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Try a New Point of View: One Topic, Three Takes

A band I once knew wrote a concept album telling the story of the destruction of a kingdom… from the point of view of a rock  on the abandoned castle floor.

Was it a good album? Not at all. Did it make people think? It did, and not just, “How much beer do you have to drink to think it’s a good idea to write an album from the point of view of a rock?” It made people think about how point of view shapes storytelling — the details you decide to include (and exclude), and the tone you choose to use. Point of view is also the difference between a post that falls flat, and one that sucks readers in.

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Machiko Kyo in Rashomon. Why is she crying? It depends.

Why is she crying? Depends who you ask. (Machiko Kyo in Rashomon.)

Raise your hand if you’ve seen Rashōmon — the classic film in which characters take turns recounting their versions of the same event. (If you haven’t and you have 88 minutes to spare, it’s highly recommended.) It’s an excellent film for many reasons, not least of which is the fascinating, sometimes unexpected ways the characters’ experiences, values, and desires shape their memories.

Now, here are excerpts from three posts describing the same life experience. None of them includes the subject in their titles, or even mentions it explicitly in these excerpts — but we bet you’ll know what it is after reading, and you’ll have a strong sense of the writer’s perspective.

From “Grief Without a Timetable,” Finding My Ground

Our human condition and resulting emotions are messy and chaotic, but our human brains prefer organization. We like logical progression, moving from A to B to C over days or weeks or years. We like to categorize people and feelings and ways of being in the world. Consider Erikson’s stages of development, the DSM’s divisions of mental illness, the Enneagram and Myers Briggs personality categories, and even astrology’s assignments of traits and fates. We sort and order our belongings and ourselves, desperate for the comfort of order. So ordering grief? Why not?

Because it doesn’t work.

From “The Day the Music Died, Vol. 2,,” Must Be This Tall to Ride

My wife is dead.

She puts on a pretty good show. Moving around. Speaking. Even faking smiles once in a while.

But she can’t fool me. Because I knew her better than anyone.

She’s dead.

The woman I see now? The one posing as my son’s mother? The one f**king the rich guy? The one pilfering things from my house? The one avoiding most of our mutual friends?

That’s not my wife.

When her dad died, she died.

Then we died.

From “The Things in My House,” Insane for the Light

The world went gray for awhile after that Sunday, but I was never again unaware of the role of the past in shaping the future. For many years after that I became fixated on history, as if trying to remove myself from the present and ensconce myself elsewhere, perhaps back before all these troubles had started.  I sensed something radically messy about my fragmented family, and I buried myself in novels about girls and women who lived a hundred years ago, when roads were not paved and dinner was not microwaved, and fathers did not leave families and mothers did not have to go to work downtown – or so I thought, with a child’s sense of simplicity.

Right Angles

Three posts about divorce, three perspectives, three tones, three reading experiences. (We encourage you to go read the full posts, both to see how they end and because they’re incredibly good.) A woman struggling to create order from a chaotic experience. A husband frustrated with his wife’s destructive behavior. An adult reflecting on and processing a childhood trauma.

Scrolling through the Reader can be a Rashōmon-esque experience; there are so many worthy posts on the same topics, whether politics or parenting, but with vastly different angles. Just as a photographer can help us see a familiar landscape in a new light with the perspective she chooses to present, so do writers. A writer’s perspective helps them decide what aspects of a story to highlight or downplay. It also informs their tone. Detached and academic. Angry and clipped. Lyrical and effusive.

Most importantly, a writer’s viewpoint helps us consider our own. Point of view is the difference between a post that simply lists who/what/when/where, and a post that delights, excites, angers, or horrifies us because it makes us think — in other words, a post that engages us as readers and as people. “Is that why my mother was thinking when she said that?… I never realized the impact of that decision on my co-workers… I hadn’t considered that policy from the point of view of international students… Is that what sound like?”

What’s the point (of view)?

