Tutor profile: Jennifer B.
What is point of view in writing, and why is it important?
Point of view refers to who is telling the story. This is not to be confused with the author (the narrator's voice is written by the author but is not necessarily the author's own voice or opinion). First person point of view: "I" am telling the story of what "I" experienced. "Today I woke up and ate breakfast..." (The narrator is a character, is the "I"). Second person point of view: Narrator is addressing "you" (and look out for lots of "your" and "yours"). This point of view is most common when speaking directly to an audience, such as on social media, in songs, in advertisements, and in instructions. Third person point of view: The narrator is outside of the story (not a character). We're hearing about things from this more observational perspective. "She woke up and ate breakfast..." There are a few different approaches to third person point of view, each of which impacts the story differently. 1) Third person objective: The narrator is reporting what happens but doesn't have access to characters' thoughts or feelings. 2) Third person limited: The narrator reports what happens and knows/tells the thoughts and feelings of a character. 3) Third person omniscient: The narrator reports what happens, and the narrator knows and can describe the thoughts and feelings of all characters. Point of view is so important because it is the lens through which the audience sees your story. If you're trying to create sympathy for a character who makes unusual decisions, first person may be the way to go so that you can directly see their reasoning and the world through their eyes. Or if you want to show us what the world looks like from a tree's perspective, first person point of view would be a good choice. If you're writing a mystery, third person limited may be a good way to go so that you understand what the main character is feeling as you work on solving the mystery along with them. Third person omniscient is a common choice in literature.
What is symbolism, and how is it used in writing?
A symbol is "a person, place, or object that stands for something beyond itself." Symbols are used in literature (and in storytelling generally, think movies and songs), to help convey meaning and to trigger an emotional response in the audience. Consider the following symbols and how they make you feel: a dark cape, a red rose, a golden harp, a raven. Chances are, you have certain emotions associated with each of these symbols because of their role in stories. Symbolism is when the writer takes something that you can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste, and weaves it throughout the story to represent a concept or emotion. For example, golden hair and golden thread represent family connection in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, blood represents guilt. Symbolism adds interest, intrigue, and dimension to stories. Which is more powerful: imagining blood that you can't wash off your hands or saying that a character feels guilty? Picturing warm, golden thread gently tying things together, or saying that a character makes her family feel more comfortable? When you find yourself saying that something "stands for" something else, chances are you've found an example of symbolism. What symbols are used in your favorite stories? (It is interesting to keep in mind that in great literature, no choice of thing or word is accidental. If a character is carrying a red purse, it is red for a reason and helps to tell the overall story.)
What is the last story that you heard, read, or saw, and then repeated to someone else? What were the qualities of that story? (What made it interesting? What did you repeat verbatim? Did you change anything?)
Using their own emotional experience as a point of reference, I would share with the student that most stories or messages that spread hold certain features in common. Some of these are: 1) Concreteness - engaging the senses. Rather than presenting an abstract idea (environmentalism), let's mention the smell of wildflowers and/or the color of polluted water. The more senses you can engage in the same story, the better. Hemingway noted that he made a point of describing food and weather in his novels for this reason. (If you're interested in more tips from Hemingway, check out the wonderful and brief book Ernest Hemingway on Writing). 2) Simplicity. At its highest level, a memorable message makes ONE core statement (not two or three), and then details fall under that umbrella and support that one main message. A good way to check simplicity of your message is to ask this question: If I tell this story to a friend, will they be able to easily remember and repeat it with accuracy around the most important parts? 3) Emotion (this often includes surprise). Making people feel something is what stories are all about. Studies have shown that it is easier for people to relate to individuals than to groups of people. This is one of the reasons why you'll see successful nonprofits often tell the important stories of the individuals they're helping rather than just showing numbers.
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