Our guest today is Julia Fierro, author of novels The Gypsy Moth Summer (to be released on June 6th) and Cutting Teeth. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Glamour, The Millions, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she has been profiled in The Observer and The Economist.
A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Julia founded The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop in 2002, which has grown into a creative home to 4,000 writers in NYC, Los Angeles, and online. SSWW was named “Best Writing Classes” by The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Brooklyn Magazine, the L Magazine; and “Best MFA-Alternative” by Poets & Writers.
The 3 Tiers of Point of View Technique: Observation, Interpretation & Imagination
Our writing instructors tell us again and again to “get closer” to our characters. We nod in agreement, all the while asking ourselves, but how do I get closer? And what does getting closer mean? There is nothing more frustrating than, after writing many pages, realizing you still don’t truly know your leading guy and/or gal.
We are all close to someone—usually many someones—and this makes us natural character experts. We spend much of our time analyzing our loved ones, our neighbors and co-workers, even the strangers sitting across from us on the subway, interpreting gestures, expressions, appearance, dialogue, and tone. We have all imagined the thoughts that pass through the minds of our lovers and friends and enemies; the celebrities we will never meet in person but who we feel already acquainted with thanks to the power of our interpretation and imagination. Writers can use this innate curiosity to create characters so complex they are impossible to be dismissed—characters worthy of the reader’s sympathy and investment.
Like their creators, our characters are capable of curiosity, and their eyes, focused on the right detail and filtered through the right lens, will unveil meaning in the same the way a camera does as it pans in on a subject in a film.
The Power of Observation and Interpretation
For the purpose of this essay, we’ll name our protagonist Vivian. The precise way Vivian interprets the details that surround her—her boss eyeing the run in her pantyhose, the long-time crush flirting with Vivian’s best friend, the neighbor she suspects steals her Sunday Times—reveals specifics about Vivian’s present situation, her state of mind, and her mood, and, digging even deeper, her dreams and regrets, her secret fears and obsessions. The quality of a character’s interpretation and imagination can be used to guide the reader “closer” to unique, but also concrete, emotional implication, exposing (compassionately, of course) a character’s one-of-a kind perspective at that specific time and place in his or her life. By making careful choices as to what, why and especially how Vivian sees herself, the world, and her place in the world (she feels judged, slighted, stolen from), a writer can infuse a story with emotional urgency, proving to the reader that this story must be told.
Observation is the most superficial POV technique. Even a young child can observe. The air is cold. The teacher is angry. It is raining. It is important for writers to remember that observations are general—they tell instead of show—and don’t reveal what the character is thinking and feeling uniquely.
Don’t rely on purely observational thoughts. [Read more…]