Please welcome back guest Molly Best Tinsley. Molly taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emerita. Most recently Molly is the author of just-released middle grade fantasy thriller Behind the Waterfall. She is also the author of My Life With Darwin and a story collection, Throwing Knives, as well as two spy thrillers, Satan’s Chamber (with Karetta Hubbard) and Broken Angels, and a memoir, Entering the Blue Stone. She also co-wrote the textbook, The Creative Process. Her fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. She lives in Ashland, Oregon.
This topic and my passion for it are tightly linked to my reasons for venturing into a new genre for my latest book. Behind the Waterfall features twin brothers and was written to answer a complaint from my twin grandsons that there weren’t enough books about twins. Even with what became three young collaborators, I thought the writing process would be simple and straightforward. I certainly didn’t think it would wind up taking me through a refresher course in point of view.
The Power Of Point Of View
Until recently, I didn’t think there was anything new I had to learn or share about narrative point of view—its various options are simple enough to map out in a workshop.
You can write in the first person, as one of your characters, or in the third person, as an anonymous observer. (The rare story-teller chooses the instructional second person—which is what I’m doing here.) From each vantage, you can also vary the narrator’s distance from the action. Thus in the first person, the “I” may be the central protagonist or a more peripheral witness to what’s happening to the protagonist. Similarly, a third person narrator may be situated virtually in the mind of the protagonist, or may hover above the created world enjoying access to several minds. In the case of the fly-on-the-wall point of view, the narration denies access to everyone’s mind, and sticks strictly to external action and dialogue.
What Point of View?
How useful is all this theoretical knowledge? It’s not what inspires you to write. When you sit down to a blank screen, your first thought isn’t, What point of view should I select? The sentences just start to crowd in, already permeated with one. Except for my two spy thrillers, whose global stakes and dimensions inspired a different strategy, those early whispers of a story have always come to me through my protagonist, usually in the first person.
But if all the possibilities for point of view aren’t what drives you to launch into a draft of a new story, they may be exactly where to poke around if you sense that your draft is faltering. That’s what I learned a year ago, halfway through the crafting of a fantasy thriller for middle grade kids.
My eleven-year-old grandsons had complained that there weren’t enough books about twins. [Read more…]