17 August 2010

Nowhere Man

When I was young, I had a ruler which had the image of a hilly landscape in broad daylight. If you tilted the ruler slightly, the image was replaced by another of the same landscape at night. I still do not know what those multiple images are called, but I remember spending many hours holding the card up at various angles to determine if I could find a third image hidden somewhere.

When I grew a little older, I overheard Atticus Finch tell his kids- "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." After I digested that, things were never the same again. Trying to see things from the point of view of the other person helped me understand why they did what they did- I may not have found it in me to love them despite what they did, but it definitely helped me accept things.

Naturally, therefore, when I started writing, and discovered my fondness for the short story, I automatically gravitated towards multiple PoVs (Points of View).

"Taxi!" I yelled with my arm raised high. Hailing a cab in Midtown during rush hour is definitely ill-advised. I walked to the next corner. It begins to rain. I mumble about meteorologists and faulty forecasts and it dawned on me that I forgot the holy grail in business- my flashdrive with the PowerPoint presentation needed for the meeting. Thank God for cell phones.
"Mandy, bring my flash drive to 39th and Park. I don't care how you do it. . . Yes, I know the meeting is in fifteen minutes. Just get it to me. Now!" Time for a new assistant.

I should have been indulging in some retail therapy at Barneys. Instead I am stuck in this stupid midtown rush.
I deserved the morning off. Was in office till midnight formatting graphs, standardising the presentation. "See you in office at eight", she said stepping into her cab as I legged it to the subway station.
Couldn't she have gone directly to the client's office? Can't she forgo the coffee from the office vending machine even once?
"Bring my flash drive to...", she trilled just as I was stepping out. Inconsiderate, forgetful bitch.
Time to look for a new job.

With two people, the equation was simple -
2 people x 1 incident = 2 stories

It was when you increased the number of characters that the equations started to get more complicated -
3 people x 1 incident = 6 stories
4 people x 1 incident - 12 stories
n people x 1 incident = n x (n-1) stories

A loves B, B loves C, A and C are friends.
Regardless of the ultimate conclusion, this, the most formulaistic story ever written, would be totally different depending on whether it was told from the PoV of A, B, C, or a fourth character outside the main triangle.

Iain Pears used multiple PoVs to good effect in his 1998 historical mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost, where the story unfolds through the contradictory narrative of four unreliable witnesses.

Would To Kill a Mockingbird have been as effective a story, had Harper Lee chosen not to tell the story from the PoV of a child?

To me, one of the most fun parts of planning a story is deciding which PoV to use. What about you- which PoV do you use? To you tell a story from the PoV of any of the protagonists, or do you choose someone watching from the fringes?

Painting - Midtown Rush, Paul Kenton- courtesy Washington Green

Title taken from the song of the same name by The Beatles- "...doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to..."

Both stories are drabbles - an extremely short story told in exactly 100 words.


Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I can't recall ever choosing a POV. The story always seems to dictate POV.

M.J. Nicholls said...

^^ We always choose a POV, Mary, surely? I mean, instinctually or subliminally, I grant you, but we still actively choose, do we not? I have a hard time with this "story dictates me" argument, but that's for another time. :)

Yes. Excellent drabbles. POV to me is crucial and has to be decided before you begin to write. Word up, sisters.

Hart Johnson said...

I think it is actually a really good way to get to know your characters to write a busy scene from a number of different PoVs. It is also a nice way to manipulate what the reader knows (unreliable narrators being a good way to keep them in the dark). I usually have a PoV that comes most naturally, but it can lead to surprising good stuff to mix it up a little.

James C. Wallace II said...

I'm in the final throes of my third book, Family of Oz and it has 5 distinct storylines going on at once. Four of the five are separate family members making their way through Oz to meet up in Emerald City. The fifth is the protagonist and the battle began in earnest last night. It's very hard keeping track of all of this, especially the timelines. Still though, the final result is well worth the effort...

ViolaNut said...

Nothing to do with PoV, but the tip-it-one-way-then-the-other picture thing? It's called "lenticular". Now THERE'S a word you don't get to use every day. ;-)

CA Heaven said...

I had that kind of ruler too. Cool stuff.

When I'm writing, I find it very entertaining to put the POV in a person who is the opposite of myself, to promote ideas and attitudes that I completely disagree with >:)

Cold As Heaven

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

M.J.- I guess you are right. I just don't choose it as consciously as I do other things in my work. Most likely it comes as I mull things over (and over) before I ever begin to wrote. Hmmm.

Natasha said...

@ Mary- I have to agree with Mark. Whether you do it deliberately, or whether it 'just happens', the PoV is never by accident. If you choose the most obvious PoV, that too is a choice, and we always make it even if we are not aware of it.

@ Mark - absolutely. Sometimes, the wrong PoV can kill a story, or the right PoV can make an average story divine.

@ Hart- unreliable narrators make for a good story, don't they? And I remember a masterpiece of a book that had so many different PoVs- all so well done. Unfortunately, Confluence is still waiting for an agent :-(

@ James- you do seem to have a cracker of a series in your hands. Difficult to keep track of, but well worth it in the end.

@ Viola- I knew you would come up with the word. I spent hours on google trying to find it, but naturally couldn't since I had no idea where to start looking from. Now to edit the post to include the lovely word.

@ CaH- I love doing that too. To be honest, playing around with PoVs is one of the most fun parts of writing.

@ Mary - *nods* For some it is a conscious choice, for others it 'just comes' - but either way, it is a choice made.