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.

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