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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | first person

Adjust Your Mirrors

Writing Road Trip | Lisa Bullard | Adjust Your MirrorsYou get a different view of the road behind you depending on which of your car’s mirrors you look into.

And writers can direct readers to a different outlook on their story depending on which point of view they use as the “mirror” for the events that take place.

I’ve found that point of view is a tricky thing for many writers, whether they’ve been at the writing game for five months or twenty-five years. It’s all too easy to unconsciously slip from an outside narrator (the third person “she”) to an inside narrator (first person “I”), or to “head-hop” from the inside of one character’s head to another.

As with so many other areas of the writing craft, repeated practice is one of the best ways to avoid these mistakes. One simple exercise is to have your students try their hand at writing the same scene multiple times, but deliberately and thoughtfully shifting point of view each time. Ask them to write a scene in which one student is bullying another. The first time through, have them write the scene using third person—one of the most common points of view (“Kurt was walking down the hall, minding his own business, when Big Mike suddenly shoved him into a locker.”)

Then have your students write the scene in first person—another common point of view—from the perspective of the student who is being bullied. (“I was walking down the hall, feeling pretty proud about the ‘A’ I’d just gotten on my math test, and bam! Out of nowhere, my face was crushed against a locker.”)

Finally, you can add a third round: have them try the scene again in first person point of view but, this time, from the bully’s perspective. (“I was really mad because I flunked that math test and then I noticed this kid from my class who goes around acting like he’s smarter than all the rest of us. I couldn’t help it, I just had to teach that kid a lesson, so I gave him a little tiny push.”)

By deliberately choosing to switch the point of view or the perspective character, young writers will learn some of the nuances that go into each of these choices—they’ll learn, in other words, how to adjust their story’s mirror.



Copyright Adobe Stock. Rome Map Detail; selective focus By Jules_KitanoIn college I was fortunate enough to travel with a school-sponsored group to Europe. I saw many amazing things, but Rome was the place I couldn’t stop talking about afterwards.

When I described my love for Rome to my parents, I focused on one particular episode: Wanting to escape the afternoon heat, a group of us ducked inside one of the churches that crop up everywhere in that city. Inside this unremarkable building, I discovered the original of a painting that had been my favorite out of my entire art history textbook. It was just hanging there on the wall, not even worthy of a locked door in a city that is crammed full of exquisite artworks.

I used a different anecdote when talking to my friends. I described the multi-hour dinner a group of us enjoyed, complete with a different wine for every course, and how we followed it up with a long midnight stroll through what seemed like the entire city of Rome, becoming completely lost, and probably by pure luck managing to eventually make it back to our hotel in one piece.

Here’s an important reminder for your writing students: when they are telling a story using a character speaking in first-person voice (the “I” voice), the character/narrator’s intended audience will play a key role. In other words, at some point the writer should ask, “What ‘audience destination’ does the narrator intend? Who does my character imagine will read their story?” That awareness of audience will shape many things, particularly how honest the narrator chooses to be, and what kind of private details they choose to share.

Do they imagine that there will be no outside readers (such as in a “Dear Diary” format)? Or does the narrator imagine they are telling their story to complete strangers? Knowing the answer to that question, in combination with the personality the writer has established for the narrator, will affect how the story is told.

Case in point: when I knew my parents were the audience, I chose a Rome story set at midday, in a church, featuring a Great Work of Art. I DIDN’T choose the Rome story set at midnight, on dark streets, featuring a group of wine-sloppy college students.


Gifted: Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe

Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe Debra Frasier, author and illustrator Beach Lane Books, October 2013 Ever since I saw my 10-year-old niece pose in front of the television, trying to imitate the supermodels at the end of the runway, my awareness of the beauty culture in this country has been acute. We took her […]