It’s all about your point of view…ART FOR WRITERS
This magnificent portrait is a linocut print made by Elizabeth Catlett in 1952. The Title is The Sharecropper.
The halo created by the brim of the sharecropper’s sun hat, and the upward angle from which the viewer observes her, make the figure seem monumental.
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston
We don’t need to know the history of sharecroppers* to understand that this woman has worked long and hard. It is there in the image, etched into every line of her face, but because the artist chose to look up at her we can also see her strength and dignity. Catlett could have portrayed her as a victim of an heartless economic system (and she was), but she is also more than that: she is a hero.
Point of View is one of the most important tools available to the writer. Third person used to be the default POV and it has many advantages.
John Gardner in The Art of Fiction (published by Vintage 2001) gives this example of how third person can be used in a variety of ways .
It was winter of 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
Henry hated snowstorms.
God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
However, the intimacy of first person has increased in popularity over the course of the 20th century. Here Vladimir Nabokov does something extraordinary with it. He puts the reader inside the head of a child abuser and never once makes us feel any kind of empathy. We walk in Humbert Humbert’s shoes and see through his eyes, but we are never on on his ‘side’. This is from the start of Lolita.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Point of View is so important to the feel of the story it needs to be a carefully thought out decision, not something you just fall into. And if a story isn’t going well, changing the point of view might be the most important thing you can do to bring it back to life.
* But here is a very brief history of sharecroppers. They were farmers who rented the land they lived on and received an agreed share of the crop they grew as payment. It was a hard work, poor reward system that favoured the landlords and trapped many poor White and African Americans into unfair agreements. Many have compared it to slavery. It was coming to an end by the time this portrait was made.