WRITING & PUBLISHING
Focus Your Writing Like a Camera
Most writers think of POV as the First-, Second-, or Third-person voice telling a story. But point of view also refers more broadly to your authorial vantage point, or narrative perspective. And in that sense, it’s a much more nuanced issue.
Imagine that you, the author, are the camera lens trained on your story. Where are you positioned in relation to the action? Long lens, or closeup? Are you using a wide shot encompassing a crowd or landscape, or a tight focus on one face or detail? What exactly can the reader see through your words? And how many other senses do those visuals evoke?
Your narrative point of view will shift throughout the story, just as the lens typically changes position while shooting a movie. And just like a cinematographer, you need to control each and every one of those shifts. Be aware at all times of where you stand and how you’re focused — and whether this point of view is delivering the impact and information you’re aiming for. [For many more insights into this whole business, get your hands on The Conversations, by cinematographer Walter Murch and novelist Michael Ondaatje.]
Even if you favor ideas and exposition, narrative distance matters. An overview from 30,000 feet may deliver broad analysis and generalization, but it’s likely to bore your readers and leave them skeptical of your conclusions unless you also provide nitty gritty evidence, which you can only get by taking deep dives into the granular details of your subject, preferably through scenes and dialogue. Whether your “characters” are animal, vegetable, mineral, or numbers or tech, you’re writing for humans, and humans think, read, and interpret information through the framework of story. Unless they can see it play out in their mind’s eye, they’re not likely to trust or remember what they’re told. This means that journalists, too, need to orchestrate the focus of their narratives as if they were shooting a movie.
This problem of distance and focus was often a central theme in my MFA letters. Here, then, are some of the observations and advice I’ve shared with my students.