Week 4: Time To Get Dirty (With Point of View)

Man, I’m scared.

I’m working on a story, and I suddenly had the idea that I wanted to experiment with its point of view. I’m no stranger to attempting different points of view; one of my favorites (and most successful acceptance-wise) has been the unreliable first person narrator.

I LOVE the unreliable narrator. I’ve been told that some writers find it difficult, but I find it liberating. You get to be biased and say whatever you want to say without any concern for facts or manners. You just have to be true to being inconsistent. How fun is that? (Let’s not dwell on what this might indicate of me. Moving on.)

Why am I scared? I’m scared of the MFA workshop voice and the literary journal editor voice that each has a firm residence in my brain. I received my MFA from the University of Memphis, and while there, I managed the literary journal River City, now called The Pinch. I’m no stranger to examining a story for breaking the “rules,” those controversial guidelines that everyone argues over as to whether they are truly effective or just restricting.

You have to know the rules if you want to break them, yes? That’s what conventional wisdom says. But what does that mean? You can break well, but you can still break badly, too. I’m afraid to even reveal how I want to manipulate point of view, because I know many people might say, “Oh, no, you can’t do that.”

But, on Friday, I had a new vision, while writing, and I think I need to give it a shot. And, it’s easy to say, “Well, yeah. Give it a shot. What’s the big deal? What could it hurt?”

My answer is not glamorous, but I’m afraid of wasting my time. What if I push the story’s limits for point of view, meaning twisting point of view in a way that tells more sides of the story yet doesn’t wrench the reader out due to irregularity, and I fail? I’m not afraid of the failure so much as the wasted time and the fact that I should have known better all along.

Something Hananah and I say a lot now is no “should.” There is no “should.” Only “could.” This replaces pressure with possibility. I could have known better?

I could.

I could have never done it in the first place.

So, I fear wasted effort. I’m eager now. I know what I want a manuscript to look like, essentially, and I’m ready to make that happen, and I don’t want to waste time.

But that’s the process. That’s the dilemma of creating something. It’s not easy. It can be grueling. It can take lots and lots of time. And from my current point of view, that’s not appealing.

If I’m honest, I have another voice in my head, too. The sophomore English teacher. I taught sophomore English at Munford High School (Go Cougars!) for 5 years, and taught the main points of view: First Person, Second Person, Third Person Limited, Third Person Omniscient.

There’s nothing like teaching something that makes you learn it better. That was true for me as a swim coach. Only after I started teaching kids how to do breaststroke did I really understand it myself. And only after teaching grammar and lessons on point of view do I really, really get it.

I kind of hate that I get it. Getting it means it’s really hard to break the rules. You’re too aware of breaking the rules when you’re doing it. Similarly, when writing stories, it can be hard for me to not use the tightest, most correct grammar. But using a fragment, as well as deliberately misplaced comma, creates style in fiction. Creates voice. And I have to rally against the grammar teacher and listen to the voice of the character.

That’s a lot of voices in my head. How do I make them go away?

I don’t know that I can, but I think it’s why I love photography and resist any formal training. I’ve had a few people tell me I should start a business, but I actually know very little about the craft. I have no true knowledge of the settings; I usually just fiddle around with one until the picture comes out ok.

My strength with photography, I think, and why others are duped into thinking I know what I am doing, is that I search for a point of view. I’m constantly bending and leaning back and stretching over in order to find a shot. I do not look sophisticated when I am doing this, at all. I know this because my husband got a shot of me in Philadelphia last year taking a picture of Independence Hall, and let’s just say it is not flattering.

When I take photos of my kids at the peach orchard or the strawberry patch, I’m basically lying in the dirt. I’m not afraid to get dirty to capture that experience from the best angle, and it’s delightful to have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t want formal training, because I’m afraid the same thing will happen that has happened with the writing. I will know too much.

Aaaaaannd, I just answered my own question. It’s time to forget what I know and get a little dirty. As my dad once said, “you have to carpe diem, because there’s not that many diems left to carpe.”

PS – I did not know I would come to that conclusion while writing this blog or even that I would mention photography. That is the magic of this blog and why I am still doing it. This was my actual thought process and the post helped me decide to push my sleeves up and go for it.

I love this photo. I put my iPhone on the ground, leaned back, and tilted the camera. Then I told my daughter to reach for that blade of grass.
My signature squat as captured by my husband, David, while hiking in the Ozarks over Thanksgiving.

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