When I last left you, I was studying point of view–and our focus, if I recall correctly, was on the different points of view: first person, second person, and third person. The ocean became a character through three different lenses, and although certain strains of existence persisted through each of them, each was wholly unique.
This week I would normally proceed with the second exercise in “Method and Madness,” but I don’t like it. Take a topic that’s difficult to write about, it says, and use point of view as a way of breaking the surface–first write it as a personal account, then as an omniscient narration. It’s not a bad exercise, but I don’t think it teaches very much after the last lesson. We already know how changing person can change perspective–why repeat it again?
Instead, let’s look about how perspective can change a person.
A couple weeks ago, I did an exercise on the author’s perspective and how what the author knows isn’t always what shows through the writing. This exercise, one I believe I first saw on a page created by a John Gardner many eons ago (a page, coincidentally, that I now cannot find, so may not have been his at all)–regardless, this exercise entails describing the same scene–a location, an event, anything–from the unique perspectives of three different characters–characters, I might add, that are vastly different themselves.
Not only does changing perspective allow you to learn more about the characters (what do they notice? how do they act in this situation? what motivates them?), it allows you to learn more about the situation and the setting (Jane may notice daffodils whereas John may see the bees–because he’s allergic and she is not). Furthermore, it gives a great exercise in practicing creating perspectives for different characters. It’s easier to make points of view feel different if they’re different stories–but in the same story? That’s, well, a different story.
Instead of trying to make up an entirely new scene to shift, I’m going to do a modified version of this exercise by taking a story I’ve already written and picking out a scene that I can write in another point of view. This is, actually, the same activity–and it’s doubly useful before you’ve published something since it gives you a new perspective you may want to incorporate into the story as a whole.
(For example, in one exercise I did in my first creative writing class last fall I changed from third person to first person and realized I had left out a number of sensory details I later incorporated into the third-person version.)
From “Sunday Sails Away”:
Wanda pulled herself under the water and felt the blue waves poking down from the surface. In another second she broke the surface, gasping in the salty sea air, and grabbed hold of the massive stone that jutted up through the waves. She exhaled forcefully and pulled herself out of the water, but even once she had settled herself atop the rock, the sea foam still washed up to her waist.
She wrung the water from her darkened hair and sat back, braced up on her hands, while the rising sun shown down upon her. By the time Wanda’s hair had dried and blew through the wind in amber waves just as bright as the glare upon the water, she saw her friend Isaac walking up the beach toward her. He wasn’t tall for his age, and not stocky either, but something about his simple smile always filled her with warmth from head to tail.
Isaac stretched when he stopped at the edge of the shore and then settled himself lightly onto the sand. “Day’s lovely, isn’t it?”
Wanda lifted her shoulders and beamed. “Always, Isaac, when you say it is.”
“I could say the sky’s dark on a Sunday and you’d still agree,” he said.
“Perhaps,” Wanda said, a sly smile painted across her face as she turned momentarily to meet his eyes. A jolt of static rushed through her and she quickly turned away to listen to the water lapping at the rock beneath her. She sat like that for a while, investigating the horizon with her eyes. The dark sea strewn with golden sun rays undulated with reflections of silver and white. The blue sky, already azure, degraded into a patch as deep as the ocean and only slightly darker, and in this blackness she could see the sparkling tendrils of lightning in the distance.
“A storm’s coming,” she whispered, and when she realized Isaac hadn’t heard her, she called more powerfully over the waves.
She watched him sit still for a second–surely he was imagining something; he always pondered so much in her presence, she felt sometimes he spoke more with himself than with her–and finally he asked, “Think it’ll be as bad as last time?”
“Certainly,” she said, glancing over the water again. The clouds were especially compact today, and the lightning flashed incessantly. “If not seven times worse.”
She tilted her head, discerning how the waves peaked beneath the black clouds. She looked back at him, smiling, and said, “Perhaps six.”
Isaac shuddered, or chuckled; over the crashing waves, she couldn’t tell. Then his lips parted and she strained to hear his words: “Think I should warn father then?”
Wanda rolled her eyes. “Absolutely not! He’ll know in his own time today, or else he won’t know at all.” She crossed her arms and tossed her hair. “All the better for him then, I should think.”
If you’ve already read “Sunday Sails Away,” you might be able to pick up a few things that foreshadow Wanda, Isaac, and the events to come. If you haven’t read it, why not read it now and see what happens?
I did a similar adaptation last fall with an exercise in screenwriting–The Scenic Route–and this same scene was one of three I rewrote not just from another point of view, but in another genre altogether. It may also be an enjoyable read–and certainly a worthwhile exercise–if you’re interested in screen writing.
Let me say in closing that this is perhaps one of the most amazing exercises an aspiring author can do. I’ll certainly repeat it with other characters and other stories in the future–and so should you!