She had given us an easy assignment. Handing out blocks of wood, she asked us to draw faces on them. I loved art, and happily got to work drawing a man’s face. When I’d finished with his features, he looked more alien than man, I thought, so I painted his face bright blue. (I blame my mother: she had been reading to me from her science fiction novel rather than any of those boring children’s books.)
My teacher went down the row of student desks, nodding and smiling as the children held up their wooden faces for praise. And then she got to me, and nearly went into one of those whirling fits of rage I now associate with Roald Dahl characters.
“You painted your face blue?” she shrieked. “You can’t paint a face blue! What kind of face is that?”
“It’s an alien’s face,” I said, tearing up.
I might as well have said “Satan.” The art teacher hauled me over to sit in the corner and made me do another face while the rest of the kids tittered.
Now, this story happens to be true, but if I were writing fiction, I could have chosen to relay from a different perspective. For example, I might have written it from the teacher’s point of view, or from the point of view of the town sheriff, who is called into school after the art teacher is found dead…or after an alien invasion, during which the art teacher and several other people in town are abducted! Then I might have used multiple points of view.
Wrestling with point of view is something that writers do every day in fiction, and it’s one of the most frustrating—and fun—aspects of writing. Sometimes it takes several drafts before you get the point of view that works for a particular story; for instance, if you’re writing about an alien invasion, you might want what’s called an “author omniscient” point of view, which basically means that you’re relaying the story from on high, from multiple points of view or even in multiple time frames. If you want a scarier, tenser read, you might choose a first person point of view, where the narrator doesn’t really know what’s happening, leaving the reader to ride along on her coattails as she figures things out.
In Sleeping Tigers, my first novel, I chose what’s called a “limited third person” point of view—this means that I can only be inside the main character’s head, and nobody else’s. I did this because I wanted to create a tight emotional connection between my protagonist, a young woman named Jordan, and my readers, while still having the freedom to write lush descriptive passages of other characters and the setting (San Francisco and Nepal, in this case).
For my next novel, The Wishing Hill, to be published in spring 2013 by Penguin, I created the story of two women who are bound in ways they don’t suspect, so I decided to alternate points of view between them. That lets the reader discover their complex interconnectedness even before the characters themselves know what’s going on. Now I’m writing a paranormal mystery; for that one, I’m using a first person point of view to ramp up the scare factor.
Take a closer look at the book you’re reading right now and check out the point of view. Think about how the story might have been different if the author had chosen a different one. Did the author make the right choice? What would you have done?
About the author:
Holly Robinson is a journalist and comic whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon and Parents. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was published by Harmony Books in May 2009 and was released in paperback in June 2010. It was a Barnes & Noble memoir selection as well as a Target Breakout Book.
Ms. Robinson holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She and her husband have five children, two cats, a single gerbil and two very stubborn small dogs. They are currently renovating an antique house north of Boston, and will probably never finish it.
To learn more about Holly Robinson, please visit www.authorhollyrobinson.com
By Holly Robinson
Jordan O’Malley has everything she ever wanted: a job she loves, a beautiful home, and a dependable boyfriend. When her life unravels after a breast cancer scare, Jordan decides to join her wildest childhood friend in San Francisco and track down her drifter brother, Cam, who harbors secrets of his own.
When Cam suddenly flees the country, Jordan follows, determined to bring him home. Her journey takes her to the farthest reaches of majestic Nepal, where she encounters tests—and truths—about love and family that she never could have imagined.
Funny, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, Sleeping Tigers reminds us all that sometimes it’s better to follow your heart instead of a plan.