Friday Speak Out!: A Different Point of View

Friday, October 05, 2018
by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Every story is unique and deserves careful consideration as to how it should be told. Writers have several points of view to choose from—first-person, second-person, third-person, omniscient—but should also explore different forms and techniques to find the narrative style that best matches their story.

For example, you can write in third-person from multiple points of view in alternating chapters. Or first-person point of view in a series of vignettes. Or even second-person point of view in verse (why not?). For my piece “From Autumn to June” I chose first-person point of view but wanted something more intimate than my narrator relaying the story to an unknown audience for an unknown reason. So I tried something new—the epistolary form, which is a narrative told in letters.

Immediately I sensed the difference. My protagonist's letters were so intensely personal that my heart ached writing them. I was immersed in her voice to the point where she felt real and not at all like fiction. It was a heady experience, and a strangely effortless one—from first to final draft took only one month. It’s as if the story wrote itself, and a big part of that is because I chose the right point of view and narrative style before starting.

The epistolary style can also be useful if you’re using a more traditional format and become stuck. With third person especially it’s easy to lose touch with characters because you’re writing them from a distance. If that distance gets too wide, a good way to zoom in is to open a separate file or notebook and have your character write a few diary entries. Not only will you capture her voice again, you’ll probably learn something about her you never knew.

Diaries are where we spill our secrets, after all.

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Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the author of The Fourth Wall (WiDo Publishing, 2014). Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Brevity Magazine, YA Review Net, The Portland Review, Superstition Review, Hunger Mountain, Motherwell, Mothers Always Write, and a few other places. Elizabeth lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children. 
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Elizabeth--I have a writing friend who is writing her memoir in letters. She's writing letters to people who were important to her--in good ways and in bad ways.

I might take your advice. Right now I'm 39,000 into a WIP--a middle grades historical novel--and feel like the words that have come lately are a bit forced. Perhaps writing a journal entry from the perspective of my narrator will help the words ring more true...

Thanks for writing this post, and good luck with your future writing.

Angela Mackintosh said...

It's so true, Elizabeth! I've always found that using an established format or structure enhances my creativity and brings out my voice in a way that a blank page can't. I wrote an essay about my ex partner in the form of an invoice in second person. I wrote a story about living in Mexico in the form of a playlist in first person. I wrote about my FIL living with us in the form of a list in second person. (I don't do third person because my work is nonfiction.) But I truly believe that sometimes the format can allow the story to take shape in unexpected ways. It definitely enhances creativity!

I read your story, "Autumn to June," and it's beautiful and powerful. You chose the perfect format to tell it because the epistolary form allows you to explore more, kind of like a personal essay would, where you can just narrate your story and emotions, rather than having to dress it up into scenes. I don't read a lot of YA, but I haven't seen this topic covered before. You did a great job with the voice of the girl, Autumn, and I'm sure your story would be very helpful to girls who are trying to process the same thing. Excellent work. :)

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

Hi Sioux,

Your friend's memoir sounds brilliant; I love that idea!

Sounds like you're making great progress on your WIP. It's awful when the writing starts feeling forced, ugh. I always hit that stage in the middle and it's such a slog. Hopefully the journal idea will help.

Good luck to you too!

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

Hi Angela,

I have never thought to write a story in the form of an invoice. What a fabulous idea! If you're ever in need of another beta reader, keep me in mind, because your essays sound amazing.

Thank you for reading "From Autumn to June" and for your kind comments. I'm glad Autumn's voice sounds authentic and that you connected with her story. :)

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