General info:
How it works
Too Many Emails?
Listserv Settings
Contact Us

Critiquing Lists:
Child/Young adult

Discussion Lists:

The IWW Blog Writing Advice

Other Topics:
Our administrators
Other writing lists
Books on writing
IWW History
Showcase of Successes

IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: What's your point?

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 6 Nov 2005

Carter made some excellent comments on point of view.

POV is a difficult concept, because there are many ways of looking at it, and the results are subtle. There's first, second, and third POV, of course. Then there are variations, such as limited and omniscient. Finally, there's distance - a third person limited point of view (focusing on one character) can be so close to that character as to approach first person, or so distant that it's hard to feel a connection. Distance can include other aspects of writing, such as dialect - can you think of stories where the narrator spoke in a different dialect or at a different linguistic level than the character(s)? (Many stories use standard English for narration, for example, and dialect in dialogue.)

Each POV option has advantages, and limitations. Sometimes, the limitations are actually advantages. Any good story has to give the reader enough information to be interested (and not feel cheated at the end), but not give away too much too soon. Think of an Agatha Christie whodunit told in first person POV by the culprit - where would the suspense be? (Well, actually, one of my favourite Agatha Christie books is told in first person by the culprit - but using the unreliable narrator approach, yet another twist on POV...)

Outside of these exercises and discussions on the Writing list, we seldom consciously think about POV. I know that when I read, I seldom notice POV (unless it's poorly done - or done very well in some innovative way); when writing, I don't give much thought about it at first, unless I run into problems and need to switch.

Think of the last story you read - or wrote. Were you really aware of the POV used? (Even if you noticed if it was first or third, did you really notice if it was limited or omniscient, and how distant it was?)

This ties in with something else I've been thinking about concerning this list. Every week, an exercise is posted, focused on some specific aspect of writing, including a write-up that tries to explain that aspect. That's useful, but it is also limiting.

So, here's the deal. As writers, we need to think about such issues, notice how others handle them, come to our own conclusions. (People learning to fly eventually have to do a solo flight, without instruction.)

Therefore, the exercise this week will be a different one. Wipe the board before you start. Assume there are no rules. Forget what others have told you about point of view.

You are a writer, and a reader. So, look at a story you are reading, or writing (or one you read or worked on lately.) What point of view is being used? What are the advantages? What are the limitations? What works, and what doesn't? Think of alternatives - for example, would more distance be better? Or less? How would it be different if using a different POV (first instead of third, second instead of first, or whatever)?

There's no set format for the exercise. You can write your submission as a critique of something you read, or a meditation on one of your own works, or - well, let's not limit it in any way.

This means it will be almost impossible to do standard critiques, but that's OK. The goal this week is to explore, so responses should comment on what was said, and provide additional thoughts on the topic (including tangents). (Please label those responses as Crit:, as usual, though.)

Let's summarize. The exercise is to look at POV in something we've been reading or writing, think about it, and write about it - what POV was used (be specific, give examples from the text), why it worked, if it was consistent, what problems cropped up. Optionally, look at how alternative POVs might have worked instead.

When critiquing, take the time to think about what was said. Do you agree, or not, and why? Can you offer additional comments on the topic?

There is no word count - but make sure you're not posting 10,000 words when 1,000 (or 9,800) might make the point more clearly!

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.