Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Point of View

Do you remember the experiment teachers often use in psych and/or writing classes where someone rushes into the room, does something dramatic, and rushes out; then, the class members are asked to describe what happened? Of course, the descriptions vary widely. I think I have been fascinated by point of view (and perspective) ever since the first time I witnessed such an exercise.

Later in life, I studied theology for several years. The best thing about theology is the myriad of techniques used to focus thinking. One of the things theologians do (like scientists or artists or writers) is to look at an idea from as many points of view and perspectives as possible. The result of that training is that I learned to look at almost every issue from a multitude of perspectives. Things look different depending on where you're standing when you look at them!

Finally, to make the whole thing even more complex, there's the scientific research that indicates that the viewer's very presence actually changes what is being studied.

So. Things look different depending on where you are standing in relation to what's happening. Everybody who witnesses an event sees something different. The witness is a participant in the event.

How do you take all that into account when writing fiction? You have to decide who's eyes to look through, in the full knowledge that your choice changes everything about the story you're going to write. Perhaps that choice is the second most important decision a writer has to make (the first being the overall story idea).

The good news is that if you decide you've made a bad decision, or you get stuck somewhere in the writing process, it's not a big deal to go back and rewrite the story from a different character's point of view. As a matter of fact, I think that writing at least parts of the story from a couple of different points of view during the editing process is not a bad idea. As both a reader and a writer, I love stories that play around with this technique. I think when a story is told from multiple points of view, the reader gets a more textured and richer experience of the story. For the writer, it's just fun to sort of imaginatively run around peeking through different eyes.

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