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Arts & Entertainment

Point of View Case Studies

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 07:33 min

In this chapter, Margaret discusses her use of multiple points of view in Alias Grace, and why she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale from the first person point of view.

Margaret Atwood
Teaches Creative Writing
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
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"Alias Grace" is based on a double murder that took place in 1843 in which the man servant was hanged for the murder of his employer Thomas Kinnear. The housekeeper was also murdered but that murder was never tried. The Maid servant, Grace Marks, was condemned as an accessory in the first murder although we know she didn't shoot Thomas Kinnear. She was condemned because she had a window of opportunity in which she could have told on the man servant, McDermott, and she didn't do it. So that's why she got a death sentence. But then a lot of people petitioned on her behalf and her sentence was commuted to life. Right before he was hanged, McDermott said Grace Marks helped me to strangle Nancy Montgomery. He was, however, a well-known liar. But just because somebody is a well-known liar doesn't mean they're lying on every occasion. He gets hanged, she's the only person left alive, and she never told. So that's the basic story. And the novel is about the attempt to discover the truth on behalf of a pre-freudian psychiatric doctor who has been commissioned to prove her innocent by some reformists who think that she was a young girl wrongly sentenced to life. So she claims to have lost her memory. She can't remember what happened. And he's trying to find out where that part of her memory may have gone. So it's told through Grace. She's telling the story. She's telling the story to him, but she's also having some thoughts of her own. And he, in the third person, we hear his story about him trying to find out the truth. And we have Simon Jordan's mother's letters to him. And we have his conversations with other people who were involved. And we also have some newspaper accounts and poems and literary works of that time and from the supposed confession of Grace Marks. Although you don't know of course, whether it really was because, I hate to break this to you, but newspaper accounts are not always accurate. This is the beginning of "Alias Grace." So it is the first couple of pages. But the wrong thing about it is that it's in the wrong person. It's in the third person. And I in fact, wrote hundreds pages of "Alias Grace" in that third person. And then two things happened. I was doing this in France, and I was on a train to Paris. And I got a blinding headache. And in the middle of that blinding headache, I realized that I was going to have to throw out that first 100 pages and transpose them into the first person because it wasn't going to work in the third. And this is something that can often unblock a book for you, either changing the person from first to third or from third to first. And if you're really daring, to second. Or changing the tense from present to past, from past to present can often make all the difference. So if things are not working, you can try that. And each person for a second and third gives you quite a different relationship to the story. So as a first person narrator, Grace can lie. As a third ...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


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Fantastic masterclass. Eloquent, inspiring with lots of practical advice. Thank you, M A!

Absolutely loved this class - loved YOU Margaret. Thanks for making me feel excited about writing again!

Takeaways to keep in mind while actually writing...these are gems that I know will help overcome obstacles and keep a steady pace.

It's a great honor to be given advice from authors like Margaret Atwood and photographers like Annie Liebovitz. It can be lonely without artists voices, and these are great gifts.


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There is a book I'm working on where the main female protagonist is written in first person. The reason for that is because she's mute. She keeps a journal and writes everything down that happens to her and the people she knows. Her three friends end up keeping journals themselves and that is also written in first person. I didn't want to write in third person from the three friends perspective. The point that I'm trying to get across is that the friends of the female protagonist use those journals to help keep the story going from other points of view.

Rhonda W.

She is quirky! But in a genius way! If I could only conjure a wee bit of Atwood I would welcome that drunken smile anytime!


Really wish she'd stop laughing at her "jokes" every five seconds. Very distracting. Made me think she was drunk while filming this.

Dale U.

After viewing this lesson I feel that I must build a deep and lasting friendship with my wastebasket.

Gilbert N.

You really great. You deserve credits. Your writing is so exceptional. I follow your lessons focused.

A fellow student

I loved the way she explained perspectives from her own books... I like the fact that writing is based on planning and not on impulse... I am learning a lot... Thank you Margaret Atwood

Valerie R.

I have enormous admiration for Margaret Atwood both as a writer and as a teacher. Her lessons are precious and she is so charming.

Katharina K.

"The waste paper basket id your friend. It was invented by God. For you!" Best saying ever!

Katherine R.

I really haven't thought too much about point of view. When I looked at the books I have read that I liked, most have been third person, but not always omniscient. I have also enjoyed some with multiple points of view. One that I really liked was Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna." I guess it is dual narrators with one speaking through a memoir and diary entries. I haven't really played with narration and point of view as writing devices. I've always written in third person, and mostly the narrator doesn't know any more than the character. I think this may come from a journalism background where I had the attitude of a "just the facts" news reporter. It will be fun to break out of this.