Art

Writing and the “Glue” of Point of View

I’m often a people lover and have a Venn diagram of friends. In a few of my friend circles, we joke about which one of us is the “glue.” The “glue” is the essential friend who anchors the circle, so we don’t scatter like points that have lost their line. When we talk about creative writing, we can talk about the “glue,” which can also be called point of view. In the Creative Writer’s Handbook (2005), editors Jason and Lefcowitz boldly claim, “Point of view is so powerful that it is the linchpin for every other aspect of writing.”

Point of view, let’s say, is essential because so much depends upon it, like the red wheelbarrow in WCW’s poem. Point of view is a concept that raises essential questions, like: Who will tell the story? How close or far is the speaker from the story? What is the voice like? What sensory details are important to the speaker? Where does the story happen? How does it start? What happens? How does the story end?

To practice answering POV questions in terms of craft (character, setting, tone, etc.), we need a common text. What follows is a short Reuters article from March 2008, that appeared on a now-defunct web page called Yahoo Odd News. The article is titled: “Mom’s solution to cramped living.”

MOM’S SOLUTION TO CRAMPED LIVING

Moscow (Reuters) – A Russian woman paid a former convict to kill her 17-year-old son because she was fed up with sharing her small one-room apartment with him, the newspaper Izvestia reported on Wednesday.

The 42-year-old crane operator paid the man a 2,100 rouble [sic] ($80) deposit to kill her son, Izvestia said. But the would-be hitman told the police who set up a sting operation and arrested her when she handed over the 900 rouble [sic] ‘completion’ payment.  

The woman and her son shared the tiny apartment in the Moscow region with their respective partners and there were frequent rows, which became worse when the son’s girlfriend became pregnant.

“The woman decided that by snuffing out her son she could solve her housing problems,” the paper said.

Prosecutors confirmed the report and said the suspect would be charged soon.

Chronic housing shortages have dogged Russia for decades. The problem has eased slightly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but many families of several generations still share cramped apartments.

THE END

CHARACTERS

Who could tell this story? The list of characters might begin with the mother or her son. Who else could tell the story? Make an exhaustive list.

TONE

Is the story comic, tragic, or some combination of the two? The shocking circumstances could lend themselves to morbid humor or in other directions like social critique or family dysfunction.

PERSPECTIVE

How does the main character relate to the story’s events?

Are the events personal and told in first person, either by a participant or a character who is a witness to events?

Does the story speak in second person and force the reader into the story? Confronting the reader with “you” claims locates them as part of the action and complicit in the events. In my humble opinion, all writers should try second person once or twice.

Third person narration tells a story about a character and has three modes of expression:

Full Omniscience-readers have access to interior lives of all characters.

Limited Omniscience-readers have access to one character’s interior life.

Objective Limitation-Surfaces tell the story with no direct access to interior lives.

TENSE

Is the telling in present tense, happening as we read, or is it past tense, the action having already happened?

SETTING

In this case, does the story need to be set in Moscow? What is most essential about the setting? Could the story be set in a different “one-room” domestic space? Is the setting urban, rural, or in between?

INCITING INCIDENT

What happens first? Where does the story start? Is it when the mother discovers the pregnancy? This question is related to character.

PLOT

After the inciting incident, what happens next and next and next? The plot of many Chekhov stories is ABDCE: Action (inciting incident), Background, Development of characters, Complications of plot, and the Ending.

As for an Ending, it’s sometimes useful to ask “what if” questions. How many endings are possible? As many as the story allows.

LANGUAGE

What language in the Reuters article did you notice? For example, “snuffing out” sounds more streetwise than sophisticated, gritty and rough. How will the character(s) in your story speak to relate to setting and tone?

What other details in the Reuters article surprised you?

The glue that holds a story together is a blend of the choices a writer makes. Point of view questions allow discovery of how choices we make as writers contribute to a story’s integrity. Questioning uncovers revelations in the story that might otherwise be overlooked. Point of view, the glue, a linchpin: they’re essential to holding things together.

*This article is adapted from a lesson plan for fiction writing. Students generally enjoyed it, and it generated lively discussion.

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