Thursday, November 11, 2010

How You See It and How You Say It

"It's all in how you see it," some people say. For writers, that means point of view, which has to be one of the more challenging, complex and, to my mind, fascinating topics of the writer's craft. Point of view is more than just first person or third person. Point of view is about immediacy and risk. Whenever I learn about or explore point of view, I find myself thinking in cinematic terms. Where is the lens of my reader's camera located? Where is their microphone located? How tight is the close-up? Does my story need a more panoramic or epic scope?

Even tense can play a role in point of view. I just made the risky move of rewriting the first scene of my latest novel in first person, present tense. It has a level of immediacy, intimacy and high-risk involvement like no other, but it comes with a price. You have to place all sorts of limits on your access to information, since you can only share what your narrator knows at or before the point in time of the action. But I have to say, my pulse is racing and I feel like I'm going for the jugular a lot more in the first person, present tense. It's almost an adrenaline rush.

How you see it can also drive how you say it. I'm thinking about that elusive quality known as voice. So hard to define. You just know it when you see it. Too often I reread my stuff and am disgusted by how flat it seems, the way it lays there on the page after being run through my critical, analytical, disengaged and dispassionate mill one too many times. Then I'll write something for a workshop exercise and it just leaps off the page. Voice.

When I shift point of view, it can blow voice wide open. To me, finding the voice when you're not writing in first person seems so much harder, and when it comes to YA literature, I keep coming back to the first person point of view. No intermediary between the reader and the protagonist.

At a minimum, if you're struggling to find the voice of your story, I think it's worth it to rewrite a pivotal scene from a variety of points of view. You may be amazed by what you discover. If you're lucky, you'll find the right voice before you've finished an entire draft. If you're like me, you might end up rewriting your whole novel from a different point of view. But the risk is worth the pay-off. At least, that's how I see it.

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