lessons from a distance

lessons from a distance

Switching Up Your POV For Deeper Access: A Lesson With Melissa Ragsly

We are all inside, stuck or happily so, watching the world through screens, not much different than before, except completely so. We have no choice now. Everything is how you look at it. Everything is POV.

Third Person is a wide shot, security footage, set up high and distant so we can see the entirety of the space. Big brother watching us from an eye in the sky. A drone looking for people outside who shouldn’t be.

Second person is someone recording you on their phone, whether they know it or not. A friend recording your Tik Tok dance. Your SO recording you baking bread. A neighbor recording you walking your dog to catch you not cleaning up after it.

First person is front-facing camera Instagram Live.

If you can equate POV with where the camera is placed, then let’s do an exercise where that is exactly how we use it.

Take a scene in your current WIP where you’re stuck or you’re not quite sure what the purpose is of it yet, and “film” it. No matter what POV it is currently in.

Or as a generative exercise, think of something you’ve been doing since you’re sheltering-in-place, that’s become part of your new normal. Think of this as something for fiction, non-fic or poetry, any style you feel comfortable with.

For 15 mins, write about that event or scene in third person, as if you are manning a camera. If you’re using a WIP, who would be the person manning the camera observing your MC? Is it for a repressive government keeping tabs on its citizens? Describe the events of the scene as someone who might be suspicious or untrusting of what they see. The reasons might be more innocuous, just to keep a historical record. Does that change the tone or what is focused on?

Feel free to take a break between these short burst exercises. To go look at another screen. I’ve been YouTubing 90’s MTV. There’s always twitter which feels like a present-tense oral history.

Then for 15 mins, write that same situation in second person, as if from the POV of a friend or loved one who is recording the MC/scene. Would they be doing it for fun? To prove something later? Or just because they have nothing else to do? Are they aware of the third person POV watching them? Is it actually a nemesis recording them?

Screen break! Dare you watch the news?

Then for 15 mins, write as if you are recording yourself (or the character is recording themselves) and think about how to express your/their thoughts and actions. Why you or MC is doing what you’re doing. Who are you/they recording it for?

Take a Zoom call.

Finally, give yourself another 15 to write about you or the main character watching these recordings years in the future. Make your POV distant. How does that change the resonance of what’s happening? How does seeing something that really happened in the past effect how you feel about it in the future? How does the memory compare with the reality of the recording? Use whatever POV you feel is right for this and think about why you chose it.

And if your WIP is set in the past before recording devices were even invented, I say, it doesn’t matter! It’s just an exercise so do it anyway. Because the purpose is really to find out information about the characters and situation that you might not have realized before because you’re writing in a static point of view.

The exercise is changing angles to get at dirt. And getting your stories a little dirty is a good thing because with all this handwashing and disinfecting, keeping clean is tedious.

Melissa Ragsly is a writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best Small Fictions, Iowa Review, Hobart, and other journals. She was working on a novel, but during the pandemic, she’s working on a screenplay. More can be found at melissaragsly.com.