He taught a class on point of view and perspective this week. The perspective and point of view of a story, of course, greatly changes how a story is told, from the sympathies and empathies the narrator creates to the information that the narrator is capable of releasing to the reader. Tom thought that, in explaining the advantages and disadvantages of first person versus third person limited versus third person omniscient, his students might either discover how their longer pieces might better be told, or how to change their story in order to better take advantage of the point of view they wish to write it.
Perspective is a tricky beast, and sometimes it can make or break a written work. For example, it’s really tedious and annoying when someone tries to write their blog post in the third person (solely to illustrate a point). The perspectives of a character can be very limiting for a work—or that could be to an advantage, if the genre of the work is a mystery or whodunit, like Greenmantle or The Thirty-Nine Steps. Incidentally, third person omniscient works well in some kind of holistic study of a fictional setting with lots of characters. Cannery Row comes to mind, as does East of Eden, and I’m sure that if I was literate enough I could come up with a more disparate set of examples than two works by the same author for each category.
In order to teach how stories can be influenced based on what is known and what is not known. To that end, I got REALLY bored and came up with an exercise involving a museum heist. A master thief hears that the local museum is hosting a special exhibit—a priceless Faberge Egg and, deciding he would like to celebrate his birthday in style, decides to relieve the museum of its jewel-encrusted burden. He ends up getting stuck in the museum vents overnight but, despite several glaring obstacles, he manages to get his act together, get the egg, and get out alive. Students had to take several key events from the thief’s evening and fill in what’s missing, in order to recreate the events of the evening within the thief’s perspectives.
Well, half of the students had to do that.
The other half had to write on a security guard, a tired and overworked woman who took a night job at the museum in order to pay her way through law school. She had been asked to work the day shift before her night shift and, extremely tired, underprepared for her midterm coming up next week, and really not excited to spend twenty-four hours straight guarding some gaudy egg. Besides, it’s her birthday. She wasn’t planning to celebrate with a bunch of dead stuffed animals and dinosaur bones.
With one half of the class working on the guard’s story and the other half working on the thief’s story, it came time to put them together. Splitting my class into pairs, each was instructed to inform their partner about the events of the evening. In this way, they were able to learn more about what happened during the robbery than they could by only following the story of their assigned characters. For example, each section was given a surprise that only the other knew. Those who wrote about the guard knew that, concerned for the egg’s safety, the Faberge egg was switched out with a fake one for the evening, meaning that what the thief stole was not anything of value. Those who wrote about the thief were able to figure out that the two characters were actually long-lost twins. What a twist!
The exercise was well-received, and my students said that they enjoyed this style of learning. I thought it was a success.
Next week, we’re moving on to small workshops, in order to prepare students for their full workshops at the end of term. We’ll see how it goes.