One Writer’s Journey

September 1, 2017

Multiple Points of View

If you are contemplating writing a young adult novel with multiple points of view, you need to study One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus.

If you don’t know this book, five students are given detention on the same day. They were all caught by a single phone-hating teacher with phones in their backpacks during his various classes.  But the phones aren’t theirs.  They are:

Bronwyn is the school brain.  She’s heading straight for an early acceptance from Yale.

Cooper is a jock with an amazing fast ball. He’s already being scouted by a variety of schools.

Addy dates the school quarterback. She’s sweet and pretty enough to be on the homecoming court.

Nate, a known drug dealer, who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  He’s focused on convincing his probation officer that he’s doing everything right.

In spite of the fact that Nate is there, Simon is the odd man out.  Why?  He has one friend in the whole school and everyone else hates him.  Hates.  Him.   Simon runs a gossip ap that used to “out” whoever did anything they wouldn’t want someone else to know about.  Cheating on a boyfriend, casual sex, drunken anarchy, pregnancy.  All could be and were punished by a post from Simon.

But not everyone makes it out of detention.  Note: I don’t consider this a plot spoiler because the vast majority of this book is spent trying to figure out how and why Simon died of an allergic reaction to peanut oil in the middle of detention.

Why is this a book you should study for POV?  Because you spend a great deal of time in each character’s head.  The moment you pick up the narrative through a particular set of eyes, you know who is in the driver’s seat.  There is never any question whether the POV character is Addy or Cooper.

Some authors would be able to pull off telling the boys from the girls and that’s about it but McManus gives us four distinct voices.  She does an amazing job.  Part of it is done by giving the characters distinct backgrounds.

Cooper is a good-ol’ Southern boy who moved to California to play baseball.  When he gets nervous, his accent gets mighty thick.

Nate is a drug dealer but he does it to pay the mortgage and put Chinese take out on the table.  He doesn’t love his life, but he doesn’t know how to fix it. He’s used to telling adults, especially his probation officer, what they want to hear.

Bronwyn is the insanely smart daughter of an immigrant father.  Can you say driven to succeed?

Home-coming princess Addy lives in a fatherless household with a mom who is addicted to plastic surgery and young husbands.  She’s not the prettiest or the smartest but her boyfriend is a catch and she knows she’s lucky to have him.

Each of these characters uses a different vocabulary and different sentence structure.  Once you learn the four points of view, you never wonder whose head you are in.  A masterful job and a book worth studying.





January 10, 2013

What You Can Learn Fiddling with Perspective

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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“My new place is only about 1400 square feet.”

I did my best not to crack a smile.  He was actually apologizing about the tiny size of his new home — a home just a bit bigger than the largest place I have ever lived.  It’s all about perspective.  Your background and way of looking at the world has a lot to do with how you interpret events.   For him, this was a step down in the world – a not-s0-small condo replacing a huge two story home.

That’s why sometimes when I am working on a new story, I play around with perspective, switching from one point of view character to another.  I am especially inclined to do this if I am writing a picture book simply because it doesn’t take very long to rewrite a 500 word story two or three times.  How does the story come  together when I write from the point-of-view of the protagonist?  The antagonist?  Someone not directly involved in the action who is simply an observer?

I very seldom use the “off beat” point of view, returning instead to the one I intended to use all along, but this is an exercise I still do. Why?  Because I always learn something by writing in a different point of view.  If nothing else, I get a better feel for another character’s voice.  Sometimes I gain insights into what motivates this character and how the world looks from their perspective.

Insights such as these can add subtle color to your story.



March 30, 2011

Point of View

At the retreat this weekend, one of the things that Jennifer Mattson (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) talked about was POV (Point of View).  It is, as she pointed out, the reader’s primary access point to the story.

Second person is used only rarely but brings with it a great sense of immediacy.  One of the books we read for the retreat, You by Charles Benoit, is written in 2nd person.   The only other example we could come up with is a novel by Gary Blackwood.  Of course, we blanked on the title but it was his book about a magician (Second Sight, perhaps?).

Point of view is especially important if your character has a quirky or unique way of expressing herself.  Jennifer’s example was Junie B. Jones.  Love her or hate her, no one else sounds like Junie B.  In first person, it works.

When you want to hide something from the reader, be very careful using first person.  It works in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because the facts that the narrator is hiding from the reader are also hidden from herself.

We wrapped this session up by rewriting a story from another point of view.  I chose Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard.  Actually, that was the piece that most of us chose.  I have to admit that I was surprised that no one else rewrote the story from the point of view of one of the brothers.  I didn’t get very far but it was fun once I got rolling.  Why not try this exercise with one of your favorite legends or fairy tales?  What knowledge might one of the secondary characters be able to bring to the story?


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