Why did we ask you to read those posts? First, because they’re great reads; second, because the proof is in the pudding — they illustrate the way point of view influences storytelling and creates a distinct reader experience better than a description ever could.

What does this mean for you as a blogger? A few things:

  • Be aware of your point of view when you create. If you fully understand the perspective you’re writing from, you can take the time to think about how your tone, format, and choice of images/media reinforces your angle. You can also anticipate reactions to your ideas (“Hmm, since I’m focused on X, some people might think I’m ignoring Y.”)  and use that to strengthen your post (“I’ll drop in a note about how Y plays a role here.”)
  • Mix up your point of view to push your boundaries and break through writers’ block. Stretch your thinking and writing by trying a different point of view. What was your child’s experience of that parenting decision you’re not sure about? What does the opposition think about your policy idea? What’s the family reunion like from the point of view of the dog? Heck, you could even try to rehabilitate the rock concept.

We all want interaction on our blogs — not just pageviews, but conversation and connection. Point of view is one of the factors that encourages those conversations, by giving readers a stronger sense of who you are and an entry point to your thoughts and experiences.

If we simply wanted to learn about divorce, we’d read Wikipedia. We go to blogs because they’re written by individual people with unique perspectives; they give us access to others’ experiences in a way no other medium offers.  Understanding this and thinking about the point of view of your posts (and your blog as a whole) is a critical piece of building a blog that readers visit again and again.

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  1. Excellent article. I totally agree with what you have said. Personality – coated with the syrup of words and dotted with the Hundreds and Thousands which comprise the POV, – is what gives writing its light and its unique energy.

    The ice creams come in many different shapes; the syrups differ in colour, texture and flavour; the shape of the tiny sweet balls vary, as does the density of coverage…

    I may well be tying myself into a tight metaphorical knot here – and will unravel my imagination forthwith!

    Alienora

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  2. Fantastic look at how POV is at the crux of awesome blog writing, Michelle!! I’m obsessed with POV and vantage point, I just wrote about it last week, about their tectonic importance to creative writing and narrative, and how actively imagining and seeking out other perspectives in life is something the world needs more of. By simply lifting back the veil and being aware of where anything we read/watch/hear/write is being told from, we can more firmly grasp so much depth of understanding and meaning.

    Thanks for this and for putting me on to those three great blogs! Looking forward to reading more.

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  3. Thought-provoking article, thank you. Different people’s points-of-view definitely add interest, when well-written. It takes a lot of skill/effort to get inside someone else’s head thoroughly enough for the writing to be convincing.

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  4. As far as I know, this is the first time in my life anyone has ever used something I wrote as an example of how to do something well.

    I’m beyond flattered. Thank you.

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  5. Thanks for the post. I’m also an expert and that i have just started writing blogs which i considered was very hard to perform until I read your own article. I found your blog very useful with fresh concepts I did not know before. In the next few weeks, I’ll be busy writing a number of articles for my own new blog. I really hope people will find them valuable like yours.

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  6. I’m a bit overwhelmed at finding my work praised for its writing on this site. While I’m generally not without words for an occasion, this leaves me a bit short. Thanks.

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  7. “If we simply wanted to learn about divorce, we’d read Wikipedia. We go to blogs because they’re written by individual people with unique perspectives; they give us access to others’ experiences in a way no other medium offers.”

    This is so true. The lack of comments on my post recent post about grief have convinced me to make more of an effort in my blog. I’m dedicating my blog to who I lost and I don’t want to tarnish their memory by not putting my full effort in.

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  8. If we dig deep enough in our memory bag, we do have experiences that repeat but are experienced at different times in life. Our perspective changes each time on the same experience.

    Here’s just the simple perspective of bike commuting and living in each of 3 Canadian cities over the past few decades. (There’s a 4th city..when I was young):

    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/cycling-greenways-umbilical-cord-to-my-past-neighbourhoods-prairies-west-coast-and-ontario/

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