the gym’s far end. Sheaves of paper were clutched in the hands of a few, dangled carelessly from the fingers of others and some had simply tossed their scripts to the floor.

Carrie stares at the ceiling of the gym and thinks about how she has ended up stuck with Brianna McClintock as lead for this year’s drama production. She sees Mark’s salt and pepper hair and his stunning brown eyes as he smiled over at her. The rest of his jog-every-day, naked body was sprawled on her bed amid the now rumpled sheets. “It’s a small enough favour, Carrie. I’m sure she’ll be great and the extra few lines she’ll get for her college applications are going to really help in the well-rounded, student section.” When Mark wants something his voice is like being stroked with silk. High school principal, upstanding father and husband – Mr. Mark McClintock – serial cheater, manipulator and unbelievably satisfying lover, tick the box marked all of the above. What a mess. I’m not up to this and you know it, don’t you Brianna? I couldn’t make you into a lead for this play even if you wanted to cooperate. You are completely lacking in even the most rudimentary talent.

Carrie sprints up the four stairs to the stage with her own copy of the script, “OK, Brianna – just listen.” Carrie hangs her head and glances at Brianna from behind her hair. Her voice comes out low, shaking a bit with anxiety, “I don’t know sir – I don’t know the answer.” You spoilt little brat – have you ever felt anxious about anything in your whole silver-spoon-in-your-mouth life? Don’t look at me with your mother’s condescending eyes. Isn’t she just God’s answer to the until-death-do-us-part wife? But your father wouldn’t have it any other way, would he? He’s never leaving her. Shit, even I know that.

Brianna smiles sweetly and nods her head. She begins to move back to her position on stage, whispering to Carrie as she passes her, “Just because you’re banging my father doesn’t make you my fucking boss.” Her voice rises as she passes Carrie, a small, smirky smile playing around the edges of her mouth, “I’m just saying, Ms. Carpenter.”

Carrie spins around to grab the girl’s arm and drags her a few feet back to deliver her own whisper, “Just because I’m banging your father doesn’t make you a fucking actor.” She directs the leading lady back to center stage with a wave of her hand before she heads down the four stairs to the gym floor. She calls out over her shoulder, “I’m just saying, too, Brianna.”

P1040023

Murals and Dumpsters – a photographic perspective shift from the streets of Sacramento

4 comments on “Point of View Shifting

  1. shatashari says:

    It is my believe one cannot shift viewpoint style without loosing the audience. I got lost a couple times, but a second read cleared most of it. It was quite the challenge, yes? I think you did a good job.

    • I really appreciate the feedback. Yes – it was a challenge, for sure. I think as writers we do have to find a way to make those shifts. It isn’t that you couldn’t write a novel all in the first person (very intimate, but a very limited point of view), or all in the third person (broader), or from an omniscient POV (knows everything but isn’t really close to any of the characters). But being able to switch up effectively would give so much more range. I might make myself take this challenge every week!

  2. Christine Penhale says:

    I also think you did an excellent job. I rarely consider point of view when I am reading. I think, as you mentioned, that it is one of those things that is supposed to be seemless. Maybe you only notice it if is done poorly or on purpose with a particular intent in mind – something along the lines of _The Lovely Bones_. It always amazing to me how you can create such convincing characters in such a short amount of text. All of these online writing challenges and clubs that you belong to must help you sharpen your writing skills – what a smart move! It gives your brain a break from your “real” characters and lets you exercise your writing muscle.

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