A Writer's World

How to Change Your Point of View

By Molly Moynahan

The genius of American culture and its integrity comes from fidelity to the light.

"Plain as day, we say. Happy as the day is long. Early to bed, early to rise. American virtues are daylight virtues: honesty, integrity, plain speech. We say yes when we mean yes and no, when we mean no, and all else comes from the evil one. America presumes innocence and even the right to happiness.”

Richard  Rodriguez:  Frontiers, Night and Day.    

The hardest element of fiction writing for me to grasp or explain to my students was usually Point-of-View. The I, you, he, she part wasn’t very complicated but the choice stymied me and I kept writing everything in third person limited even though John Gardener described that POV as chickening out of first person.

I wrote my teenage narrator novel in first person because her voice was in my head and she just kept talking.  Basically, she sounded like a middle-aged woman remembering what it felt like to be that age.

Reviewers were kind but I had few illusions.

I bring this up because I am currently teaching English in Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, and feel I have had my point-of-view knocked sideways. Let’s face it; I am always a westerner, a woman, a certain age and a certain level of education.

But the second or third day I was here and had been staying in a local hotel outside of the city and was being ignored by Emirates and their black draped wives, I felt something shift.

When the driver assigned to me by the school looked into his rear view mirror and said something in a language I could not understand, I recognized Culture Shock; and something else, the opportunity to have a point-of-view that was completely different.

I was displaced and alone and homesick and slightly scared. The skin I inhabited was unfamiliar to me.

I am a feminist fifty-six year old educated woman, who has never deferred to a man in her life except my father. And, let’s face it; he’s my father.

While staying at this local hotel, I suddenly found myself on a treadmill surrounded by men watching violent wrestling and I didn’t try to get the channel changed. I dropped my eyes at the sight of these men dressed in white with their shadow wives because, well, I felt intimidated.

I did not feel like myself. I felt like a visitor, an intruder and an outsider. These are very useful sensations when trying to create a character and not have he or she predictably, reflect your own experiences and values. 

It would never occur to me to try and imagine myself as another race or gender but this is not my imagination. It also isn’t all that much fun. I am lonely and possibly slightly depressed. However, I am going to try and use this amazing opportunity; and, like the vampire I have always been as a writer, witness and take notes.

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