When I was younger, I took point of view for granted. I could identify if something was 3rd person omniscient or 1st person, and I thought I was done. I left it at the identification, patted myself on the back, and never dove deeper.
It wasn’t until I began writing some fiction myself that I understood how much impact that decision has on a piece. I understood only in the writing process how important that one decision has on a story and how much a story can transform from just a shifting of perspective.
This week I had my AP students read “How to Become a Writer” by Lorrie Moore. We’re doing a mini-unit on Point of View, on how readers receive the plot and dialogue of the stories we have been reading. Point of View is all really about distance. How close are we to the action? How close are we to the character’s minds and hearts? What do we know and how do we know it and why do we trust it?
It’s one of the best examples of 2nd person point of view that I’ve ever read. The only other contender is the sections of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus where she speaks directly to the audience in order to make the reader feel like she is standing in line for the night circus, anticipating its opening as the sun goes down.
I was so tickled when I was preparing this unit and especially while reading this short story that I wanted to share it with you. Seriously, take a few minutes and read it. I’ll wait. It’s hilarious and it’s all of us.
So good, right? That opening! “First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/ astronaut. A movie star/ missionary. A movie star/ kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably.”
For those of you running out the door with no time to have a little fun today, the story is about someone who has lived the life as a writer and is speaking to a young, reluctant writer named “Francie.” She speaks to Francie–yet it really feels like she is speaking directly to you, the reader–about all the things she will encounter on her journey to becoming a writer.
Even though she is allegedly speaking to Francie, we know that in reality the speaker is just ironically speaking about the things she has gone through. I think most of us can really relate to the writer struggles she discusses:
- The conflicting advice from and the ensuing rebellion against her writing professors (“Plots are for dead people, pore-face.”)
- The inability to write a story with a discernible plot (guilty!)
- The depression connected to becoming a poet
- Struggling with poetic form (“Write a villanelle… Struggle. Write a sonnet. Count the syllables: nine, ten, eleven, thirteen. Decide to experiment with fiction. Here you don’t have to count syllables.”)
- The struggle in writing workshops when people don’t get your writing (“Everyone continues to smoke cigarettes and ask the same things: “But does it work?” “Why should we care about this character?” “Have you earned this cliche?”)
- Not being able to write anything other than stories/poems about your boyfriend
- Naming your pieces (“Call Me Fishmeal” “For Better or for Liverwurst”)
- The general concern of family and friends on the soundness of your mind and career decisions
- The disillusionment of being an adult who gave up her safe major (in her case a child psychologist) for the depressing and lonely life of a writer.
It’s bitter. It’s beautiful. It’s pure gold, people.
It’s not something that I ever came across as a student of literature, but I’m happy that I found it now. I think that if I would have found it earlier It wouldn’t have hit me to the core like it did. I see all my writers friends in it, and I see so many bits and pieces of myself in it as well. Sure, I have a safe job as an English teacher, but I see teenage Amy reading poetry at a coffee shop, college Amy smoking cigarettes outside of computer labs at three A.M., and now adult Amy banging laptop keys trying to eek out the writing life between grading papers.
And I think I see so much of myself in it because of the perspective, because of the “you.” So, my challenge to you this week is two-fold. Unlike my students, you have some options (sorry, kids.).
Write a story completely in second person. OR
Change the perspective in something you’ve already written.
I promise you it is liberating and a lot of fun to play around with perspective in your stories/poems. Who knows? You may like it better than what you’ve originally written.
Any other stories in 2nd person I should check out? How did you like “How to Become a Writer”? Comment below!
Lit & Love,