Sunday, January 29, 2012

Perspective - Sis 3

History is fluid. Have you ever noticed that the details of a memorable event change depending on who's telling the story--even depending on when they're telling it? Yet, each version of the event may be factually correct. What changes is perspective.

With my recent birthday money, I decided to sign up for an online, advanced fiction writing class, available through a local community college. The professor, a published novelist, is teaching us the foundational elements of good writing. I have a degree in English, so the material is not new, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the refresher and the impetus to write something non-work related.

The last lesson was on perspective, or in other words, determining from who's viewpoint the story is being told. For the exercise, we were to write three similar scenes using third-person omniscient, third-person limited, and first person perspectives. I'll share mine here. Notice how the emotional connection changes with each.

Third-Person Omniscient

“Oh, what a day,” Henry sighed as he sank into his easy chair. He laid his head back and closed his eyes. “Just a few minutes…” The silence felt wonderful.

It didn’t last long. Jimmy banged down the stairs and into the room. He slowed his step. “Dad?” Jimmy hesitated, noting the closed eyes. “Dad?” The eyes remained closed, but the corners of Henry’s mouth lowered into a slight grimace. Jimmy’s anxiety grew, but he plunged in anyway. “Dad, can I borrow the car tonight?”

Henry’s eyes were open now. “My car?”

“Um, yes…”

Henry looked at his son incredulously. The car was brand new. Henry had finally admitted that the old Subaru had out lived its design life. Just yesterday, he’d signed the papers for a new sedan. The thought of turning it over to his 17 year-old son for the night didn’t sit well. “What for?”

“I have a date with Sarah tonight,” Jimmy looked at his watch. “I told her I’d pick her up at 7. It’s 10 to and Mom’s gone with the other car.” Jimmy hoped his Dad hadn’t heard Mom say she’d be back in a few minutes. If Mom came home too soon, everything would be ruined.

Jimmy dreaded that, “I told you so” look from Sarah, which he knew he’d get if he showed up in the van. Just that afternoon, Jimmy had bragged that he could take the new car anytime he wanted. Sarah hadn’t bought it.

Third-Person Limited

Jimmy peeped into the room. “Good, he’s watching football,” he thought. “Maybe he’ll give in, just to get me out of the way.” Jimmy took a deep breath; his whole reputation was riding on this moment. He put on his game face and strode into the room.

“Hi, Dad!” he said cheerily as he stepped in front of the TV. “Are they winning?”

Dad looked a bit annoyed.

“Better hurry,” Jimmy thought. He didn’t wait for an answer. “I have a date with Sarah tonight. I’m supposed to pick her up in a few minutes. Can I take the new car?” He said it in his best, most amiable, good-son voice.

Dad stopped trying to look at the TV and gave Jimmy his full attention.

“Uh oh,” inwardly, Jimmy gulped, but he forced a bright smile. “I’ll be home by 10.”

“Nice try.” Dad said. And, that was that.

First Person

“Shouldn’t have bragged about the car…,” I thought as a I trudged down the stairs. If Dad wouldn’t let me borrow it, I’d look like a fool. Just what I needed. Sarah’s friends already thought she was slumming. If I showed up in the mini van, they’d really think I was dumb.

Dad was looking through the Costco ad when I walked into the room. He was always looking for deals. He didn’t look up, so I mumbled, “Um, Dad?”

“Yeah?” He had found a coupon for toothpaste: 10 tubes for $15, and was carefully tearing it out.

“Can I borrow the new car tonight?” The direct approach was always best with Dad. “I have a date with Sarah. I'm supposed to pick her and some friends up in a few minutes.”


I hated Dad’s “Hmms” He could say so much without saying anything. This “hmm” definitely meant, “Not on your life.”

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